A Reflection on the 2010s: Music

Albums: (no particular order)

Telluric and Rainbow Valley by Matt Corby-

Matt Corby has been a pretty big influence on me for a while now. He has a voice like no other and his songs are written in a way that comes off as unmistakably genuine. He is so present in his recordings and on stage. I got the chance to see him live in London this past year (actually, we planned a trip around seeing him play there), and there have been few times that I’ve felt so connected to an artist in my life. He’s had a big effect on my music – though maybe not in immediately obvious ways. Exposure to his music, performances, and interviews has given me confidence to try things vocally, lyrically, and artistically – to make music that can be intriguing and fun to play for me, interesting in its concepts, and meaningful to others.

Dialects by Snowmine-

It feels like swimming in a cavern. It’s something so immersive and familiar, but otherworldly. They keep you guessing with their turns of harmony and lyrical choices and it is so refreshing. Everything unfolds anew and in such a logical manner that it feels effortless but forces you to be present. It is an album that I have got lost in on more than a few occasions – one of the finest examples of an “Album” that I have ever heard, in fact. Another great band that employs really interesting harmonic progressions mixed with intriguing and innovative lyrics in such a way that really invites the listener to join in the exploration they’ve created.

Dead and Born and Grown by the Staves-

For a while I avidly searched through the iTunes store and listened to clips of music. Sometimes I would get lost in it for hours browsing albums and artists through the “Other Customers Purchased” section (this is how I found Snowmine, actually). I remember seeing the album art and being quite intrigued (as was most often the way to my heart). I stumbled upon their Motherlode EP not long after it came out and downloaded it. Then I forgot about it for about a year. I listened to it again on the way back from a cross-country ski trip in Elkwater in the dead of Winter and was absolutely floored. From this moment on I fell deeply in love with their writing, the album, and quite frankly the three sisters. Jessica’s guitar playing (along with Ben Howard’s) inspired my choice to use alternate guitar tunings, which now make up quite a bit of my repertoire. Their vocal arrangements and harmonic progressions bode well with any listener while satisfying the zealous theoretician. 

Every Kingdom by Ben Howard-

The first few minutes of this album may obscure the journey on which it will take you.. Full of immensely popular songs (including Old Pine – perhaps my most consistent response to the question of what my favourite song is), but there are also deeper buried gems lurking just behind the popular success. A masterpiece of listenability and simplistic profundity emerging from the early third wave of folk revivals (yes, it is as much folk as Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan, and if you disagree I’d love to sit down and discuss it). Equal comfort is shown in the waling, upbeat passages of songs like The Wolves, as in the soft embrace of Gracious. Such a linear metamorphosis takes place in the progression of the album. It is like the coming of age. It foreshadows his next album I Forget Where We Were brilliantly (as well as the EP between them, Burgh Island), and demonstrates his shocking ability to transcend his own physical might as a well-equipped guitarist and vocalist with his mind and the quietude that grows evident. It begins in a joyous earnest, confronts existential problems, and burns down to a slowly fading ember.

Story Music by Teitur Lassen-

Another serendipitous iTunes Store-browsing find. Another sombre, mid-winter masterpiece. This album is equated with many classical tradition musical finds of this era in my life, in part because it taught me so much about arrangement, but also due to the way it is presented. Each song is inspired by, but distanced from the typical idea of what a “song” is. Strange and atypical lyrics, mundane but profound sentiments and aphorisms, adventurous, non-linear harmony and structure, lush and sparse arrangement, bizarre but cohesive instrumental pairings (for pop tradition, anyway), and a mish-mash crossover of classical and pop practices in the literal sense. An album that has yielded mixed impressions on the friends to which I have recommended it, but has left a lasting impact on me. 

In My Room by Jacob Collier-

Musical genius, insane performer, arranger extraordinaire. Every time I have listened to Jacob talk or play I have felt inspired, uplifted, capable (yet also extremely incapable in comparison), and connected. His humility and personality extend his musicality beyond ears into people’s hearts. A person from which I learned so much about arranging and the importance of voicing. His music is a bit too much for some people, but is nonetheless a genius and there are songs in there that everyone can enjoy, even if you disagree with his approach.

Threadbare and You and Everyone by Boreal Sons-

Boreal Sons is a relatively unknown Calgary band (though you may well have heard them on CBC Music) who I’ve been swooning over since my second year of university. I took so much in the way of atypical song form, to unusual chord progressions, to insightful and uncommon lyrical paths from them. My second EP Susurrant, was heavily inspired by their second EP Bedtime Brier. I was so inspired by their album Threadbare, that I have undertaken the creation of full orchestral arrangements of each song as a study of the craft and also as a means of better understanding their musical minds. One of my favourite lyrics ever comes from their song Light of a Low Sun.. “Once you told me it was cheap to think we don’t have all the time we need – we can find centuries in the pause between each heartbeat.”

Joy of Nothing and The Wild Swan by Foy Vance-

From his quite manner and relatively short stature, you might not presume his performance, lyrics, and voice would be so commanding. Seeing him play live made me feel like I could be on stage as well. Anything seems possible. There is so much hope in the phrases and notes that emanate from him. Another pinnacle of genuineness. There is no distancing oneself from his stories and lyrics – each is like an arrow to the heart. Joy of Nothing has two of my favourite songs ever: Closed Hand, Full of Friends and the title track Joy of Nothing. The former contains another of my favourite lines in a song, reading “I will find my means to an end with an open-hearted hope, and a closed hand full of friends.”

Honourable Mentions:

  • Young the Giant by Young the Giant
  • Heartbreak Hits by Theo Katzman
  • Vestiges and Claws by Jose Gonzalez
  • Hozier and Wasteland, Baby! by Hozier
  • Who’s Feeling Young Now? by Punch Brothers
  • X&Y and Viva la Vida by Coldplay
  • Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
  • The Loved Ones by Flyte
  • The Weatherman by Gregory Alan Isakov

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Songs: (no particular order)

For me, it is virtually impossible to separate the music which I was listening to with what was happening in my life at the time. Each of these carries something deeply personal with it, for better or worse. I won’t get into that side of it, but encourage you to listen to them and see if you develop a relationship with them, nonetheless. 

Every Age – Jose Gonzalez
-A pinnacle of meliorism and clarity on our journey ahead. One that always brings me hope and often to tears. So simplistic and poignant.

Joy of Nothing – Foy Vance
-He has a knack for showing the profundity of the mundane and overlooked. There is such intent and purpose in each word. A true poet, and one with a particular affinity for showing the bittersweetness, and almost the inseparability, of joy and suffering.

Empire’s Attraction – Matt Corby
-To me, this was the summary of an hour-long interview I heard of him many years ago. It is a somewhat elaborate way of stating our inherent need for cooperation. Nobody is going to save us, but there are so many ways that we can save ourselves.

Hannah Hunt – Vampire Weekend
-Another true poet. His lyrics are so immediately revealing of his frame of mind and thought process. I fell in love with their hit Step, though I was privy to their music before this. Listening to Modern Vampires of the City (my personal favourite album by them) exposed me to this kind of sleeper hit which has gained a sort of cult popularity. A mysterious and transcendental B-side love song from the early decade.

Old Pine – Ben Howard
-Capturing the fleeting moments of summer (and life, by extension) in just a handful of words. Such powerful imagery that makes me want to live in the woods and sing to trees. 

Echoes – Flyte
-Just a really interesting and kind of badass song, if I’m honest. It never fails to stir something in me, the origins of which I, myself, am not entirely aware. Very nice.

Speed of Sound – Coldplay
-Something that I heard as a kid and never really appreciated until I heard a lyric out of context. I fell once again in love with this song, as with most Coldplay songs, shortly after beginning to comprehend the simple but optimistic and loving message in each.

Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergarden – Tiny Ruins
-My favourite love song. In four short verses and a chorus it details the beginnings of, and settling in to, a relationship. A deep but fresh love so nuanced and eternal.

The Universe – Gregory Alan Isakov
-A grander metaphor for our lives and interactions. Are we so destructive to the extent of wounding the Universe? Is he singing about a deep love for somebody? The ambiguity presents the song as new on each listen. The sonic space and imagery always removes me from any turmoil in my life.

Light of a Low Sun – Boreal Sons
-I heard this first at a show prior to the release of their album You and Everyone. I was immediately taken once again by Evan’s affinity for writing lyrics. Such ephemeral imagery oozes from the earnest text. It is so timeless and fleeting.

Stay tuned for my decade of reading…

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