Variations on a Theme: Dante’s Inferno

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We have long been making mixtapes, but have found that the loose themes of seasons/covers songs are not fruitful enough to post regularly. Variations on a Theme will be a monthly post where we make a list of songs that fit a specific topic. We hope to get creative with the themes, so expect a wide range of weird and wonderful subjects explored through songs.

The second, and most important part of this feature is reader participation. We want to hear the songs that we have missed or forgotten, so yell at us on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, send us an email, write us a letter! We’ll share the suggestions, and if we get enough we might even make a Readers Mix to go along with our own.

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For our second theme in the Variations… series we have gone for Dante’s Inferno. Between the five resident WtD writers we have assembled a nice varied list that ranges from electronic and folk to metalcore and angry, noisy spoken word. Rest assured though that they are all listenable, entertaining songs in their own right. There are probably other, better sonic representations of hell out there which are omitted 1) they are practically unlistenable, and 2) often made by misogynistic/misanthropic people we’d rather not give coverage to (although the curious among you should google Stalaggh and Gorgoroth).

The five of us have only read bits and pieces of Inferno, so don’t expect a detailed, blow-by-blow musical reenactment of the entire plot.* Instead, we’ve picked a selection of songs that go some way to capturing the feel of the piece while tracking the general narrative. So we start in a forest, take the ferry across Acheron and begin the descent, passing some weird and hellish things (listen to that Guilt song!) before ending up at Satan himself.  

You can listen to the playlist in the player below. What songs would you have included? What tracks just scream HELL to you?

80N7 Compilation

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80N7 is a record label run by Emmy Feldman and Hope Silverman (both of whom write for Don’t Need No Melody). They have recently put out their debut compilation, also named 80N7. Released for Cassette Store Day, this is a special compilation of twenty previously unreleased tracks from bands from across the UK and America.

Some of the bands are pretty familiar to us here at WTD, including the likes of Gorgeous Bully, Diveliner and The Golden Dregs. Listen to the shoegazey jangle of Gorgeous Bully’s ‘925’ below:

But there are also lots and lots which are completely new to me. The diversity of sound is impressive, and it’s a thrill to hit play from the beginning and wait to see what comes next. It kicks off with a slick 80s pop tune from Lovepark, before a segue into the easygoing indie pop of Spring King. Moats take things up a notch with their dynamic indie rock before London’s Happyness offer a slice of real subdued beauty with their track ‘Full of Minnows.’

Other stand-outs include the half-pace R&B of Mirror Signal, the short-bu-sweet weird pop of Total Playtime and some really nice bedroom pop melancholia from Don’t Worry.

You can order the compilation on double cassette via Rough Trade, or download it for as much as you like via the 80N7 Bandcamp page.

Head In The Clouds Vol. 15

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This month, Head In The Clouds returns to its usual format, consisting of a smattering of the best music on Soundcloud over the last month.

First up is Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. One of the first snippets from Flying Lotus’ forthcoming album, You’re Dead, ‘Never Catch Me’ is the sound of both of them at the very top of their game. Pitchfork described the result as exhilarating and 'sphincter-tightening.' Ouch.

Next up is Theophilus London with ‘Do Girls’. It’s about it exactly what you’d imagine it to be about. Produced by CID RIM, with further input from Kanye, it’s another teaser before his album Vibes lands at the end of October.

Rob St. John - Surface Tension

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I’ve just finished an arts-related Masters degree, and the worst thing about doing it was having to explain to friends and relative how and why I had ended up doing that course after my previous degrees in Zoology and biological research. Without wanting to bore them, I usually just sort of smiled and laughed nervously as if I knew how crazy I must be too. But what I really wanted to say was that science can contribute to art and art can enrich science. That the two fields are intrinsically linked. Art and science are just different methods of trying to understand the world, and nature (or the lack of it) plays a fundamental role in the experiences of any person. To portray the environment as art (be it a pine forest or an inner-city tower block) is to go some way to representing life itself.

Any project that aims to reconcile art, science and nature will be a project that attempts to capture as big a picture as possible. Rob St. John (who we recently featured as part of Bastard Mountain) is doing just that. As part of the Fixing Broken Rivers project by Thames 21, he is working in and around the East London area, recording what he finds via photographs, field recordings and written word. He recently walked the length of the River Lea in East London, taking field recordings as he went. The result was a collection of clips that capture the life along the river: people chatting, boats passing, aeroplanes flying overhead as swans land in the water. We are probably pushing our remit as a music blog in writing about this, but it makes for an oddly entrancing listen.

Add in the photographs and you begin to get a comprehensive view of the area, my foretold ‘big picture.’ The recording of everyday things, of life, come alive and conjure a newfound sense of wonder in what would normally be considered mundane. Rob St. John proves there is value in the marriage of science and art, and there is no reason why these ideas can’t be taken further. If their are any super-wealthy philanthropists out there whose fortunes are burning a hole in their pockets, might I suggest some grant-based movement that expands on this form, global projects utilising sounds and music and photgraphs, film and literature and oral history? I’m first in line.

The final result will be released sometime in 2015 as sound, photography and writing. Keep an eye on the Rob St. John Twitter page for updates.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Mended With Gold

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The Rural Alberta Advantage have been a favourite for some time, with 2008’s Hometowns and 2011’s Departures still getting played on a regular basis. Part lovelorn folk act, part boisterous rock band, the trio have carved out a niche that straddles some of my favourite things in music.

It was, therefore, a joy to find new that album, Mended With Gold, doesn’t see any drastic changes. The palpable energy, the Canadian imagery and the earnest lyrics all are still very much a feature of RAA’s make-up, and reviewers and bloggers will be pleased to note that they can still cite Neutral Milk Hotel as a major influence (a common [lazy?] trope in RAA reviews, something which probably stems from the similarities between Nils Edenloff and Jeff Mangum’s nasal delivery).

The story behind the album is a pretty interesting one, with Edenloff writing at least part of it while up in the wilderness of the Bruce Peninsula. As he explains on their website: “Locals told me to watch out for black bears, the heat wasn’t working and at night it sounded like the cottage was surrounded by wolves. I slept with a pocket knife at arms-reach. It’s funny the lines that will run through your head when you’re alone like that and trying to get yourself to sleep.”

Opener ‘Our Love…’ is an archetypal example of what makes RAA good. A fairly riotous song, the opening refrain of ‘our love will burn it down’ is followed by an explosion of guitars and drums that drive the tempo up. Just when you think you have the song pegged as a lively little number, there’s a drastic change around the two minute mark. The instruments fall away and the song opens up so that it becomes flat and wide and lonely, leaving Edenloff to shout his words across an empty landscape as if he’s the only man in the world. ‘On the Rocks’ does this in reverse, with the relatively restrained flow interupted by moments of raw feeling. Maybe this is the Bruce Peninsula coming out onto the record, a juxtaposition of beauty and violence (or at least the imagining of it).

This is where The Rural Alberta Advantage have always been strong, and where Mended With Gold triumphs. The band have perfected the use of silence and space within songs, dropping pockets of quiet into their rock songs and peppering the slower numbers with abrupt moments of noise and fury. As a result, this is not an album that you find yourself drifting through. The contrasting sensations of loud and quiet, energy and melancholy, sadness and joy (etc. etc.) are constantly played off against one another, and your brain is jolted upon every switch. Kernels of lonliness are unveiled in the hearts of the upbeat songs, while the slow, sad tracks contain an anger or panic that makes the suffering seem real, leaving no song easily labelled as any one thing. This variety of emotions bring into relief the complicated underlying feeling (the proverbial Human Condition, if you will) that makes the record so relatable.  

You can order Mended With Gold from Saddle Creek. What are you waiting for?

Young Jesus - G

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We first wrote about Chicago’s Young Jesus back in 2012 and, in the absence of new material (there has been a side project), have been listening to their album Home ever since. That album had legs.

Anyway, having left the Midwest for LA, Young Jesus are back with a new single, ‘G,’ the first track off of an upcoming full-length (called Grow/Decompose, judging by the artwork). A change in line-up (the addition of Garrison Benson and Eric Shevrin) sees a slight change in sound, but all of the hallmarks that made Home so good are still present. Complex, nuanced characters? Check. Interesting, unexpected situations and circumstances? Check.  Young Jesus are back.

'G' concerns Neil (who seems to be the character portrayed in the album artwork) and his struggles to find an identity in his confusing young years. I don't want to write too much based on one single (expect a full review nearer to album release) but this seems to be going a step further than your standard indie-rock fare. I think that the good folk over at Impose were on to something when they drew comparisons to David Foster Wallace (not least because Neil brings to mind Infinite Jest's Poor Tony Krause).

You can download the single now over at the Young Jesus Bandcamp page, and if you didn’t listen to us the first time, buy yourself Home while you are at it. 

Peirson - Wild Ones

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Peirson Ross, aka just plain Peirson, is a multi-instrumentalist from Toronto. He recently released his sixth studio album, Wild Ones, an album which he says is “dedicated to wildlife and to those living the ‘wild life." What this means is that he’s created an album rooted in nature, an album which addresses both the majesty of the natural world, as well as the mess which we’ve managed to make of it.

Incredibly, Ross plays each of the 20+ instruments himself and also designed and created the beautiful artwork. Each tile on the cover holds a paper-cut image of one of sixteen Canadian animals, and along with the songs, Ross intends for them to “represent the ten provinces, three territories and three oceans that reside within these fragile Canadian habitats.” Ross says that his aim was to marry “art, music and design for the greater social good.” 

If you visit the Peirson Soundcloud page, you can see each tile in more detail. What’s really cool about this is that each tile has some information on the species of animal it depicts, including its common name, its binomial name and its conservation status in Canada. All of the information was obtained from COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) so it’s all legit and scientifically accurate. So why not listen to the album and learn a little about each animal as you go? Did you know that the burrowing owl, Atlantic salmon and beluga whale are all classified as endangered? Or that species such as the harlequin duck and polar bear are now classed as requiring special concern?

You can even play the fun game of trying to match the tile to the song. For example, there is a repeated line in the track ‘The Year That Winter Never Came’ which goes, ”Like the sun shining through the rain, a message from the lonesome whooping crane”, and if you look up the track on the , the art for the track features (you guessed it) a whooping crane.

Musically, Wild Ones sounds pretty much as you’d expect one man’s love letter to the natural world to sound. You could define it using the umbrella phrase “folk”, but with the 20+ instruments on show that doesn’t really do it justice. Fans of JBM (or Jesse Marchant as we’re calling him now) will like it, as will fans of more straightforward singer-songwriters (online biographies mention Nick Drake and Ray LaMontagne a lot). Let’s just say that it is as diverse and beautiful as the landscapes and habitats which inspired it.

Ross puts it best himself when he says, “Wild Ones is a dedication album not only for endangered species and their natural habitats at risk but also for the independent thinkers who have fought to preserve their wild sub-culture, rituals, values and essential spirit that was born out of our natural world. This is for the wild ones.

You can buy the album right now via the Peirson Bandcamp page.

Shipwrecks - unknown demos

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If you follow this blog on even a semi-regular basis then you’ll have learned by now that I quite like sad songs written by young men and women in their bedrooms. This little EP of demos from Shipwrecks is another collection of them, and a pretty good example of it at that. Shipwrecks is the songwriting project of Johnny Fabrizio, a project which we featured a few years back on our Best Free Music List. unknown demos is the first thing he has posted to his Bandcamp page since 2012, and it’s nice to hear something new from him. As the title suggests, these are rough demos rather than the finished article, and are intended to precede an album at some point in the future. But I’ve been listening to the EP on repeat for a few days and felt like writing something about it, regardless of how rough it is. The fact is, this genre of DIY folk / bedroom pop is about a lot more than aesthetics, so crisp recordings and polished production are, in my mind at least, pretty insignificant.

So what we get are six songs recorded quickly and in (presumably) humble surroundings. But we also get heartfelt songwriting from a young man who quite obviously means it. My current favourite track is ‘24’, a melancholy song that longs for a better time while being stuck in a city. “I went to the one place in the city where I could hear myself think," Fabrizio sings, before detailing trips (with a significant other) to simpler places, driving to South Dakota, walking in the mountains, seeing the Pacific for the first time. It closes with the line ‘at 24 I feel like a ghost.' You can hear in the player below:

You can download unknown demos on a name-your-price basis via the Shipwrecks Bandcamp page

P.S. If you are not familiar with his previous releases, check them out here.