Category Archives: Music

Shoegazing and post-rock: Sad Songs Say So Much

A mate of mine wanted me to put together a playlist of shoegazing and post-rock tunes. I have obliged (actually, I hope he has a Spotify account).

What is shoegazing and post-rock music? Basically, songs that use heavily processed and layered sounds to create a dense, euphoric sound. Shoegazing can be traced to the effects-heavy music of the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, through the post-rock layers of Seefeel and Mogwai and on to the contemporary nugaze of Engineers and The School Of Seven Bells.

Some find the music depressing. I find the sadness uplifting; there’s so much more happiness in a minor chord. Here’s the tracklisting and a quick description of each track:

  1. Tracy – Mogwai: Any song that starts with a taped conversation describing a fight by band members is bound to be great
  2. Blown A Wish – My Bloody Valentine: Possibly the best pop song ever written
  3. My Own Strange Path – M83: Intense and cinematic, sounds like the score to the solar system
  4. Face To Face On High Places – School Of Seven Bells: Nugaze shoegaze that sounds a lot like latter-day My Bloody Valentine
  5. Halving The Compas – Helios: Repetitive strains that remind me of the sun rising in the morning
  6. Love Movement (Ulrich Schnauss Remix) – Revtone: Schanuss’ remix is like a slowed-down, cloudy Ibiza anthem
  7. Catch The Breeze – Slowdive: Shoegaze classic that goes epic two minutes from time
  8. Electric Counterpoint (Fast) – Steve Reich: Influential modern classic echoed throughout post-rock
  9. Davyan Cowboy – Boards Of Canada: Nice work, nice sound
  10. Into The Sea – The Album Leaf: Wonderful timing allows the layered sound to build carefully
  11. Plainsong – Seefeel: Years ahead of its time and almost two decades old, unbelievably
  12. Brighter As We Fall – Engineers: Sounds like Slowdive, which is good
  13. Ostinato – Eluvium: Another epic score for searching the solar system
  14. Light Through The Veins – Jon Hopkins: Like a pure dance take on Seefeel
  15. Suckling The Mender – Cocteau Wins: If ‘Blown A Wish’ isn’t the best pop song ever, this is
  16. The Loom – Bark Psychosis: An amazing post-rock first from the most under-rated band ever
  17. Blowin’ Cool – Airiel – A discordant treat
  18. Ba Ba – Sigur Ros: Post-rock music box for a ballet performance
  19. The Music In My Head – Daniel Land & The Painters: More modern-day nugazing; nice
  20. Miniature 9 – Matthew Robert Cooper: Just impossibly sad

Going electronic with chiptunes and the 8bitcollective

I have always loved electronic music. I am, after all, a child born in the 1970s that grew up in the 1980s. When I was still in the early years of primary school, The Human League – who are, to me, the epitome of home made UK electronica – were dominant in the pop charts.

Still, that often counts for little. Most of the people I knew as I grew up thought electronic music “wasn’t real”; it was made by computers and not by tough guys playing guitars. That opinion is rubbish. Unlike most guitar music, which simply borrows from previous bands from previous eras, electronic artists are often at the musical vanguard.

Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, The Human League, New Order and the like were followed in the 1990s by a bunch of ambient hipsters – such as Aphex Twin, Global Communication and Seefeel – that mixed sampling and electronica to create something epic and beautiful.

Now everything has gone full circle – electronic music is back in the charts and artists are busy making songs that either sound like 1980s pop or that simply sample New Romantic records. Still, I’m happy – anything is better than a bunch of indie bores recycling Rolling Stones and punk riffs.

Which brings me to the 8bitcollective – the online chiptunemedia community. Completely open, 8bc allows users to upload their take on classic pop. The rather brilliant collection of chiptunes are based on the music of 1980s gaming technology, the other sound of my early years – from the ZX Spectrum to the Nintendo Gameboy.

The following three tracks are the best I’ve found on the site as yet, but there’s probably other gems. If you like computer-based electronica, check it out. Sometimes, borrowing and re-interpreting the past really is the future:

Turn that bloody noise off

So, I was on my third Tube home tonight (I had to get a combination, due to the Underground strike) and there was a woman sitting next to me, busily telling her mate on the phone about:

  • How she was going to have to leave the band because her non-understanding manager wanted her to go to LA and record a song that isn’t ready.
  • And, anyway, she wants to do this other gig for a car company at some festival. And she’s going to get loads of cash for it. Amazing.
  • And the manager only mentions LA because it will make her come running. But not this time. Oh, no. In fact, she might even leave the band.

Yeah, you show them. And while you’re at it, leave the train, too – and take your loud, boring, self-indulgent conversation with you. Talking of self-indulgent musicians…

Prior to my two-year-old daughter being born, I used to waste hours cutting up existing records, making loops and creating new tracks. My wife hates them, which is the main thing: “Turn that bloody noise off,” would be her review.

Twenty albums that rocked my world

I am off work at the moment – which gives me the opportunity to have a look at the blog and ponder life’s great curiosities. Which brings me to the subsequent list; the 20 albums that have had the biggest impact on my musical listening habits. It’s a kind of chronology and they’re not necessarily my favourite albums – but many would be near that collection, too.

  • Nik Kershaw – Human Racing: ‘The Riddle’ was my first album but ‘Human Racing’ is better; ‘Wouldn’t it be good’ still sounds fantastic.
  • Jane Wiedlin – Fur: The sound of travelling around Birmingham in the late 80s. Wonderful and melancholic dub pop.
  • Pet Shop Boys – Please: Just fantastic. Consistent pop crafters for 20-odd years, ‘Please’ remains their finest moment. Some of the electronics sound amazing; MGMT but two decades earlier.
  • The Human League – Dare: As above, amazing electronics. ‘Reproduction’ – with its pretentious art pop – introduced me to the The League. Then I fell in love with ‘Dare’, whose Casio-led notes sound mega cool today.
  • Prefab Sprout – From Langley Park To Memphis: ‘Steve McQueen’ is peerless but ‘Langley Park’ sucked me in. Lovely and lilting.
  • New Order – Technique: I bought ‘Technique’ on my 15th birthday. For about three years, I was obsessed with New Order and Joy Division.
  • Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas: Just an amazing sound; a wonderful blend of pop and discordant guitar.
  • Slowdive – Just For A Day: I borrowed the album on cassette from someone at school and played it on my Walkman. I can remember thinking it was pretty special.
  • My Bloody Valentine – Loveless: Alternate tunings and a fabulous wall of sound. Still listen to ‘Loveless’; still finding something new buried in the noise.
  • Bark Psychosis – Hex: Incredible, jazz-tinted post-rock. The soundtrack to my years as a postgraduate time-waster.
  • Global Communication – 76:14: I liked Aphex Twin, too. But Global Communication’s epic ambience spent more time on my stereo.
  • Dubstar – Disgraceful: A kind of mixed-up pop version of all of the above; pop, dub, shoegaze – sweet and under-rated.
  • Red House Painters – Red House Painters (Rollercoaster): Sadcore at its finest. Being sad has never sounded better.
  • Sigur Ros – Ágætis Byrjun: The first convincing shoegaze album since Slowdive’s mid-90s demise; Sigur Ros’ subsequent global success was surprising and marvellous.
  • Brian Eno – Music For Airports: Nothing and everything happens. It just builds and builds, slowly and repetitively.
  • Thomas Newman – American Beauty: I love Thomas Newman. His scores are off-kilter and intriguing.
  • Mahogany – The Dream of a Modern Day: Like a shoegaze Stereolab, with layers of effects-laden guitars.
  • M83 – Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts: French nu-gaze from ultra hip Euro stars.
  • Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place: The sound is both familiar and different. Layered like the shoegaze and post-rock albums of the 1990s, but with an electronic twist.
  • Stars of The Lid – And Their Refinement Of The Decline: Slow, droney and unbelievably elegant.

Tracklist One: January Sales

What’s on my jukebox? Here’s my ‘January Sales’ tracklist – a lovely blend of post-rock, electronica and shoegaze:

  1. Cradle (Kyte Remix) – The Joy Formidable: Shouty indie pop turned all fuzzy and layered by nu-gazers Kyte. 
  2. Michael A Grammar – Broadcast: Angular pop by Brummie chaps Broadcast. My feet are dancing so much. 
  3. Everything With You – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: So infectious, the sound of C86 and shoegaze in a blender. 
  4. My Own Strange Path – M83: French shoegazers go all electronic and produce a futuristic movie score.
  5. Fire Flies And Empty Skies – God Is An Astronaut: Post-rock on a poppy jaunt, via a Jonny Marr-like suspended fourth.
  6. I Know You So Well – Immanu El: Slow and lovely; belting post-rock from your new Scandinavian friends. 
  7. Paint A Rainbow – My Bloody Valentine: Fast, choppy and poppy from the pre-’Isn’t Anything’ Valentines.
  8. Linus And Lucy – Vince Guaraldi: Charlie Brown and the jazzy sound of summer holidays with my little sister.
  9. A Year Without Summer – Epic45: The sad sound of autumn in the grey West Midlands.
  10. Flood Out – Televise: Ex-Slowdive stalwart takes shoegaze to its post-rock coda.

A league table of my top 15 favourite bands

Although a member for a good while longer, I’ve only really been using for just over six months. It’s pretty good. I like the way it recommends stuff based on your listening history – I’ve found some new stuff through that, which is nice. The charts that show your favourite bands and tracks are particularly cool. My top 15 most listened to bands of the last six months-or-so is very shoegaze/post rock biased:

  1. Slowdive 
  2. Stars of the Lid
  3. Helios
  4. Sigur Ros
  5. Goldmund
  6. M83
  7. Immanu El
  8. Mahogany
  9. Mogwai
  10. God is an Astronaut
  11. Boards of Canada
  12. My Bloody Valentine
  13. Monster Movie
  14. Styrofoam
  15. Eluvium

Basically, I like stuff that drones. I pretty much know something is going to be my bag when I read words and terms in a review like dischord, processed sound, tape loops, repetition and electronica. Nice.

Nick Drake and Zippy from Rainbow

Nick Drake would surely have approved of this:

Nick Drake performs Rainbow (kind of)

There’s real attention to detail, especially the sad face at the window. But it’s just the titles – no Zippy, I’m afraid. The orange one often appears in YouTube searches in our house, primarily because my daughter is a big fan of Rainbow. She is not the only fan, though.

Personally, I like the DVD where Zippy’s cousin from the US, Zippo, turns up and spends most of the episode rapping. I can’t find it on YouTube, but take it from me – it’s excellent stuff. By means of an apology, here’s some more information on Zippo from Wikipedia :

Zippo, Zippy’s cousin, identical in appearance to Zippy, who would make the occasional guest appearance. Originally portrayed as an eloquent Frenchman, but a later episode depicted him as an American-accented rapper with loud, flashy clothing.

Psychogeographic rock recalls joys of the West Midlands

Sometimes you miss an article that you later find and think: “Hmmm, this looks tasty”. I’ve just had such an episode, discovering and then reading ‘A sonic postcard from the past’ from The Guardian in early June:

In quiet corners of the British Isles, a strange kind of nostalgic music is prospering. Some of it summons up disused railway tracks and endless childhood summers through guitar drones, samples and field recordings…

…begins the article. They had me at the ‘endless childhood summers through guitar drones’ bit. The article goes on to discuss how a bunch of like-minded artists are making music inspired by concrete precincts and old ordnance survey maps. In other words, the best bits of geography.

The piece refers to a bunch of artists who often hail from the West Midlands and who make music that recalls all the best bits of the last 30-odd years of UK music. Basically we’re talking about my musical bag: Brian Eno’s ambience, shoegazing and 80s indie pop.

I’ve been listening to two of the main protagonists for a while, namely Epic45 and July Skies – both of whom rely on the skills of Anthony Harding. I’ve seen both acts associated with shogazing and post rock, but not Psychogeography – which according to The Guardian: “is the study of the spooky effects of the geographical environment on individuals”.

But whatever the ‘tag’, I like the sentimental mix of geography, guitar drones and the West Midlands.