The symphonic infrastructure of art across all mediums does indeed still exist in 2017, but it requires some digging beneath the surface to unearth, especially in music and cinema. Inside popular radio waves and big box multiplexes are frenetically paced, redundant tracings attempting to strengthen their grip on the end goal of convincing the masses of what they should worship. Computer generated explosions. Instant gratification encouragement. Recycled and hollow franchises. Season 8 anticipation. Laugh track instructing laser pointer. There are plenty of strategically placed distractions to sift through, and sometimes what’s necessary in such a loud, frightening, tenuous era in which our country is being “led” by a figure who has his hand set firmly on the history rewind button, is to draw the curtains and listen not to any voices, but only the intuition of orchestration. In the lightning-fast bombardment that everyday modern life can so often be, I think it is invaluable to find an hour somewhere to commit to a well constructed instrumental playlist. Free of crooning vanity, outside vocal influence, mind-numbing choruses to attempt the big cash catch.
ACT I: COLORS
The blinds are closing, and Colin Stetson’s “Spindrift” is opening. At the moment there is no better way to begin than here, listening to a musical painter brainstorm on a palette as tall as a skyscraper. The visionary avenues in which his saxophone takes us on, within these six and a half minutes, is nothing short of brilliantly entrancing. By the time it bows out, the immersion is set into place, and Max Richter’s minimal piano on “Horizon Variations” further paves the concrete on a scenic backroad that will always be a work in progress. The piece doesn’t even reach the two minute mark, but it offers a mountain of contemplative images. A few moments of silence are effectively felt before a key-driven melody begins to slowly fade in. On their most monumental track, “Tequesta”, The Mercury Program managed to find a seamless balance vintage jazz rhythms and an almost futuristic undertone. It is tightly knit, focused epic that captivates for over seven minutes. Colors of light turquoise and sea green form a cerebral image with eyes closed and headphones firmly worn, inviting Hammock’s “The House Where We Grew Up”. The track’s guitar swirls and hums, oddly enough, and has a way of conjuring up specific memories from adolescence. Constructing a makeshift baseball diamond in the back yard using a bucket of past gloves as bases. The fluorescent neon of roman candles projecting onto the cerulean country skyline.
ACT II: WAVES
Cascading synths and drum machines provide a chain link to a new horizon on Brian Eno’s seminal classic, “The Big Ship”. The song slowly elevates the listener to the top of a tidal wave, with a view that can see far into the future. Whether it’s a pleasant or dangerous view is impossible to know. Three minutes later, we’re brought back down to earth and confronted with introspection. A selection from the oft-overlooked M83 record, Digital Shades Vol. 1, displays the quiet, personal side of Anthony Gonzalez. Using only a piercing piano and droning synth, “Dancing Mountains” feels like an exclusive glimpse inside the conscience of its creator. During a stretch of almost complete silence for a full-minute in the middle of the track, it’s impossible not to contemplate your own past in some fashion. By the time the keys kick back in, the song has all but liberated you, leading you ever so gracefully out into the middle of the ocean. Michael Linnen’s “Cactus For Bob Hardison” has a seemingly effortless ability to not only simplify a focus, but to insist that we take a moment to stop overlooking the tiny happenings in life. That time when the wind died down long enough to shoot one hundred free throws at your favorite court down the road. The appreciation for such thoughtfulness as a friend’s mother leaving a towel by your bed for a shower in the morning after a last second-scheduled sleepover. Suddenly all of these kinds of thoughts come flooding to the forefront of the mind for three and a half minutes. There’s a track on Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales’ brand new record, Room 29, called “Tearjerker”, that is easily one of the best of the year to date. What’s even more impressive, however, is “The Tearjerker Returns”, a reprise of the track later on the record that completely strips the song of its vocals. It’s an ideal example of a piece not only being effective when the words are whisked away, but even more powerful. Anchored by a stunning piano and violin, the song gently drifts the listener closer and closer to land until they are finally ashore.
ACT III: BROAD STROKES
Listening to “Matchlight Arcana” by Desertshore consistently puts the image of a cross-country road trip in mind. Freshly coated yellow paint on highway lines reflecting off the shades of the travelers. Spur of the moment unscheduled stops to places unknown before. Disconnected, offline, out of service range. A backpack full of beer and pita chips. No deadlines, alarm sets, trade shows. There’s a meeting set with friends and scenery, and you’re not going to be tardy. “The How of it Sped” can be perceived as a number of different things, and what I think Bing & Ruth are saying with the sound of an elegant piano and booming bass is that we’re staring down a very delicate situation on a daily basis. We must always be aware of the real possibility of looming darkness, but also to not contribute to the negative energy. It’s a full six minutes of madness and beauty intertwining, which could more or less be the current national anthem. This sets the stage for “Lloyd’s Register”, a piece by Rachel’s that represents a fine example in the strength of perseverance. There’s an entire history of struggle and triumph and then some throughout the nearly ten minutes here, which someday I hope to use as a soundtrack to a video montage assembled when we get out of this mess. It’s all bleak and uncertain, without a doubt, but there’s perseverance. Then, throughout what can be seen as one single broad stroke lifting us up and restoring our energy and faith, is Eluvium’s “Seeing You Off The Edges”. The song doesn’t blindly encourage us with ignorant hope, but rather elevates our cognizance and gives us a confidence and belief that even if we are one individual, there are millions of other individuals with the same mindset. The construction of the number feels very simple out of the gate, but the feelings induced by it are beyond that. There’s a scope that reaches wider than anyone can comprehend, and whatever edge its sending you off is entirely your decision.