Category Archives: Song Cycle albums

Autistic Daughters – Uneasy Flowers (2008)

Contemporary Song Cycles #4

It’s 2 AM and the neighbours’ kid is screaming his lungs out. Here, I want you to listen to this. In some way, it is an album about someone called Rehana, but there’s no information on who or what this means. What we’re left with is a brilliant trio – New Zealand’s Dean Roberts on guitar and vocals, and Austrians Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Brandlmayr on double bass and drums/loops respectively – putting together 7 really challenging and utterly rewarding tracks of unrivaled beauty and complexity. Chris Abrahams from The Necks adds his usual brilliance on the piano for several tracks. These songs are slow burners and understated growers. It might take a couple of listens for you to realize that something really special is hidden in here. I hope you give it that chance.

Please click here to sample this album.

(yes, i’ve taken to posting again. If you leave comments, that will make us want to post even more, fickle though it may seem.)

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Fordlandia (2008)

Contemporary Song Cycles Pt. 3

Did you, as a matter of reference, know that Henry Ford tried to establish an Americanised city in the middle of the jungle in Brazil, in the 1920s? He decided it would be a really good way to get cheap rubber. He forced indigenous workers to live in white picket fence style surrounds and eat hamburgers. They rioted in 1930 and the ruins are still there. Henry Ford never once visited the place, and they also never succeeded in exporting a single iota of rubber back to the USA.

Majestic strings alongside blipping electronics, deep looming bass and old creaky pianos. And a killer backstory to boot. Jóhannsson is surely one of the better composers currently making recordings – not to mention that he’s labelmates with the Pixies and the Shins whilst doing so. If you have an appreciation for the delicate and the grandiose all at once, this is a wonderfully moving record, and a wonderful gateway into his other works too.

Please click here to sample this album. (link now fixed)

Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)

Contemporary Song Cycles Pt. 2

This is, if I was made to choose, my absolute favourite album. Talk Talk’s staggering end to a uniquely varied career. Light years ahead of it’s time and as close to perfect as anything i’ve ever heard. It seems really useless to say anything more when you can just download it and see what I mean.

Please click here to sample this album.

Kind Of Like Spitting – One Hundred Dollar Room (2002)

Contemporary Song Cycles Pt. 1

“Initially, it is hard to hear what all the fuss is about because it sounds so very derivative of other contemporaries. Like an unfinished demo tape, it seems tantalisingly close to greatness. So close in fact that it all begins to make sense eventually. Like early Guided By Voices or Lou Barlow at his most inspired, there seems to be real thought behind every decision on One Hundred Dollar Room. Slowly, the genius of Kind of Like Spitting emerges and in other hands, this could all end up being clichéd, but Barnett just seems to know how to arrange songs in a satisfying way. He packs a lot into short periods of time, both lyrically and musically, and doesn’t really put a wrong foot here.” – Exclaim Magazine

Ben Barnett has an impressively broad and diverse body of work under the name Kind Of Like Spitting. In addition to his tenure as the original guitarist for the Thermals, amongst other things, he also put out some 9 albums under said moniker between 2000 and 2005. Some were lo-fi bedroom masterpieces, one was even a big studio production featuring drums and vocals from Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. Throughout it all, Ben made honest art, and that’s something I respect massively.

I am an ardent fan of almost all of it-  and there are, admittedly, albums of his that I think are better. This one is the real grower amongst them though. It took me the longest to “get”, and I consider it to be something you must absorb as a whole body of work. Songs reference each other. Segues are present. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a clever, devastating and excellent album that veers between cute acoustic indie pop and huge guitar blazers. Think early Mountain Goats alongside Rites Of Spring maybe. Hell, it even closes with a Billy Bragg cover. Damn.

I can provide links to other KOLS albums if anyone wants, but as I decided to get in on the idea of Song Cycle albums, this is what i’m sharing with you now. Let me know what you think.

Please click here to sample this album.

Van Dyke Parks – Song Cycle (1968)

Three of us four bloggers were amongst a limited crowd who got to see Mr Parks perform at the weekend just gone. It was a completely unbelievable honour. This man has done more to shape contemporary music than I can begin to express. I hardly feel the need or desire to biography-write, but if you’ve worked with the Beach Boys, Frank Black AND Joanna Newsom, there shouldn’t be many people not suitably impressed. But oh, oh, this record. Someone remarked to me that it sounds like Parenthetical Girls – sure, except this is now 41 years old. Download this (in 256k bit rate), and listen to the whole thing – the way it was meant to be played. It is a singularly important AND enjoyable piece of music history, and deserves to be more than the footnote it sadly sits as.

Please click here to sample this album.

(starting tomorrow, i’m going to start posting some more albums I consider to fit within the idea of a “song cycle”, so please check back if this interests you.)