POTW (2019/37): Dreamy Cinematic and Ambient

This week’s playlist of the week, Dreamy Cinematic and Ambient, is just what the doctor ordered after a monster-shaped week. It was my first week in a new temporary day-job, trying to learn the ropes. I was not feeling well, and plumbers were replacing the central heating system in the house where I was staying. (Following their work, there is now a working shower as well, which is my favourite part of last week!)

I’ve taken the job because my income as a musician falls woefully short of paying even my basic bills currently. Let me be very clear: I am not giving up making music (I couldn’t if I tried). But it will do wonders for my stress levels to know that I am earning enough to cover my bills.

Our playlist this week is a collection of pieces curated by Andy Salvanos (he of the Chapman Stick). It is one of the most relaxing sets of music I’ve played in a while. It will take best part of a day to play it, so expect to feel really chilled by the end. (That’s always assuming you haven’t dropped off in the meantime). This playlist would actually work quite well for sleeping music. I managed to stay awake all the way through this time, though!

Stand-out tracks

The talent represented in this playlist is phenomenal. Max Richter, Hans Zimmer, Pat Metheny, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm… Just to mention a few of the best known artists – and the list goes on.

The stand-out tracks for me included Salt of the Sound’s Deep Peace, and Armstrong’s The Noetic Quality. Deep Peace is unusual tracks for this list as it features a female vocal, whereas most tracks are instrumentals. The Noetic Quality is a gentle percussive track with ringing marimba and xylophone over synth washes. It has a repeated theme that slowly morphs into forms that are different, yet the same. Two other tracks that grabbed my attention were Maneli Jamal’s Floating and Kirsten Agresta Copely’s Onde. Floating is a beautifully recorded, layered, echoing guitar piece, and Onde is a lovely harp piece with Celtic vibes. Both fit their names very well.

Dreamy, Cinematic and Ambient playlist, curated by Andy Salvanos

Duration: 6h 38min, 106 songs

Rating: U – nothing to be scared of.

Ideal for: Focussed study, destressing, and/or quiet evenings in.

POTW (2019/36): Acoustic Artists

Jürg Kindle is the curator responsible for this week’s Playlist of the Week, Acoustic Artists. I’m going to be honest with you and admit upfront that I haven’t been able to listen to the whole playlist this time, because it’s 8h long. (I forgot to check the length before I selected it and started listening.) I’m starting writing this at about the half-way point, just after I looked to see if I’d got to the end because the music had stopped and realised the pitfall I’d set for myself!

This is the kind of playlist that your Mum will love. (Assuming your Mum is of a certain age and isn’t a punk-rocker… If she’s more the rock-chic type, you’ll be better to play this one when she’s around, instead!).

There’s a broad range of quite gentle music in this list, from classical pieces and instrumental cover song versions from purely acoustic artists, to soft rock, country and songs with orchestral backings. There are even some tracks that are really electronica, but which fit the soothing acoustic vibe.

The list’s curator, Jürg Kindle, is a musician himself. (If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, that won’t really be a surprise, there’s been a bit of a theme, hasn’t there?) Jürg composes for guitar and mandolin, and for ensembles of the instruments up to guitar or mandolin orchestra size. Some of his pieces are used as compulsory pieces in competitions. There are several pieces that he composed and played in this playlist, so you’ll hear some examples of his work.

Jürg plays an impressive range of chordophones himself, several of which I hadn’t even heard of before, plus drums and percussion. He says that his guitar pieces express his inner drummer because they can be quite percussive. (Ok, so I know you’re curious about the chordophones! Jurg plays saz, chiftelia, bouzouki, mandolin, bandolim, cavaquinho, 12-string guitar, soprano guitar, quint and quart contrabass guitars).

Duration: 8h 35min, 140 songs.

Rating: PG – No songs labelled as ‘explicit’, but some more sensitive parents might consider some lyrics unsuitable.

Ideal for: playing all day in a café setting.

POTW (2019/32): There’s Another Train

With There’s Another Train, we have another first time curator on the blog this week: Songmistress, aka Autumn Dawn Leader. She’s an independent singer-songwriter from Leicestershire who has a growing following around the world. It’s lovely to be covering a playlist made by another artist from my local East Midlands area! Plus, after last week’s marathon, this is a refreshingly short selection.

Autumn Dawn Leader

Autumn Dawn Leader’s Twitter bio says that if Nick Drake and Sandy Denny had a lovechild, it would be her. That’s a bold claim, but not too far off! She has a real depth to her songwriting, which falls somewhere in the folk/folk-pop and gothic domain. Leader also has another project with Chris Chambers: a prog-folk duo named The Secret Magpies. You’ll get a taste of both when you listen to this week’s list.

There’s Another Train is uncharacteristically ‘nearly positive’ for Songmistress’s playlists, by her own admission. Typically, her song selections are slightly melancholy or creepy, maybe even a little dark, but always deeply thoughtful. I’ll be featuring another of her playlists soon, so you’ll get a better idea. This playlist, while slightly lighter in mood, maintains her characteristic thoughtfulness. She is an excellent lyricist herself, and this tends to be reflected in her song choices across all her playlists.

Looking Up (From Life’s Struggles)

The playlist kicks off with Arcade Fire’s Women of a Certain Age. This is a cheerful, slightly celtic, reggae piece, with lyrics that are potentially darker than the tune might suggest. (It depends on what you read into them.) This ambiguity of mood continues as the playlist progresses. Lyrically, we are looking up, but from a place of struggle. Marillion’s song Beautiful, a lament on how humans treat each other with encouragement to ignore the naysayers gave me goosebumps. There are a few classic singer-songwriter tracks here, too, such as Sandy Denny singing Solo, and Carole King’s Tapestry. Independent artists get a look in, too, notably Tracy Colletto, with Victory.

And then there is the jolly Mocha – Reimagined from Lucy, Racquel and Me. This track tells us a lot about the current state of the music industry in the internet age. The three performers in the group have never met and live on three different continents, but are making great music. Introverts of the world, unite!

The last track, There’s Another Train, which lends the playlist its name, is from the Poozies. They also have a Leicestershire connection through singer Sally Barker. Barker is a founding member and was a runner up in The Voice UK talent competition in 2014. She is now pursuing a solo career, but you can hear her on this track from around 20 years earlier.

Duration: 1h 25min, 22 songs.

Rating: This one gets a U. I didn’t notice anything offensive and nothing is labelled ‘explicit’, so it ought to be suitable for all ages.

Ideal For: Sitting and just listening to the lyrics. This playlist would also work to accompany painting or drawing or other quiet activities where you can actively listen.

POTW (2019/30): Mellow Indietronica

I found this week’s playlist of the week, Mellow Indietronica, randomly via Reddit. I can’t tell you anything about the curator, other than that they make a lot of electronica playlists.

Mellow Electronica

Not to worry, let’s talk about the music! This is mostly mellow electronica from artists with labels regarded as ‘independent’ (as if you couldn’t guess from the title). Guitars are not absent, but are secondary to the synths. The beats propel these tracks along and I’m feeling quite motivated listening. (Yes folks, I have even, finally, defrosted the freezer between listens. Don’t fall off your chair!) Without actually counting, I’d guess that 80% to 90% of the artists on this list were unfamiliar to me; the ones I already know fall mainly under the triphop banner, with the odd exception like Aphex Twin. (I’m probably showing my ignorance of the club scene here; there are some well-followed artists amongst the ones I don’t recognise.)

Goldilocks Zone

This playlist has found something of a Goldilocks zone, with music that’s not too fast or too slow, not too heavy or light, not too energetic or sleepy. Music that boosts your mood and helps you get things done. Or that you could play at a party where you want to be able to talk to your guests above the noise. Many of the tracks are danceable: Digitalism’s Utopia, Soulwax’s Close to Paradise and This Mystic Morning (Dub) by The Darkside with its Madchester-style vibes being just a few examples. Another remarkable thing about this list is that, while only a handful of artists appear more than once, it sounds very coherent. (I have my suspicions that the curator is some sort of DJ).

Warp Factor 5

There’s an audible early ’90s ‘Warp factor’ – the influence of Warp Records, that is. A certain quirkiness and originality gives their presence away. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that a number of the artists represented have been through Warp or a subsidiary label. And let’s face it, what electronic artist isn’t to some extent influenced by the iconic label’s back-catalogue?

Duration: 14h 28min, 163 songs

Rating: PG. The curator has produced a playlist that’s almost completely clear of ‘explicit’ labelled tracks. There were lyrics I didn’t catch, though, and not all artists and labels label their tracks accurately.

Perfect for: study or work, if you don’t find the tempo a little too fast. Otherwise, this playlist is a good all-rounder that you could use to motivate you or as background noise for your party.

POTW (2019/27): Stress-Free Zone

I chose Susan Moss’s Stress-Free Zone as this week’s Playlist of the Week. Who doesn’t want to be stress-free, after all? I’ve shared a few of Susan’s playlists before – the most recent being her excellent Eclectic Female Fusion playlist. (Susan is a musician herself: if you’d like to find out more about her and her own music, a good place to start is her Moondreams Music website.)

I set Stress-Free Zone to play whilst I read a few articles on the interwebs and then got a bit lost in the rabbit holes of Twitter. It was a good playlist for this, as the music here is generally gentle and unobtrusive, soothing even. Most of the playlist is instrumental, in meditative through to ambient styles, but there are also a small number of songs with lyrics. Although the style of the music in this playlist is a tad more sentimental in a few places than my personal taste, I was lulled into a sense of timelessness; a span of nearly two hours vaporised before I knew it.

Some of the stand out tracks for me were Jim Sande’s ambient track Diamant, and Crows Labyrinth’s Heliograph, neither of which should be played anywhere power tools are operated, as well as Enriclinaire’s haunting Thanks Pat.

I’d say this is an ideal playlist for reading fiction or studying, provided that you are not someone who will get distracted by there being a few songs with lyrics. You could spend your nearly-two-hours quite productively, if you choose, as it gives you the space to focus in deeply, whilst helping to put your mind in a state of flow.

Duration: 1h 45min, 25 tracks.

Rating: U (suitable for all listeners).

POTW (2019/26): Long Afternoons

I’m shocked! We’re already half way through this year’s playlists. It doesn’t seem all that long ago I was writing the first few entries. Michelle Qureshi joins us again as this week’s curator, with her fantastic relaxation playlist, Long Afternoons. (You can check out her Yoga Chill playlist here.)

Almost as soon as the opening track by Stars of the Lid began, I could feel a wave of sleep catching up with me. Now I am typing this yawning my head off, about 20 minutes in. (My excuse: it’s late and it has been a busy day).

I would recommend this playlist for siestas or late night pre-sleep listening, or to accompany slow food with slow music. It would also work well in a spa or massage setting if that’s your thing.

[Pauses for sleep before resuming writing…]

With the aid of tea and toast smothered with marmalade I managed to keep awake and listening for about another hour. After that I resurfaced several times with the playlist still going next to my pillow. As a relaxation playlist it definitely works.

One stand-out track for me before I got too drowsy was the melancholically beautiful collaboration Renewal between Al Jewer, Andy Mitran and Michelle Qureshi. There was also Max Richter’s Dream 8 (Late and Soon) which was beautiful and irritating in equal measure; I couldn’t decide which side I was going to fall on. The last track that I remember noticing before I drifted away was Tiempo from Lionel Scardino, a solemnly evocative piano based piece with atmospheric synths and beats.

Duration: 3h 53min, 33 tracks.

Rating: U (suitable for all listeners).

POTW (2019/22): Instrumental imaginaries and Atmospheric Architects

This week’s playlist of the week is Instrumental imaginaries and Atmospheric Architects. It’s a wonderfully varied relaxing playlist that journeys across genres and is all instrumental, as the title indicates. It takes in classic rock, disco, funk, classical, folk, psychedelic, epic and ambient styles – amongst others! A constant is the high quality of the tracks selected and how they conjure up images in your imagination. Artists featured range from household names like Jamiroquai and Jean-Michel Jarre to the relatively obscure and label-free.

Mat Champney of The Mighty Fallen is the curator; he also curated another recent POTW: Silent River. (There’s a little about the band in that article, and you can also hear one of their tracks in this playlist).

I found this particular playlist rather immersive. It’s one you might prefer to actively listen to, without attempting to concentrate on something else at the same time. (It works quite well for that, too, though.) I did find myself just disappearing into the music at times and floating off somewhere remote in my mind.

Duration: 3h 56min ; 57 songs

Rating: U, fit for all listeners. Whilst I wouldn’t expect that to change, this being a relaxing instrumental playlist and all, if you are at all concerned about explicit content, put the filter on. Then you won’t need to worry about dubious lyrics appearing while eg your mum is within earshot!

POTW (2019/21): Electronic Independent

Electronic Independent, this week’s Playlist of the Week, is more upbeat than what I’ve brought you the last couple of times. It’s another playlist that features independent artists, but it has a different focus. This one centres around tracks with pumping beats for the gym or the dancefloor (without ending up in hardcore EDM territory). It could help keep you alert on a long drive, or motivate you to keep going while cleaning the house. (I’m thinking of a few jobs I should be doing).

As with most playlists, there is the odd curveball; you might notice an 80s-style throwback with a busy, funky bass-line (e.g. Toy Shoulders’ Eternull), or a blues-swing jazz track (Hey Buffalo!’s Duele). Generally, the sound is fairly chart-orientated, though.

Electronica Independent features several tracks from Ce Ce Hemmings, the playlist’s curator, a.k.a. Hemmingway, who I’ve mentioned before. There’s also an abundance of energetic tracks from other fab electronic artists like Lyia Meta, Fans of Jimmy Century, Bufinjer, etc. And Flavolous, who I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing live at Sonophilia last year, is also present with Favela Flair.

Duration: 4h 12min / 61 songs

NB: I listen to Spotify with ‘explicit’ songs filtered out. There is one such track on this list at the time of writing, and I haven’t heard it! If you think this may be an issue, please apply the filter on your account before listening.

POTW (2019/20): Soft Calm

This week, we have Soft Calm, curated by singer-songwriter Barry McLoughlin as our Playlist of the Week. I’ve featured two of Barry’s playlists before – his Acoustic Treasures and Winter Wanderer playlists, and there’s a bit more about him in the first of those two articles.

Soft calm is a collection of songs that are gentle on the ears. Moving between jazzy, cool, spacey and just plain beautiful sounds, this is a really lovely relaxing listening experience that can just as easily be used as background music for all-day work, creativity or reading.

Duration: 11h / 179 songs.

NB: I listen with Spotify’s ‘explicit’ song filter switched on. There are a few tracks labelled explicit on this list, but I haven’t heard them! If those tracks are likely to bother you, please make sure you have the filter switched on in your own account before listening.