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 (2019/35): Ambient

Don’t be fooled by the name! This week’s playlist, Ambient, is not strictly an ambient music playlist, although there are some ambient elements to these tracks. It’s nearly all trip-hop favourites, and it’s a gem, thanks to Spotify user Lorien KC.

Trip-hop favourites

This list is packed with trip-hop classics, as well as some live versions. Many of the tracks are trip-hop favourites from the 90’s, like Massive Attack’s Teardrop (which you might know as the theme tune from the early series of House MD) and Moby’s Porcelain (used in various adverts back in the day, including VW Polo). There’s also Six Underground from Sneaker Pimps, Portishead’s tense Glory Box, and a cluster of tracks from Aphex Twin. (One of those is strictly ambient!).

Not just 90s nostalgia

The playlist isn’t just a 90s nostalgia trip, though. The trip-hop genre and related styles didn’t die the moment the millennium bug should have struck; This is reflected in the playlist with the inclusion of more recent tracks from Zero 7, Bonobo, Goldfrapp, Puracane and others.

In addition, there are a few incursions from indie artists, including a lovely downtempo track called Tonight from Shedizer, which is already one of my earworms. Another one to listen out for is Nikki Oniyome’s beautifully understated Drown. (I’m also massively* honoured to be one of the indie artists represented on this list, alongside some of my favourite tracks from artists that inspire me.)

It’s worth noting that some of the best treasures have been kept until the end. Quantic’s almost lofi Time is the Enemy, RJD2’s Ghostwriter**, The Silk Demise’s Wildfire and Maria También from Khruangbin are all treats well worth holding on to the end for. Supreme Beings of Leisure’s Never the Same ends the list on another (metaphorical) high note.

This has been a most satisfying listen! If you love this list too, give my Chilled Trip-hop playlist a spin.

Duration: 3h 19min, 42 songs.

Rating: 12 – There’s one ‘explicit’ track, Morcheeba’s Big Calm, which contains some swearing.

Ideal for: a reunion with friends you haven’t seen since the 90s, or general purpose listening.

*See what I did there?

** As used in feature films Wimbledon and Prime.

POTW (2019/34): Breaking More Waves

This week’s playlist of the week is Breaking More Waves 2019 (New Music Updated Monthly). This is compiled by Robin Seamer, who writes the Breaking New Waves music blog. Robin’s also involved in Portsmouth’s Dials music festival, which raises money for the local branch of mental health charity Mind. Great stuff!

Refreshingly short at just under 45 mins, there’s a pop-rock retro sensibility from the start of the playlist. (NB I’m ignoring the first couple of tracks, which the explicit filter blocked from playing).

An 80s vibe

Then comes a rather lovely surprise – Salt Ashes’ outstanding downtempo cover of Madonna’s Get Into the Groove breaks the mood. Not just anyone could cover this song and get away with it, but they pull it off stylishly. Then we’re back into more of a pop-rock mood again. Gothic rock from The Murder Capital follows, sounding for all the world like they walked straight out of the early 1980s.

Next up is the atmospheric Ancoats Junction from new Glaswegian band Morning Midnight. This is a track I could probably happily play on repeat. Following on from that, Walt Disco’s Past Tense lives up to its name, with more time-travel back to the 80s. They sound like a blend of some of the most iconic bands of the period – and it works.

The playlist ends with Black Country, New Road’s powerful offering Sunglasses, which could easily be mistaken for Talking Heads having a breakdown: ‘I am so ignorant now with all that I have learnt’… ‘I am invincible in these sunglasses’…

If that’s whetted your appetite, you’ll have to listen to this one pronto before my description goes out of date when Robin updates it for tracks he’s featured on the blog in August.

Duration: 44 min, 11 songs.

Rating: 18. (Definitely got some adult content in this one. NB, it’s not all labelled as such.)

Ideal for: getting stuff done. The playlist has the right kind of energy for driving or other tasks where you can listen to the lyrics.

POTW (2019/33): Refreshing Electronica

This week’s Playlist of the Week is Jeff Haight’s Refreshing Electronica. Jeff is an electronic musician from Michigan, and performs under the name Cesium Swimsuit. I should also mention that Jeff curates the Beat Sessions show on Frission Music, so is actively involved in helping underground music get heard.

For a taste of Cesium Swimsuit’s music, check out his beautiful track Insomnia, which is on the playlist. It’s a confection of clean, atmospheric guitars floating above a spacious ambient IDM backdrop, with hints of Boards of Canada et al. I feel like I’ve found something of a kindred spirit here: Jeff’s work and his track selection on this playlist really suit my musical taste. (He’s also made me want to get my guitar out!)

The playlist overall has a similar tone to Jeff Haight’s own work as Cesium Swimsut: this is intoverted, thoughtful music. Beat-driven, sometimes soothing and gentle, sometimes dissonant and slightly off-balance, it could make for pleasant late-night driving music.

Sleepless and Stellar

The choices of tracks on the playlist include some contemporary electronica favourites, such as Bonobo’s Cirrus, Tycho’s Jetty, and Helios’s Bless This Morning Year. Other stellar appearances on this list include Jon Hopkins, Air and Four Tet. I’ve also been pleased to discover tracks by unfamiliar artists, such as Sun Glitters, Danky and Asleep Within Waves. There’s also a sprinkling of pieces from artists in the Sleepless Collective (Cesium Swimsuit is a member): Richard Alfaro, Synesthete and Tainsus.

My stand out tracks in Refreshing Electronica have been difficult to pick. Ignoring the more familiar tracks from big name artists, here are some of the best bits. First up, I’ve picked Frythm’s Lets Make It Work, because it grabbed my attention every listen, reminding me of James Blake with less jazz and more EDM influence. Next, Manatee Commune & Effee’s I Can Dream stands out for its gentle African percussive backing and harmonies. Finally, Bobbing’s Yaskool deserves a mention as a joyful meeting of funk and IDM.

Duration: 2h 9min, 30 songs.

Rating: U.

Best for: Late-night driving or working.

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 (2019/31): Daydreaming 2

With the Daydreaming 2 playlist, its curator, Carlo Rogall, has assembled a lovely collection of pieces. This is the first time I’ve featured one of his playlists, and not a moment too soon. (It’s a bit of an oversight, actually.)

Stressed, Moi? I make chillout!

From the opening bars of the first track, I could feel the stresses of the last few days melting away. Stresses? Thanks for asking! I’ve been pushing hard towards finishing as many of my open projects as possible. I need to reclaim my computer’s over-stuffed hard drive for a large project starting in September. The deadline is approaching way too quickly for my comfort and the push to complete projects is generating even more data!

The projects I’m trying to close out are some remixes and reworkings of other peoples’ songs. These have taken longer than expected, and a few other important things have needed my attention along the way. (I made my Patreon site and moved my website to a new host.) I’ll let you know when the music is going to be coming out. (It is looking like the EP will be late October, but I’m hoping the other remix will release sooner).

Enough about me. Back to Daydreaming!

This week’s curator is Carlo Rogall. He’s a DJ, producer & drummer from Germany, who, as Spaceschneider, makes electronic music focussing around downtempo, psychedelic, dub & deephouse. His tracks often have acoustic elements and influences from world music and jazz, and he frequently collaborates with other artists. Dephinite, Erkan Baran and Mniei being examples. In fact, he and Dephinite own the Rogalist Records label together. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you may recognise this label name, as I featured two playlists by their manager, last year.

As you might expect from Spaceschneider, there’s a large dose of relaxing and downtempo electronica in the playlist. But it is also filled with a mixture of other independent music, including experimental, classical and world-music-influenced styles, . Most of the time the playlist flows, but there are occasionally slightly abrupt changes in direction. A good example would be the jump from Lauge’s peaceful composition Fairbanks to Ugochill’s Familiar, with its rocky solo guitar. Normal service is resumed quickly, dropping the pace down to Andy Salvanos’s acoustic piece Under the Piano two tracks later. The pace switches are probably entirely intentional, to keep it a daydreaming playlist, and not a sleep-dreaming one.

Too much to take in

There are many great tracks on this list, but I’ll mention just a few that stood out. Mbr/Ajisai by Ametsub is, a hybrid of African and Eastern meditative sounds with a downtempo beat and soft, layered vocals. Guaava by Germind is a slow, floaty synth piece that fades in and out, which suits the daydreaming theme particularly well. This Charming Violin is a remix by TPOT of Kick Bong’s track. It’s all mournful violin playing and operatic wailing over a bouncy electronic backdrop. It sounds way better than I described it! Last one: Entheogenic’s A Language Older than Words is beautifully produced prog-tronica journeying through a Floydian-but-Eastern landscape.

There’s too much to take in properly in one sitting, but this is the sort of playlist you’ll want to return to. (I’ll happily admit I already have).

Duration: 12h 10min, 159 songs.

Rating: PG (I can’t quite give this one a U, there’s one track with the dreaded ‘explicit’ label. I can’t vouch for any non-English lyrics, either.)

Ideal for: Background music, evening winding-down. Some tracks are a bit slow for work music, but as the intensity of tracks varies, this playlist isn’t likely to send you to sleep at the office. Beware of daydreaming, though! If you do nod off, earlier nights and more coffee may be needed!

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 (2019/29): Ultimate Independent Playlist!

Today’s playlist of the week, the Ultimate Independent Playlist! is curated by Mike Five, one of the hosts of the New Music Saturday cross-Atlantic podcast. The show features independent music, particularly rock bands; if you’ve not heard it, do check it out! Mike is also a guitarist in the hard rock blues band 1 in Five, who are releasing an album this year, and he edits Headlights and White Lines, an online zine about independent music and art. This zine hosts Brighton’s Off The Record Music festival as well. I think it’s fair to say that when Mike isn’t actually making music himself, he is run off his feet supporting other indie artists.

Some history

I happen to know a little of this playlist’s history. Having curated it for a while, Mike made it collaborative and invited other indie artists to add to it, to pick up a broader range of music. Then Mike carried on curating as the suggestions rolled in, to make sure it flowed well and wasn’t dominated by any one artist.

Cue that ripping sound vinyl makes when a record stops abruptly! At this point, someone apparently got a bit uppity that their tracks weren’t all kept and wiped the entire playlist clean. (Either that or a prankster got hold of the link). In any case, Mike quickly rebuilt the list with a little help from his friends; and, of course, it is no longer collaborative. (My contribution was a bunch of songs from East Midlands artists.)

Rock is the backbone

Genre-wise, the list starts with a strong collection of rock and indie/alternative guitar bands. As it goes on, the variety increases. Other genres start to appear amongst the increasingly diverse guitar-based tracks. Electronica, synthpop, industrial, country, prog, ‘early’ style Southern blues, pop, funk, jazz, neoclassical piano; even chiptune and bossa nova get a look in. I wouldn’t recommend this list to someone who doesn’t enjoy listening to rock, because it forms the backbone of the list. This won’t be the ultimate independent playlist for everyone’s taste. But this is a great, quality list for anyone who does enjoy rock, and it will last you all day.

My one criticism, if I was going to be picky, would be that there could be more female artists represented on the list. It’s not that women are absent, and I haven’t tried to crunch the numbers. However, it’s rare for a band to be all-female, even if it’s fronted by a woman, whereas all-male bands are fairly typical. So, this list is probably fairly heavily skewed towards male performers, without that being in any way intentional.

Duration: 7h 27min, 114 songs

Rating: 15, NSFW. A few tracks are labelled ‘explicit’; some explicit content that has got through unlabelled is also occasionally on this list. Also occasional forays into darker or heavier territory.
(NB Spotify has a filter for ‘explicit’ songs, which can be set up via accessing your account on a smartphone or iPad. This does not filter out explicit content unless the track has been flagged as such, however).

Ideal for: Driving or active physical work, such as gardening, DIY, painting, etc.

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).