Mmm, pop-pop-pop Music . . . . A miscellany of musical tidbits that have caught my eyes and ears recently.
Thanks to the prominent placement of the song "Let Go" in the trailer for actor/writer/director/weblogger Zach Braff's film Garden State, the band Frou Frou finds its 2002 album Details roaming about in the top 20 at Amazon. This pleases me no end, since I am very fond of that CD and have kept it in fairly constant rotation through the player for the past year and a half. It made an appearance some time ago in the sidebar, and has reappeared there now.
Frou Frou is or was a collaboration between singer/writer Imogen Heap and producer Guy Sigsworth. (Could you ask for a pair of names more positively Dickensian in their Englishness?) Ms. Heap's voice is a wideranging and flexible thing reminiscent of Kate Bush or Tori Amos, without their more irritating qualities, or of P.J. Harvey, without the implied threat that she'll take a knife to you or to herself at any moment. [Hmmph. Is that any way to talk about an artist I actually like?]
Frou Frou's music is similarly eclectic, mostly synthesized and beat driven but also drawing on unlikely contributors such as avant-trumpeter Jon Hassel. And my favorite tune on the album, "Hear Me Out," is the only one I've heard to build itself around a Brian Eno sample, in this case from possibly the loveliest music he ever produced, "Ascent (An Ending)" composed for the splendid Apollo program documentary, For All Mankind -- which effectively combines unnarrated, previously unseen NASA footage into a single, composite moon mission -- and available on Eno's own Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
Imogen Heap is now in London working on a new album under her own name. I am unsure whether Sigsworth is involved in that project or not. Naturally, she has a weblog.
Ah, where are those happy go lucky universal-jukebox days of the original Napster, when music lovers gathered under paradisal digital-blue skies to share and share and share and it seemed that Everything Ever Recorded Anywhere could be had for free? Gone, gone, like a third wish, to that place where lost youth plays in the snows of yesteryear before coming in out of the cold for a tasty madeleine. A pirate's life for me, indeed.
Nostalgia aside, there is still a surprising amount of free music to be had online, with the permission and legitimizing blessings of that music's creators and owners. Many independent or outlying musicians and labels make entire songs available in mp3 format in the hope that you will like what you hear and give them money for more. A month or two back, while looking for who knows what, I came across Excellent Online, which styles itself as the "premier home for North American fans of UK Indie music." Among other things, the site offers Flirt, free authorized downloads of a full double-CD's worth of mp3 files from musicians you've probably never heard of, most of it well worth hearing. (A minority of the tracks are unfortunately marred by excruciatingly unfunny introductory material by comedian Marc Maron.) There, in position No. 11, I found and fell for "Beautiful Gun," by the band Moses.
Moses proves to be principally two brothers from Hartlepool, Paul and David Mosley. Their music falls squarely in the traditions of UK folk, built around acoustic guitars, Everly/Simon&Garfunkely harmonies, and the occasional cello or fiddle or lonely clarinet. (In this genre, all roads seem still to lead eventually to Nick Drake, which is hardly a bad thing.)
Moses has released one album in the UK, 2002's The Swimming Zoo, from whence comes "Beautiful Gun." (The gun in question is strictly metaphorical: the song is mostly a cheery meditation on it being "the fate of the pretty/to break those hearts.") Finding it is a challenge -- it had no US release and even Amazon UK doesn't list it -- but well worth the search. I managed to find a sealed factory-fresh copy through a seller on E-Bay, at a very reasonable price and have been enjoying it for the past month.
The Mosleys have apparently completed a second album, but have pushed its release back to early 2005. In the meantime, they are offering half a dozen demo versions of songs for free download, under the collective title "Further Adventures in the Swimming Zoo." These songs are more piano-based (Paul Mosley is the piano player of the two), with the surprise appearance of a synthesizer or two. "100 Swans" is the highlight of the group to these ears.
Bonus Trivia: The rear cover of "The Swimming Zoo" CD features an upward-aiming photo of a detail of Anthony Gormley's monumental sculpture, "Angel of the North," which I only knew from reading cultural weblogs. I would have had no idea what I was looking at but for Brian Micklethwait's enthusiastic and nicely illustrated post waxing rhapsodic about that particular work (which is apparently located somewhere between Hartlepool and its neighbor to the north, Newcastle Upon Tyne).
I Can Hear Through These Walls
I earlier praised L.A.'s own specialists in "Romanticore," the band Bedroom Walls. As with Moses, there is apparently a new album on the way for 2005. In the meantime, the Walls are offering -- "just in case your summer hasn't been sad enough" -- a limited edition EP, A Species of Idleness. I hold in my hand copy #13 out of 350. It is drifty and bittersweet, with instrumentation reminiscent in places of the wordless half of David Sylvian's Gone to Earth, or of Fripp & Eno's Evening Star, and lyrics about spending the summer in your room "with your books and sad songs." Just the thing for those who like that sort of thing.