LIGHT MUSIC FOR HEAVY PEOPLE
I cannot tolerate weakness. At least, not in music. To earn my love, art needs to carry some notable emotional content. I want to be made to feel terrified and disheartened, or powerful and emboldened, or mystified and aroused, or really just anything outside of neutral. If your music is “nice”, I don’t give a shit. Nothing is worse than mediocrity. This of course draws me to dark art, and in music that often means metal and hardcore, but there is much more out there. This is a selection of my favorite folk or pop musicians that give me seriously dark feels.
Heavy music fans may have previously seen harpist Timbre in the denouement of the unforgettable single-take music video The Chariot made for “David De La Hoz”, but that’s only a glimpse of what this sorceress is capable of. Her instrumentation and tonal choices are informed by traditional church music, but the elements of harp, piano, and soprano voice are utilized to a thoroughly modern effect. Her music aches and soothes simultaneously, engaging despair but always seeking a way out. It is the painful stitch that heals your wound. Last winter, this album is the only thing I wanted to listen to when I laid alone on dark cold nights, transfixed by the monotonous, eternal falling of snow outside my window.
Punch Brothers are among the figureheads of the obnoxiously named “newgrass” movement, perhaps bested in prominence only by Trampled by Turtles. They have classic bluegrass instrumentation, but their music is the furthest thing from old-school. They habitually utilize bizarre song structures, immaculate and experimental shredding, and fucking crazy harmonies (check out dat bass at 1:57 in the video below). I have yet to hear another acoustic band make dissonance sound so likeable. “Don’t Need No” has a borderline thrashy chromatic riff at its foundation, decorated over time by the aforementioned zany shredding. Keep a particular eye on mandolinist and core songwriter Chris Thile; a former child prodigy, he was arguably the world’s greatest mandolinist as a teenager and has only improved with age.
Fiona Apple has been a major-label musician for almost two decades, but her discography is still easy to absorb in its entirety since she’s only about as prolific as Tool, with just 4 records under her belt. The talent and irreverence that was teased with her first releases has fully materialized on her most recent album, the awesomely named The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Whole emotional worlds are contained in her 4 line verses, both in the written lyrics and in her darkly flamboyant delivery. She is intense, uncompromising, and willing to make the listener uncomfortable. What more could you ask for?
For the longest time, I was frustrated at the world of electronic music. As a prog fan, it seemed such a waste that electronic artists would only write thudding 4-to-the-floor disco beats, even though a computer is literally the most powerful instrument on the planet, totally unbound by the limitations of any instrument’s range or any human’s chops. Discovering Flying Lotus, Burial, and James Blake assuaged these frustrations. James Blake’s eponymous breakthrough album is a haunting, spare affair that sounds like a shattered vase not quite glued together correctly. Musical voices are meticulously programmed to be just a bit off from one another; the snare may be a bit rushed and the piano a big dragged, creating disjointed and unsettling music only made to sound human by Blake’s broken tenor. It’s mesmerizing, bleak, and the most confusingly sexy record I’ve heard in years.
Tags: Timbre, The Chariot, Punch Brothers, Chris Thile, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, James Blake
Writing this is actually terrifying to me, because I don’t the command of language to adequately express how much beauty is Tori Amos’s first album Little Earthquakes. The songs “Winter” and “Silent All These Years” render me helplessly sessile upon every listen. Her piano playing is delicate and pointed, then grows into a rich thunder before suddenly collapsing back into a daydream written in tones. The sparse singing elevates the dream-state, commanding your undivided attention before mercilessly bending the meter beyond recognition. I personally think her live performances of these songs from the Montreux Jazz Festival in the early 90’s are even more important to hear than the record from which the songs come.