Here’s a trio of excellent musical selections that have been permeating the home office this past week. It’s the latest installment in a series that I’m calling #Worktones.
Before knowing the photographic inspiration behind Equivalents, I mentally described the sound of the album as ’the hum of weightlessness.’ I wasn’t too far off. Those photos are a series of black and white pictures of clouds, captured and decontextualized by artist Alfred Stieglitz in the mid-to-late ‘20s. Some consider this work the first intentionally abstract photo-art statement. Here Loscil (the Vancouver-based musician Scott Morgan) deploys processed piano in sonic washes and layers that can recall an imaginative session of cloud-watching. Many only see uniform clouds in the sky — an everyday occurrence — while the lucky ones stop to pick out distinctive shapes, implications, and gentle reminders. Equivalents welcomes a similar exercise, rewarding the deep listener with soothing impressions of an atmospheric terrain.
Catch a Blessing is an adventurous album, in that it has the feeling of exploring unworn paths and venturing down overgrown trails. The album begins with the lively “Avondale Primer Gray,” hinting at randomness and an embrace of the ‘happy accident.’ But as things in nature experience emergence, the ensuing tracks, though sonically unconnected, appear to gather into themes that are just out of grasp. M. Sage, the artist behind this work, assists the experience with field recordings — such as the nostalgic fireworks of “Polish Triangle” — and guest musicians providing beautiful and exotic strings to “Window Unit + Three Flat.” But it’s the short but moving “Michigan Turquoise” that stands out, a lonely ballad complete with a looped guitar strum, seabird calls, and a mournful crooner transported by magic from a distant time.
It’s not all strange ambient music playing at the workspace. Some days (Monday mornings?) require an uplift, music that’s got some get-up-and-go. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t work alongside songs with words, especially when I’m writing. But there’s an exception for languages I don’t understand, especially when rhythmically sung in mesh with the instrumentation. This reissue of a rare 1982 album from Africa’s mysterious Dytomite Starlite Band of Ghana fits the bill. I say ‘mysterious’ as BBE, the reissuing label, doesn’t have much information on those involved. The songs are wonderful and instantly improve the mood and feature more than a few tight synthesizer riffs. I love listening to this stuff. I’m presently reading Rosewater, a terrific novel set in future Nigeria, so there’s some geographical synergy in my media consumption. FYI: BBE is quickly reissuing decades-old albums from the extensive back catalog of Nigerian label Tabansi Records and this is one of many in that series. The titles I’ve heard so far are consistently worth your time.