What I Am Listening To, December 2021

Recently I have been branching out and checking out some new music; here are my latest discoveries.

The first is the excellent David Bowie album Station To Station I am slowly working my way through his back catalog and this album is the most recent stop on that journey. The album is refreshingly short at only 38 minutes in length. My favorite track is probably Golden Years which despite sounding somewhat dated and cheesy has a undeniable charm. What I always enjoyed about Bowie is his constant willingness to change and experiment and take risks. He never stayed in one stylistic place for a very long time and was always searching for something new. It is hard to believe that the person who wrote this upbeat and fun music would later be responsible for an album as dark as Blackstar. Also, his work has never had the feeling of being egotistical, although Bowie is clearly the center of attention there is more to his music than mere egotism, it is not centered banally on the person “David Bowie”. Rather, the focus is on the persona he adopts to help him express a certain facet of his character. Whilst these personas are clearly the product of Bowie’s mind they remain once removed from the man behind the music. For as an outsider it is difficult to determine which elements are attached to David Bowie the man and which are free creations of his aesthetic intelligence. In an age of a confessional and overly intimate relationship between artist and audience via social media it is refreshing consider the likes of Bowie who left much to our imaginations and intelligence to figure out. They don’t make them like Bowie anymore. There is a literalness to today’s culture that is nauseating. As much as the great ease of access that the internet offers is undoubtedly a good thing there are also negative aspects to such advancements, one of them being that information (especially that of the half-baked kind) is too easily available. This can lead to unparalleled levels of group think and pot analysis.

Next is Brian Eno’s landmark album Music For Airports. This album was as far as I am aware the first  body of work that popularised the new genre of ambient music. Further, the idea of music performing a functional as apposed to a purely artistic purpose is not something that fits with the usual historical presentation of the 1970s when the album was released. What expressions of Eno’s individualism are present are through the manipulation of existing musical material rather the performance of anything new. The idea of the producer as the composer, is perhaps a novel and one that foreshadows the innovations that would be pioneered by those creating hip hop years later. The music is a times impersonal and for this very reason but also strangely moving. The lack of percussion gives the work an ethereal quality which makes the album in a certain sense closer to classical music than anything mainstream.  

I have also been listening to The Original Soundtrack a compilation of music by 10cc. The best track by far on this album is I’m Not In Love which has become far more well know than the band who created it. I did not like the rest of the album; the clichéd ideas that are expressed in the first few tracks about Paris are boring. Later in the album a racial slur is used (whoever wrote the liner notes for the CD I have is strangely not bothered by this). I think it is fair to say this album has not dated well; I will be listening to it more out historical curiosity than for pleasure.

If you have any suggestions as to what I should listen to next please leave a comment.

Merry Christmas.

What I Am Listening To, February 2020

This month I am doing my best to not go crazy during the 3rd UK lockdown by enjoying some good music.

My firs choice is the excellent No Plan EP by David Bowie.

This EP consists of tracks that were recorded during the making of his final album and masterpiece Blackstar. These tracks did not make the album with the exception of Lazarus. All the tracks here are excellent my favorite being No Plan. What I love about this song is the enigmatic lyrics that hint and Bowie’s death (the video also hints that we are receiving a transmission from beyond the grave). the solo by Donny McCaslin at the end of the song is very tasteful and understated.

Next is one of my new favorite bands Karnivool and their album Sound Awake. Although they are new to me Karnivool have been active for many years and have built a strong following under the radar. They join the growing list of interesting acts I have discovered coming out of Australia in recent years.

This album is aggressive and subtle at the same time. All of the songs are carefully structured and crafted something that is occasionally missing from heavier music. Whilst Karinvool have clearly been influenced by other bands they have found a distinctive sound of their own which is not derivative. Despite having been around since the 90s I had not heard of them until a couple of years ago via the buzz that was generate online about the amazing bass tones John Stockman and producer Forrester Savell achieved on the song Goliath. The mixing on the whole album is a wonderfully clear, you can really here a lot of detail even during heavier moments.

On the opposite end of the musical spectrum I have been enjoying listening to the Keith Jarret Trio and their album Setting Standards. This trio became famous for taking old standards and taking a new and interpreting them in a free and unconventional way. I must confess that at times I am not totally sure what is going on, even on tunes I have actually played many times and know well. There is a certain austerity to the aesthetic of the piano trio that has always been attractive to me. Of the three CDs of this album my favorite is the 3rd CD which contains a series of freely improvised pieces. The musical telepathy that occurs between the trio is magical. Whatever may be said about Jarrett scathing opinions about other styles of music or his cranky outbursts on stage the music is beautiful. There have often been a element of snobbery in Jazz towards other styles and towards the audience that I find distasteful. This is partly I think due to the intellectual nature of the music, it takes considerable intellectual effort to master. People who posses such faculties and are willing to put the effort in may sometimes feel this puts them above others. This is true in a technical sense, but art is not the product of mere facility it is so much more than that. The beautiful can be simple too.

I have also been enjoying this strange take on a song by Duke Ellington with by Japanese musicians:

In addition, I have been re listening to the excellent Gary Willis album Larger Than Life.

I have write about this album previously but had a hard time understanding it the first time around. The second listening has proved very beneficial and I have been able to appreciated the supreme artistry on this recording. My current favorite tracks are the beautiful ballad Say It Ain’t So and the weird Alien Head explodes. I really enjoyed the strange sonic palette that is used on that track and the whole album. Larger Than Life definitely has a strong Jazz aesthetic but it is by no means conventional. I really admire Garry Willis for putting out something so bizarre. It should also be mentioned that the band on this album are really strong . I will certainly be checking out more Garry Willis in the future.

If you have any suggestions as to what I should be listening to please feel free to reach out to me on the Contact Page.

Shadows

It is with great pride that I can announce that my new album Shadows is out now.

Bringing this project to fruition has been a long and at times challenging process. This album deals with a difficult part of my life that I now think in thankfully behind me. I always feel a bit odd about writing about the meaning of instrumental music, as strictly speaking the music has no explicit message. What I hope it does convey is some of the emotions I was experiencing and the struggle that goes on inside every one of us between hope and despair.

Whilst the bass is featured heavily on most of the tracks I hope that those who hear Shadows will think of it as yet another one of those solo albums by bass players that can be so tedious to listen to. Whatever it’s musical shortcomings I am proud of the fact that I am not subjecting the listener to overly long piece of work. Out of al of the tracks that I recorded for this project I have tried to be ruthless in cutting what is unnecessary. Hopefully what remains is only the best material. That said, t is impossible to maintain critical distance from your own work. Because of this I cannot speak directly the Shadows artistic merit. In a world that is so oversaturated with music one must think carefully about putting yet more out there. Clearly I believe my work to be deserving of an audience or I would have not released it in the first place. For those in a rush I think the strongest track is Hope.

Writing this work has challenged me, I am used to writing with others and as this is a purely solo project I had no one else to fall back on or draw inspiration from. Completing work on your own requires a discipline that I am not used to. I am grateful that the muse has allowed me to conqueror my demons this time and finish something entirely guided by my own wishes. Most of the music was completed before the pandemic took hold, but it seems appropriate that in an age of isolation I should release Shadows.

My thanks go to Robin Newman who mixed and mastered all of the songs. The first mixes he produced were so good that very few changes were requested by me. Not only has he helped me with sculpting the audio but also answered all of my mixing questions no matter how stupid or silly they were.

Looking forward, I hope to get Shadows out on CD too, but this may take some time.

I do not expect many people to hear Shadows . To those who chose to spend some of their time with my music you have my gratitude. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Toby Coe

London, 2021