Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

Group 1

Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

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Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

Group3

Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

Group4

Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.

Listen Up! Fall New Music Arrivals

"Listen Up!" in dark pink text, written over a blurry black and yellow background with a design that looks like a half moon.

Fall into some new music at the EPL (I’m sorry – that was terrible). The seasons are changing, and so should your playlist. Place your holds now:

Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power (Soul Jazz Records) – Funk, jazz, poetry: this compilation showcases an awesome variety. This was compiled to accompany an exhibition at the Tate Modern of Black art from the 1960s. While comprised of funk, soul, jazz, and spoken word, fans of hip hop and electronic music can also appreciate this album as a history lesson in the roots of many modern genres.

Twista – Crook County (GMG Entertainment) – The Chicago artist with arguably the fastest flow in hip-hop is back with his tenth studio release. Twista seeks to tackle the corruption rife in his home city and explore the conflict between old-school hip hop and new. Not all of the tracks feature Twista’s blisteringly-fast rhymes, but his unique style will leave you tongue-tied on more than a few occasions if you’re ambitious enough to try to rap along.

Nine Inch Nails- Add Violence (Capitol) – A short sampling of what NIN has been working on during their long silence. I loved what they had to offer, but found it a little funny that they made it a little longer by adding a fairly unnecessary 4 minutes of static on the last track. I generally love what Trent Reznor does, but that seemed to be stretching it a little.

Lo’Jo – Fonetiq Flowers (Real World Records) – A playful blend of musical styles from French folk and Romani music to hip hop and languorous torch songs. An eclectic array of instruments build a mood that is dramatic, mysterious, and worldly.

Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy (Columbia) – Switching gears from abrasive and controversial to a more introspective vibe, Flower Boy delves into the changes that have come into Tyler the Creator’s life as he’s grown up in the public eye. From empty sexual encounters to seeking partnership, Tyler’s lyrics reflect the anxiety, confusion, and isolation he’s often felt during the course of his career. This release seems like a leap into a maturation of sound, with even the production taking on a tighter, more focused feel.

King Krule – The Ooz (True Panther Sounds) – An intriguing, avant-garde mix of jazz, rock, hip hop, electronic, and spoken word. One of the many music-making monikers of British artist Archy Marshall, King Krule’s sound manages to be both beautiful and a bit disturbing at the same time. Each track flows with a sense of unease – that there is something hidden to discover that could either be wonderful or horrible (or somehow both?).

Doing Our Thing: More Soul From Jamdown 1970-1982 (Cree Records) – A rich collection of early reggae covers of U.S. soul and disco cuts. Compiled by reggae historian Steve Barrow, this track list reads like a who’s who of Jamaica’s musical pioneers and showcases the mass appeal of the cover tradition in reggae music.

Jupiter & Okwess – Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat Records) – Congolese rhythm, instrumentation, and vocals smash together with Western rock and RnB culture to produce something energetic and unique. Hard to pin down because Kinshasa born/German-raised bandleader Jean-Pierre Bokondji’s influences are many, listeners find elements of ska, hip hop, disco, soul, funk, reggae, rock, Congolese rumba, and so much more. Extra flavor comes from guest appearances by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, Bad Seeds‘ Warren Ellis and Massive Attack‘s Robert del Naja.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn – Echo in the Valley (Rounder) – This album is just exploding with bright sounds and melody. The partnership of Fleck and Washburn, between their skilled banjo playing and her elevating vocals, is hard to rival. This is a joyous, warm, and welcoming collection of songs that seems to give its all from first to last note.

William Patrick Corgan – Ogilala (BMG Rights Management) – The former front man of The Smashing Pumpkins is back with a new solo endeavor and a more adult-sounding iteration of his name. What hasn’t changed is the signature sound of Corgan’s acoustic songwriting with its gentle, melodic instrumentation and sing-song lyrics, which as the artist admits are more often than not composed to sound poetic than to bear much meaning. This pick is more one of nostalgia than anything for me. It’s an easy listen, with WPC’s skills stripped down to where he shines. One majorly disappointing note to this release is the inappropriate faux Native American theme with its misspelled title and the cover art featuring bad dime-store feather headdresses. Haven’t we moved past that sort of disrespectful kitsch? Corgan has not been known for his tact and sensitivity over the years, so I can’t say this comes as a huge surprise.