piano

Cœur de pirate

Cœur de pirate

Long, long ago, in the distant past of 2009, I wrote a short post about the debut album from Béatrice Martin as Cœur de pirate and I assure you reader, even today the songs from that album are special. I have a kind of nostalgia about not just those songs and that recent-yet-not-recent time but the way hearing those songs felt then, the echoes they throw from then to now. There are songs and albums and artists that are your favorites and you would call them your favorites perhaps out of careful consideration or soul-searching and they come easily to mind when someone asks you to name them. I don't think of Cœur de pirate this way, though I adore a wide and ever-widening swath of her output. There's a different kind of song or album or artist, no less critical but often less obvious, that anchor your taste; foundational components of the ethereal equations that describe the dynamics of a system that together encompasses "what you like". Comme des enfants is that, for me. Cœur de pirate the album and artist is that, for me. There are other piano-heavy artists, there are other non-English vocalists, even the occasional chanson française, the elements that make up the sound are not themselves unique within my experience, but the combination of Cœur de pirate in that place, in that time, staked a position that remains just as apparent to me now as ever. When I hear it, I see this spot where Cœur de pirate landed and I know that's where I am again.

Last night at 11:30p I learned that there was a new Cœur de pirate album and I immediately smashed the buy button on Bandcamp so hard it knocked the phone right out of my hand. I decided to take in the new album in the morning and so it sat in the cloud, all night, waiting for me to press play. This morning the wait was over, I downloaded my nerd-grade FLAC files and started the album playing on my home hifi while I milled about, and the opening piano notes were beautiful, hopeful, if sounds can themselves be hopeful, and I felt very good about my decisions. The song continued, as songs do, and the piano work was gorgeous and the tune was lovely and yet something. Something. The next song started and it was similarly wonderful and the piano was still there and still wonderful and yet something.

Something.

Where...was her voice? The piano was carrying the melody, the piano was carrying...everything. The third song began and the piano was alone again and there was no more milling about, there was sitting down, there was paying attention. So beautiful and stark, so sharp and striking, melancholy and powerful. It's utterly, truly lovely. The entire length of the gone-too-soon album is distinctly lovely. There's gravitas in solo piano that is unmatched in single instrumentation and her compositions amplify that. The mastering is superb, it rings with clarity, it surges and flows with dynamics unique to beautiful piano music. It feels close and personal, and always melodies that are unmistakably Cœur de pirate. I still hear her voice even though it isn't there.

I wrapped up the first pass and I found myself wondering how this beautiful thing had happened. I felt sure there must be a reason, and I was right, there is a reason. It's awful and I feel for her, my sincerest hope is with her for a full and speedy recovery of her enchanting singing voice which I unquestionably miss, yet here is this beautiful thing, this beautiful music, une si belle musique. I cannot help but feel grateful to have it.

C'est la vie, je suppose.

Isle-aux-Coudres
Saint-Irénée

Where to find Cœur de pirate:
Twitter: @beatricepirate
Website: coeurdepirate.com

Lights

Lights

Yes. I did just do a Lights post, like, 10 minutes ago in CGPLS time. I know. I KNOW. Look, alright? I didn’t know this other album was out there. I didn’t know. It is so good and also so wildly different that it deserves…no, no it demands recognition. I was musically smitten with Lights before. Strongly Musically Smitten, official classification. I’m in Stage Ten Incurable Musical Love with her now. Good/Bad news, Lights: I’m here to stay. There’s a show in Phoenix next month that I think now qualifies as a Certified Moral Imperative.

The thing about Little Machines (and I expect you understand that there is no way for me to level criticism at Little Machines as I find it to be a virtually perfect electronic pop album so this is not and cannot be criticism, it is exposition for the purpose of demonstrating contrast) is that it is electronical as all get out. I love that about it. I love the synth-y joy and the effected everythings and it is a truly magical album. In a certain way though, it’s easy to lose sight of the pure musical artistry at work in the glorious electronic wonderland. That isn’t to say that I have any less respect for an electronic artist than I do for a more traditional artist, just that it’s easy to forget they’re both doing the same thing. It’s not common, in my experience, for great electronic artists to also be great acoustic artists and it is for that reason that Lights’ acoustic re-release of Siberia is truly a beautiful and unexpected surprise from an artist I had saddled with my own limited expectations.

I had listened to Siberia (the original) a little but I wasn’t really into it. It’s a sound that feels like a lower-gloss version of what happens on Little Machines and I just wasn’t there with it. I didn’t leave with any significant notion of any of the songs on the album and I contentedly moved back to playing Little Machines tracks on repeat, no harm, no foul. When I found out there was an acoustic follow-on to Siberia that stripped down the tracks, I had to give that a listen, right? So I did. What I found there were revelations, in the purest sense. Things. Were. Revealed.

First, Lights is a truly wonderful vocalist. I loved her over electronic music, but I can die happy now with her over a solo acoustic guitar or a grand piano. Just beautiful. Delicate, affected, expressive, novel phrasings, breathy falsetto. So so good.

Second, her electronic songs have amazing arrangement potential for acoustics. This is not a thing I’ve found to be any sort of given, it must be treasured and the rare opportunity is not squandered here. There’s no overproduction, no unnecessary complication. Everything feels necessary and deliberate. A string fill here, some reverb there, but in concert with the instrumentals. So good.

Third, she knows Cœur de pirate. I love every single conceivable thing about that. The first time I was working through a full play-through of this album I was about half-way in and I distinctly remember thinking “It would be amazing if she did a song with Cœur de pirate. I hope that happens” and then track seven came on, “Peace Sign” and the second verse was in…French. And I had not, to this point, known Lights, though a Canadian, to sing in French. I was contemplating how much different she sounded in French and whether that was just related to the language differences or if there was an electronic effect in play or maybe it was recorded at a different time and the other half of my brain that isn’t a pedantic mess mind-slapped me hard like “Hey. HEY. That’s Cœur de pirate, man. Get it together, you’re in the tall grass.” “Thanks, self. I’m here now. 5×5.” “Ok.”

Fourth, there’s no fourth. I’m just playing games with your heart now.

Here’s a couple. I don’t even. I mean, also listen to “Siberia” and “Suspension” and “And Counting…” and “Flux and Flow” and “Peace Sign” and do you get it yet you have to listen to the whole album why are you still reading go listen to it right now.

GO.

Banner
Heavy Rope

Where to find Lights:
Twitter: @lights
Website: music.iamlights.com

Fleurie

Fleurie

Her eyes kind of look right into you, don’t they?

It is only recently that I’ve become aware of Fleurie, though the Fear & Fable EP I’m currently wearing a figurative hole through was released in 2013. Once again our ever-generous overlord The Great and Powerful Spotify has gifted me with bounteous musical joy and once again the beneficiary of such is you, dear, silent, likely imaginary, reader. The good news is that she has new music on the horizon, so, soon there will be more than this.

Before you wonder if we’re once again in an episode of “Music Adam Listens To In Foreign Languages He Does Not Understand”, fear not. Though her nom de plume is of the French persuasion, her songs are in English delivered by way of Nashville, though as I understand it, she hails originally from Michigan. Her sound is sparse in a powerful way, overlaid by a delicate vocal style that plays beautifully through both piano and guitar driven arrangements that share as much with a rougher indie style as a retail-ready sound you might hear on a finer radio station or television soundtrack. I’m honestly quite surprised I haven’t heard her on a show yet, “Hymn” and “There’s a Ghost” have a quality about them that I’d find very comfortable over a montage.

I capital-A Adore “Chasing All The Stars” and I’m listening to it non-stop with the same sort of casual indifference Yogi Bear shows toward picnic baskets. I’m also including the amazingly strong at a mere two minutes “I Never Wanted”. Neither of these does much of a job at showing the other side of this album which is a little more energetic, but you can’t win ’em all, ok? Go get a copy and then you can know.

Chasing All the Stars
I Never Wanted

Where to find Fleurie:
Twitter: @fleuriemusic
Website: fleuriemusic.com

Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

I remembered something today.

I was on the Twitters burning time while I waited for a Wimbledon match to get underway when Vienna Teng says:

Honestly folks, I didn’t even know what StageIt was but listening to artists soundcheck is like getting a trip behind the curtain so I clicked that link and made a StageIt account. I put my new analytical headphones in (Etymotic HF5, really nice) and listened to her tune all her levels and check her gear by playing an impromptu cover of Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky". She was bantering with the die-hards that showed up to the internet soundcheck and then it was over and my brain began revolting immediately at the idea of not seeing the actual show, whatever that was. So I gave my monies to StageIt in return for “notes” and got myself a virtual ticket to watch Vienna Teng perform live from her living room. This is when I remembered:

Vienna Teng is crazy good.

I’ve been listening to Vienna Teng for most of a decade, at this point. I got Warm Strangers sometime in aught-n-five when I heard about this ex-Cisco engineer making singer-songwriter piano songs. I became very attached to a particularly funereal (any day when I get to use funereal organically is a great day, as an aside) track called "Passage". I don’t really know why, though I’d wager the acapella didn’t hurt. Anyway, this album also had a bunch of other things going for it. As I think back now, this was probably the first time I’d encountered what I’d now call “chamber pop” but at the time I called “Vienna Teng music”. Lots of great tracks, though I particularly enjoy "Anna Rose", "Green Island Serenade" (which I’ve referred to as “bonus track” for way way too long, apparently) and "Feather Moon" in addition to the song exclusively about the stages of grief and loss.

Dreaming Through The Static and Inland Territory passed me by a little. I don’t have a good explanation for it, wrong music at the time. They’re both good albums ("1BR/1BA" and "Love Turns 40" from Dreaming, "Kansas" and "Augustine" from Inland, do your own legwork) but they never locked in for me. It happens.

Fast forward to last year, she put out Aims and I was sure I didn’t like it. I was sure. I listened to it a few times and I was meaningfully confident I did not like it. There was this kinda dance vibe about a lot of it, like a classy EDM and it wasn’t what I wanted cause I wanted more of the Vienna Teng with the bell-clear voice sparsely arranged over almost-classical piano with the complex lyrics and this was not it. And so that was that, right? Why would I go back to it from my place of meaningful confidence?

Well, imagine a website where artists can play impromptu live shows from their living rooms. ::AHEM::

I’m listening to Aims right now. This album is not Warm Strangers, so I was right about that. What I was wrong about was the part where I didn’t like it, cause it’s good. It’s better than good, it’s actually kind of great. As a sonic entity it is truly, definitively, big. Big arrangements, big sounds, big all the things. Even the acapella track, "The Hymn of Acxiom", is a multi-layered choral megalith. There’s something about this album that tickles a similar cranial region to Elizaveta, if I was forced to make a comparison.

Short version:

  1. I’m back, Vienna Teng, and it’s good to be back.
  2. Live shows are even good over the internet, if you can believe that. Let the power of witnessing music creation in real-time never be doubted.
  3. Vienna Teng is a person who has two names all the time in my head. If I was ever in a position to refer to her in a familiar way, saying/writing merely “Vienna” would, I have discovered while constructing this, be quite uncomfortable. Welcome to the funhouse of my psyche. Mind the gap.

Here are a couple from Aims so you can choose not to take my word for it:

In the 99
Flyweight Love

Where to find Vienna Teng:
Twitter: @viennateng
Website: viennateng.com

Elizabeth & The Catapult

Elizabeth & The Catapult

It’s been a while since we last spoke of Elizabeth and her accompanying Cat (apult). Nearly five years, in fact. I’ll give you a second to catch up on your history. Much has happened, Taller Children was fresh at that time, but we’ve now seen not one but two additional studio albums, The Other Side of Zero in 2010 and earlier this year, Like It Never Happened. It’s this most recent outing that I’m here to wax poetic about and/or sing the praises thereof.

A brief aside, Elizabeth (@thecatapult) has totally favorited my tweets on the Twitters at least once and is generally super friendly and engaging in the medium. This, of course, means we’re basically best friends and calls my ability to be objective (Ha! Right? Objective. ME. Yeah, I’m doing this joke folks, hang on to something.) into question. Much like LeVar Burton, I encourage you not to “take my word for it” and if you could see the look I’m doing right now it’d be the one that implies you should probably investigate the sounds of Elizabethan Catapultery for yourself (as if you haven’t already).

A slightly further aside, if “Elizabethan Catapultery” turns out to be a proper noun for something, anything else, the world is exactly as marvelous as I want it to be.

Alright, music.

Elizabeth is a well-known quantity as a pianist, by which I mean she’s super good at piano-ing and I love listening to her piano. Here’s the thing about Like It Never Happened: she plays a meaningful amount of guitar. As I understand it, a significant portion (potentially all? I wasn’t there, sadly) of the songs on this album were composed on a guitar rather than the piano. This opens up a different toolkit for Liz (Can I call her Liz? We’re Twitter best friends, I’m sure it’s fine) and you can hear it. This is a different album. Experimental. It’s like she found a new wing in her talent mansion and she’s just gotta open all the doors. That kind of thing carries a certain risk of straying into fragmentation and dissonance, but this album forgoes that entirely preferring instead to be engaging and imaginative, at times catchy, at others spacious and always brilliant.

I picked a couple out that I really enjoy but there’s so much to hear on this album that you should not believe in any sense that I’ve given you anything except the narrowest possible idea of what may or may not be in play.

Some Day Soon
I Wish I Didn’t

A small editorial, I PledgeMusic’d this album quite readily cause I’ve been given much reason to believe in her ability to deliver. She could be funding a trip into an abandoned subway tunnel in Bangalore with an assortment of cracked glassware, a dozen differently-bent brass forks, two Chinese singing crickets, a gleam in her eye and a song in her heart and I’d swipe my card, and rightly so. Regardless, I wanted to just go ahead and call your attention to PledgeMusic so you can also feel like you’re part of bringing amazing music from brilliant artists like this into the world. I’ve funded Rachael Yamagata music, Ben Folds Five music, Meiko music, the Presidents of the USA, hell Rufus frickin’ Wainwright is self-funding a recording of his opera Prima Donna over there right now.

Be a patron of the arts, folks. Whatever your personal zeitgeist would have you think of this crowd-funding kind of model, never lose sight of the power it has to directly connect you to the arts and artists in a way that buying ex post facto never will. Be a tiny Medici.