America is a stunning new track from Leeds-based 21-year-old singer and songwriter Harriet Little, It felt wrong to include something so delicate and beautiful as part of a round-up, where it could be swallowed by the sounds around it. Recorded in one take, with a tender intimacy, the occasional instrumental creaks that frame the song could equally be the sound of a heart breaking, over and over.
Oh the places that we dreamed, america
All the states we have been, america
All the signs we ruined, america
All the love I’m leaving, america
In case you missed it, last Sunday was Piano Day, an idea dreamed up by the supremely gifted Nils Frahm. It was a day for celebrating the grandest of all the instruments and also, it turned out, a chance for Nils to drop a surprise free album, Solo.
RRP does not have a free, surprise album to gift to the world, but we can instead humbly offer you a playlist that showcases the piano in its various guises from pop accompanist to bringer of magical melody to modernist prepared hammered thing. In the process, we hope to be the first site to successfully feature John Cage and Chas & Dave in the same playlist.
Four years after Active Child’s debut album, You Are All I See, managed to garner itself some good attention and even better review scores (if a 9/10 from the esteemed Drowned in Sound isn’t enough to persuade you, what is?), Pat Grossi is back with a new album, Mercy, out in June, and a new track, “1999”, which you can stream today.
The first fruit of an album written almost entirely on harp and piano, “1999” is a track nostalgic for past love, and affectingly beautiful with it. It probably won’t be the only soulful piano-led lament and gorgeous falsetto you hear this year, but it will undoubtedly be one of the best.
Pianist, composer, and chill-maker Nils Frahm has announced March 29th as “Piano Day”, a celebration of all things piano-related. Frahm explains –
Why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons. But mostly, because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.Nils Frahm
For our part, we’ll be aiming to celebrate the day with a piano-related playlist. It will almost certainly feature the talented Nils Frahm.
As well as the announcement, Frahm shared a new track, “Wall”, in which a melody is allowed to develop almost organically under the cover of a seemingly unchanging hammered refrain.
Piano Day Links
Piano Day Official website
Erland & The Carnival’s list of band interests on their Facebook page: “Whiskey, bees, illustrations, old books”.
With the possible exception of bees, these would all give excellent company to their latest release, “Quiet Love”, a delicious piano and strings ballad. “I quite like to be alone, I don’t mind where I fall” sings Erland Cooper in a chorus that arrives and departs with melodies almost but not quite familiar enough to place (answers on a postcard, please, or preferably in a tweet, if they remind you of anything). The video, meanwhile, is the sort to induce wistful smiles: a slow-release tale of bingo and lost love.
As a taster for a new album, Closing Time, out on August 25th, “Quiet Love” sets expectations good and high; here’s to hoping a few more moments like this slip out before that distant release date.
Written during the Out of Time recording sessions, but not completed until later, “Nightswimming” was, for a long time, a simple, circular piano pattern that Mike Mills established gradually. Holding the track back from Out of Time meant that it benefitted from the more confident and complete string arrangements that John Paul Jones added to Automatic For The People.
Uncommonly among R.E.M. songs, “Nightswimming” is autobiographical, looking back on carefree summer nights of old, when the gang would go skinny-dipping in the local lake.
Something of a curiosity, this: as beautiful as the stringy version of “Landed” is, this is not a song that ever needed a string section bursting through and demanding to be heard. Take that away, and you already have one of the great piano melodies up front. You know – the kind that you might imagine yourself playing even though in reality you can just about get through chopsticks and that bit at the beginning of Für Elise. Perhaps that’s just me.
It’s surprising that the strings don’t work better here, since the arrangement was by Paul Buckmaster, who has a wealth of experience and a reputation to match, having worked with Bowie, Elton John and Nilsson among many others. I’m willing to concede that my problem with the strings here may have something to do with the fact that I was already very familiar with the other version of the track before I heard the strings version. However, I don’t think that tells the whole story: with the addition of the strings, when the chorus comes, the piano seems to me to be pushed back in the mix slightly; it gets swallowed up by the strings, and the emotional range of Folds’ playing is muted. The same fate befalls the vocal harmonies in the chorus, and even the big finish loses something amidst the violins.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a great song – just not quite as great as its stringless sibling.
No musical differences, no studio tantrums, no Yokos. Just a band that came to a natural end. Once were Gene, then were Gone.
Gene’s last live performance was in December 2004, at the Astoria, itself closed four years later, and later demolished, to make way for the London Crossrail project.
Fans hoped for a reunion; failing that, a Martin Rossiter solo project. After a whole lot of nothing, in December 2012 their patience was rewarded with the release of The Defenestration of St Martin, an album of heartfelt and heartbreaking ballads; ten songs that need nothing more than a keyboard and Rossiter’s voice to make their point. Some of Gene’s quieter, more reflective moments might have hinted at this, but the emotional extent is impressive. Only in the last minute or so of closing track Let The Waves Carry You are the guitar and rhythm section allowed in, perhaps as a teaser for the next album?
The video to No One Left To Blame may not look much, but as Rossiter explains on his web site:
I’m going to be filming a video for another song from the album in a couple of weeks. It’s an idea I’ve had in my head for about twenty years and finally I have no one to say I can’t do it. Those of you hoping to see me high kicking down some steps dressed in nothing but a Dior basque might have to hold your breath a little longer.
If, on the other hand, you’ve always wanted to be stared out and sung to by a very cold ex-indie frontman for five minutes, you are very much in luck.
If Scandi/Nordic noir didn’t grab you, chances are Broadchurch introduced you to a new kind of minimal musical backdrop. “Here they Used to Build Ships” is taken from an album soundtracking a film (“Copenhagen Dreams”) so centered on the structures and buildings that make up a city that any people happening into the frame are often deliberately out of focus: A work of gentle yet powerfully evocative beauty.
We were promised snow, but no snow fell. This, then, in lieu.
Ludovico Einaudi on Nightbook:
A night-time landscape. A garden faintly visible under the dull glow of the night sky. A few stars dotting the darkness above, shadows of the trees all around. Light shining from a window behind me. What I can see is familiar, but it seems alien at the same time. Its like a dream—anything may happen.
The same week that Paul Simon’s album Graceland, partly recorded in Apartheid-era South Africa and featuring South African musicians, entered the album charts, another new entry would include a title track dealing with the US Civil Rights movement.
I didn’t buy The Way It Is, but I did buy 1988’s follow-up, Scenes From The Southside. Southside is a fine enough album, but I always felt there was something lacking. Luckily enough, the album’s a bit lopsided, its 9 tracks leaving a convenient 4-5 minute gap at the end of the first side of the tape. So, with the help of a little bit of sticky tape and my trusty twin cassette deck, I made a new and improved Southside. No more minutes of static and silence, this tape’s first side closes with a slightly lo-fi version of The Way It Is. (I did at least have the sense to shun the hi-speed dubbing option, though).
The Way It Is would help Bruce Hornsby to a Grammy award for best new artist the following year, and in the UK would become perhaps better known as the backing music used by the BBC on Grandstand while Bob Wilson ran through the football league tables. It was the go-to piano anthem of the pre-Sebastian Tellier era.
More recently, The Way It Is cropped up in NBC’s comedy Community, when a rewritten version by Pierce Hawthorne became Greendale’s school song.
And Pierce Hawthorne is played by Chevy Chase. Win.