So what have I been listening to lately while writing MU4? Lots of things! I’ve mostly been focusing on newer releases these last couple of weeks, and this is what’s currently on rotation:
Flyying Colours, You Never Know, released 17 March. A sort of Slowdive-meets-dreampop hybrid that’s a little more bouncy than shoegaze but still moody enough to keep me enthralled. I’ve been looking forward to this one since hearing the first single “Goodbye to Music” on KEXP.
Depeche Mode, Memento Mori, released 24 March. I was curious as to what this new album would sound like, and it kind of reminds me of Ultra melodywise, but the sound is more like Construction Time Again. It’s definitely a somber affair for many reasons, but this band has always fit perfectly in that niche.
The Church, The Hypnogogue, released 24 February. The band lineup has definitely changed over the years — Steve Kilbey is the lone original member at this point — but their signature sound hasn’t changed at all. This one’s very much like their previous records, very moody and experimental.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples, The Town That Cursed Your Name, released 24 March. I’ve recently found out that this local band has been getting play on KEXP, which makes me extremely happy!
Secret Machines, The Moth, the Lizard and the Secret Machines, released 24 March. Recorded not that long after 2008’s self-titled album but never released, the band finished it off recently. It’s quite unlike any of their other albums, more of a noisefest than a melodic adventure, but it’s perfect background music for my sessions!
U2, Songs of Surrender, released 17 March. A forty-song mix to tie in with Bono’s memoir, it’s full of reimagined recordings of both hits and deep cuts. Many of them also have updated lyrics (per Bono, he felt these new words are closer to what he envisioned for each track). Still, it’s a great set!
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Delerium. It’s a not-quite side project of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of industrial band Front Line Assembly, leaning more towards ambient, almost new-agey electronica, quite the opposite of their harsh and twitchy main project. You might remember them from back in the 90s when they had a surprise hit with Sarah McLachlan and “Silence” — definite a song of its decade, complete with Enigma-esque Gregorian chant, grooving mid-tempo beat and dreamlike keyboards. That song and the album it came from (Karma) did in fact get a lot of play in the Belfry, and “Silence” does make an appearance on the second volume of the Songs from the Eden Cycle mixtapes.
The project is still active, sliding out an album every couple of years in between FLA releases. Their sound has definitely evolved some, but is still firmly anchored in that classic dreamlike new-age/ambient moodscape. The new album Signs, which just dropped earlier this month, is a stellar record that feels like a return to their best forms, with some quite lovely songs that fit perfectly here in Spare Oom and MU4. I’m quite happy to have them back on my Eden Cycle playlist again.
I mean, with a song — and title — like “Absorbed in Light”, how could this album not be a perfect writing soundtrack for the Mendaihu Universe? I’ve been coming back to this one just about every time I sit down to work on MU4. It’s got everything I love: moody atmospherics, glistening reverb with the occasional wall of guitar drone, and minimal lyrics.
I’m quite thrilled that I’ve latched on to a couple of new albums so far this year, as I’ve been in need of musical inspiration for a while now. This one in particular is not only soothing but drops me right into the mindset I need to focus on this new project. Plus it’s just a lovely record overall, and I highly recommend giving it a spin.
I knew about this band from my HMV years when their 1999 album Ágætis Byrjun came out as an import (it would get an American release a few months later). They were like an apocalyptic version of Cocteau Twins — both bands creating otherworldly music with curious and indecipherable lyrics, but while the Twins veered towards beauty, this band chose fragility instead. Their songs were always on the verge of not so much breaking apart as disintegrating before our eyes and ears.
In 2002 they released an album of eight untitled tracks simply entitled ( ) and sung entirely in lead singer Jonsi’s ‘Hopelandic’ conlang. I remember hearing an NPR review of it just before it came out, with the reviewer being utterly blown away by it. I picked it up pretty much on the drop date (one of my Newbury Comics runs after work, natch), and gave it a spin in the Belfry. It would end up getting some serious play during my writing sessions that year and into the next while I wrote The Persistence of Memories.
The band released a remastered version late last year and it sounds just as lovely as it did then, if not better. The album still feels just as fragile and cold, but that just adds to its beauty; this is an album of delicate sounds and moods that calls for contemplation and meditation.
Yes, believe it or not, I am not just listening to Belfry-era albums while writing! In fact, I’ve got a lot of relatively new tunes playing as well! Here’s a smattering of what’s on rotation here in Spare Oom…
The Tubs, Dead Meat, released 27 January. This is totally something I’d have listened to back in the late 80s-early 90s. It’s got that post-punk jangliness I loved at the time (The Church, IRS-era REM, and so on), plus its lyrics are very of that time (and very much similar to those of my band The Flying Bohemians). Thanks to KEXP — again — for introducing me to this great London band!
Belle & Sebastian, Late Developers, released 13 January. It’s essentially leftovers from the band’s 2022 album A Bit of Previous but they stand extremely well on their own. It’s a super fun listen and kind of sounds like a successful mix of their folkier early sound and their poppier later years.
Everything But the Girl, “Nothing Left to Lose” single, released 13 January. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt are back as EBTG after far too many years and they haven’t missed a beat. This is a stellar song and I’m eagerly awaiting their new album Fuse, which should drop mid-April.
New Order, Low-Life (Definitive), released 27 January. For some reason I always skipped over this album when I listened to this band back in the day, preferring Brotherhood instead, but giving this one a new listen recently has made me realize just how flipping great it is! However, as I’d mentioned to a friend earlier, it occurred to me that this is a stellar album marred by songs being in the wrong key; not that Bernard Sumner is out of tune (he tends to waver sometimes, which I’m used to), but that these songs are so out of his range, as he really strains on some tunes like “Sunrise”. Still, great album!
파란노을 (Parannoul), After the Magic, released 28 January. Noisy shoegaze from South Korea? Of course I’ll give it a listen! You guessed it — another band introduced to me by KEXP. They’re definitely reminiscent of Ride, with songs that sound like light bursts and unassuming vocals that insert themselves perfectly into the melodies.
Dave Rowntree, Radio Songs, released 20 January. The debut from Blur’s drummer is intriguing in that it’s quite moody and mellow but also reveals who might have been behind some of Blur’s more quieter and more introspective songs as well.
Technically, this next volume of Songs from the Eden Cycle would be volume nine, given that I’d started to make volume eight a few years ago but only got as far as nine tracks before abandoning it. But I digress.
As I start the actual writing of this new version of MU4, I’m thinking about what music I’d like to listen to this time out. As I’d mentioned previously, I’m trying to break out of the habit of hyperfocusing on new releases, so pretty much anything that catches my ear and/or gets me in the mood for the story is fair game. As you may have guessed, I’m currently writing this entry while listening to Wire’s 154, their third album from 1979 and my favorite of their Mark I era. “On Returning” is the first song to officially be added to the SftEC v8 mix.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve purposely done a deep dive into my music library to search for writing session music to this degree, so I’m sure two things will happen: one, I’ll default to some mainstays from the Belfry years (Blue Wonder Power Milk, Sea Change, And You Think You Know What Life’s About, and the usual 1997-2004 albums, soundtracks and compilations) when I can’t think of anything else to listen to…and two, I’ll rediscover some absolute bangers I’d completely forgotten about over the years. Add this to the new release which I promise I won’t obsess over, and I think that soon enough I’ll have myself another official soundtrack list. And maybe I’ll even post a few of them here as they surface…?
I started to look for the word count list for my work on A Division of Souls around this time, but either I hadn’t started writing it down, or I’ve misplaced the calendar organizer I used. I’m going to assume the latter. Anyway, a cursory look at the timestamp on some of my old files shows that I’d started the rewrite in November of 2001 and by February 2002 I was somewhere around Chapter 6. (It’s also right around when I stopped using MS Write and finally started using Word, having gotten a copy of it from my sister.) This means that I was still early in the game but feeling much more confident about my work.
If The Phoenix Effect was me happily reveling in claiming myself an author, A Division of Souls was me taking my craft seriously and having a lot more faith in the quality of my work. And pretty much every single album from here on in was going to be a writing soundtrack.
Mistle Thrush, Drunk with You, released 1 February 2002. I’ve mentioned this band a few times in the past; they were a semi-shoegazey Boston band whose singer was a good friend of my former record store manager, and their three records are great listening.
The Church, After Everything Now This, released 5 February 2002. This record felt like a slight change from their more experimental 90s output, somewhat returning to their old-school reverb-heavy sound but minus the jangle. They remain one of my favorite alternative rock bands, even if I don’t get to listen to them nearly as much as I should.
+/- (Plus/Minus), Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album, released 5 February 2002. A side project of the band Versus, their sound is much more angular math-rock but retaining their high-level energy and catchy melodies and rhythms. It might sound a bit strange at first, but it really grows on you.
Craig Armstrong, As If to Nothing, released 19 February 2002. Armstrong is more known for his movie scores (and “This Love”, the song he did with Elizabeth Fraser) but every now and again he’ll drop a solo album full of gorgeous music that really should be in movies. This one got some serious play during my Belfry days!
Tanya Donelly, Beautysleep, released 19 February 2002. Donelly’s second solo record is not quite as bouncy as her Belly work and not quite as twitchy as her Throwing Muses work, but there are some absolute gems in here including the lovely “Keeping You”.
Boards of Canada, Geogaddi, released 19 February 2002. At the time, this was a band I’d heard of (I’d seen their cds at HMV during the time I worked there) but never heard, so I went into this record completely cold. A good thing, because this ended up being on my top ten releases of the year! And yes, another album on the Belfry heavy rotation.
Buffalo Daughter, I, released 19 February 2002. Another ‘heard of but never heard’ band for me at the time, this was a great introduction to the band’s semi-electronic experimentation, full of songs both wonderful and strange.
Death Cab for Cutie, The Stability EP, released 19 February 2002. A follow-up to 2001’s The Photo Album, this EP features some extremely moody (even for them) tracks including the twelve-minute epic above, and a great cover of Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love”.
Clinic, Walking with Thee, released 25 February 2002. Clinic always reminds me of those 60s garage bands with lo-fi production and weird melodies that lean towards Beefheart and Zappa, only they stay this side of outsider music. Not for everyone, but definitely worth checking out.
Alanis Morissette, Under Rug Swept, released 26 February 2002. Forging ahead and refusing to return to the angry tension of her breakthrough record, this is an album about maturity…or at least making an attempt at it. It’s very much a laid back record and there’s some really great songs on it.
I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and I may as well start it now: I’ve been making mixtapes since I was a wee lad in the early 80s, well before I even knew what mixtapes were other than songs I taped off MTV and the radio that I liked. I usually average about six or so mp3 mixtapes per year nowadays, but back in the late 80s it would be upwards of maybe twice or even three times that.
Anyway, I’ve been wanting to share my mixtape playlists with y’all for ages because I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from them. In previous posts I’ve posted them as YouTube links, but now I’ve finally started getting around to building them as Spotify playlists. [I’m still annoyed that musicians’ earnings on the site are laughable, but I’ve come around to thinking that maybe pushing these mixtapes will help put a penny or two more on their paycheck.]
SO! Without further ado, I’m going to start off with a triple-play (heh) of mixtapes curated as soundtracks for one of my current novel WIPs. I’ve been listening to these quite a bit lately, so hope you enjoy them too!
Theadia: Music from the Waystation 1. Secret Machines, “3,4,5, Let’s Stay Alive” 2. Haelos, “End of World Party” 3. Bob Moses, “Love We Found” 4. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance” 5. Pretenders, “Message of Love” 6. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue” 7. Billie Eilish, “My Future” 8. Bob Mould, “Everything to You” 9. PVRIS, “Good to Be Alive” 10. Algiers, “Dispossession” 11. We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, “Versatile for Discos and Parties” 12. Doves, “Carousels” 13. Bob Moses, “Hold Me Up” 14. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under” 15. Haelos, “Hold On” 16. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share” 17. Doves, “Universal Want” 18. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts” 19. BRONSON, “Dawn [feat. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs]”
Theadia 2: More Music from the Waystation 1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World”” 2. Hatchie, “Sleep” 3. Pearl Jam, “Alright” 4. Georgia, “Started Out” 5. Shadow Show, “Glass Eye” 6. Field Music, “Money Is a Memory” 7. Låpsley, “Bonfire” 8. Hayley Williams, “Simmer” 9. Stone Temple Pilots, “Three Wishes” 10. Spectres, “The Head and the Heart” 11. The Cinematic Orchestra, “A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life [James Heather Rework]” 12. Phantogram, “Ceremony” 13. Georgia, “About Work the Dancefloor” 14. ADULT., “Why Always Why” 15. Caspian, “Flowers of Light” 16. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes” 17. Ultraísta, “Mariella” 18. Nicolas Godin, “What Makes Me Think About You” 19. San Fermin, “The Hunger” 20. Bob Mould, “Next Generation” 21. K/DA, “I’ll Show You”
Theadia 3: Waystation Blues 1. Grandbrothers, “Silver” 2. Roosevelt, “Echoes” 3. Flyying Colours, “Goodtimes” 4. Girlfriends and Boyfriends, “Your Touch” 5. Jane Weaver, “The Revolution of Super Visions” 6. Middle Kids, “I Don’t Care” 7. Anna Schulze, “A New Way” 8. Brian Vander Ark, “In Your Eyes” 9. Jeremiah Fraites, “Maggie” 10. Miss Grit, “Blonde” 11. Shame, “Human, for a Minute” 12. Field Music, “Orion from the Street” 13. Siamese Youth, “So Far from Home” 14. Anna Schulze, “Satisfied” 15. Grandbrothers, “Unrest” 16. Sorry, “Heather” 17. Jane Weaver, “Modern Reputation” 18. Flyying Colorus, “White Knuckles” 19. Roosevelt, “See You Again” 20. Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”
I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.
I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.
Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.
I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…
…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…
…or Fetchin Bones…
The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.
Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.
What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.
And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!
Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.
I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.
This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.
A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.