Noam Pikelny – Waveland

This week I’ve been guest blogging over at my sister concern MusicForMy, a bespoke music service that lets you easily commission original music and unique arrangements for your special event. You can give it a look see by clicking this here sentence, but it lifts the curtain on how I go about arranging music, at least to begin with. The arrangement of music is key, in all genres. An incredible melody or wrenchingly beautiful chord progression is next to worthless if set for kazoo and toy piano. Satisfying music needs to follow a certain logic across the genres, otherwise you just end up with confused mush. For me, the arrangement is as vital as the piece itself. Take my classical piece Farewell, Nathan Adler which exists in two versions; one for piano trio and one for symphony orchestra. Go click those links and give them a listen. Once you get past the electronic nature of the MIDI presentation (I can’t quite afford an orchestra yet) you can clearly see that changing the instrumentation immediately alters the atmosphere of the piece. Powerful stuff. Of course, talent tends to throw what rules we build for ourselves out the window. Sometimes the instrument you least expect can claw the most inexplicable wave of melancholic relief and joy once in the right hands. Sometimes you only need a banjo.

I’ve always liked the banjo, probably due to a very crappy demo of Camptown Races on my first keyboard along with an awful banjo setting. When I finally heard one for reals it was just so alien yet earthly, a bizarre hybrid of percussion and melody. I even bought one a few years ago but my playing has unfortunately never really taken off (probably because it stayed in Britain when I moved to Sweden). Noam Pikelny, on the other hand, is one of the most important pickers of his generation, cropping up all over the records of Chris Thile, Aoife O’Donovan, Steve Martin, Béla Fleck and a whole host of the great and the good of the Contemporary Bluegrass scene. Do you know the Contemporary Bluegrass scene? You should do, it is by far and away the most progressively interesting in all music; an ever-churning eddy filled with a refreshing honesty of both it’s history and the welcome disparate influences that feed it. It also has a great sense of humour running through the community, which is to be expected when Steve Martin is a member.

I’m drawn to Pikelny’s playing because of this. Because of his wit and his intelligence. Because of his skill in knowing exactly where to place that beautiful hybrid sound. Because the banjo can provide such a wealth of colour within the ensemble and he wants to show us. Waveland is almost Debussian in it’s Impressionistic chord progression, yet by setting it for banjo and banjo alone, Pikelny creates something exceptionally unique. He pushes our perceptions of the role of the banjo and hopefully by sharing it with you, you will discover the joys available when listening to the old clawhammer.


D.D Dumbo – Walrus

For a blog that tries to spend it’s pages looking back at the songs missed and albums unknown, it’s a strange thing to talk of the future. I prefer looking back and seeing how it all fits together; the tiny locks that bind music and pleasure across the spectrum. It’s easier than being met with crushing disappointment. But then I remember how critical we need to be of our dependence on nostalgia and the rose-tint; the training wheels that we refuse to abandon. Looking back only provides satisfaction if we use it to locate our present, using the cushion of history as thrust and not support. D.D Dumbo‘s ‘Walrus’ is the future in it’s most literal sense, the single released in advance of the album to whet appetites. Through it he gives us only the loosest of context which allows the piece to stand distinct and defined. A throbbing slab of looped guitar and post-funk rhythms produced with joyous idiosyncrasy and written with expression at it’s core. The incredibly brief descending horns at 1:16 never return, and why should they? An expressive flourish quickly followed by the cod-folk 12-string guitar break. Unique and fulfilling. To me this is one of those points where experiences past are forcing the work forward into the new. There is no genre wallowing or explicit influence. It is a sum. A brilliant sum. One with space for extension as both songs released from the upcoming Utopia Defeated (released 7th October 2016) hint at a continuous audio thread and blending between the pieces. I get my hopes up and look ahead. A strange thing indeed.

We need to talk about The Reading Festival (a reminisce)

Well what a difference a week makes. Actually, scrap that; this week is nigh on identical to last except that literally hundreds of people have rallied around me and voted for my track in a competition to play Reading! There is (just about) still time to vote so CLICK THESE CAPITALS and enforce your originality. It would be phenomenal if I somehow break the concepts of physics and reality and actually win! Of course, for that to happen I’d need 900 votes in about 10 hours so it’s pretty improbable. That said Hunck managed to double their vote tally in a shorter time. Still, I feel honoured to have been considered in the first place! You see, I love Reading. I love it immensely. Most music fans flit around Glastonbury like doped up moths and proclaim it the greatest of festivals. Sure, there is so much beyond the music happening at Glasto and it is so huge that you can’t deny it greatest status. Yet for me, Reading is better for music. It’s just so gritty and youthful and loud and smutty. Though you should realise that I am, obviously, incredibly biased as I didn’t ‘get’ Glastonbury until later and was heavily into Alternative Rock/Metal as a youth. There was something about whiney Americans that resonated with a comfortable little Englishman, they understood all my imaginary pain and entitled angst.

To be honest, that’s probably the main reason why I entered Relentless’ Here To be Heard competition; the festival has such a romantic place in my memory that by playing it I would have achieved some minor circularity. The festival that awakened my major desire to perform also being the one that supplied my first major performance. Who knows, maybe it still will and on that day I will look out at the people and revert to my naïve 16 year old self. How could you not want to see that! Anyways, I digress. My first trip to Reading was with my older sister who was (and is) one of my main musical pillars growing up; she’d actually been to a Wheatus concert and I respected her when she suggested we go see Incubus on the Friday. She could also drive which saved a whole logistical nightmare (and freed us up for late night McDonalds). So we entered and I saw a Faith No More t-shirt immediately followed by a Mr. Bungle one and knew I belonged. We then pretty much camped out the main stage for a couple of hours as Hundred Reasons made way for Puddle of Mudd (who I appear to have blocked from memory). NOFX then over-ran before Incubus delivered a really disappointing set. Still, it was still mega. I had been bitten hard.

Next year we returned with the younger sib who felt left out last time. It was still mega though only two things spring to mind; 1) running from Hot Hot Heat to see System of a Down and 2) the biggest bottle fight I’d ever see. But all that paled into significance the following year where almost everyone I knew descended on the camp for a post-secondary school blast of hedonism. It was beyond words. I’d recount all the japes here (such as Ally’s Magical Mystery Tour, Phil’s choice of camp, The Walking Tent etc.) but then I’d have nothing left to hold close and keep me warm at night. I will say that for some reason beyond logic we were singing The Rasmus eternally and I got into a heated discussion with one of my friends over who was better in the Rahzel/Patton team up. A discussion that continues to this day, each of us immobile in our positions and adamant the other wrong.

                           Patton. Obviously.

Though all that said; all the deep seated happiness and belonging thoughts of Reading bring to me; I don’t regret not doing better in this vote. I just think of Julien temple’s Glastonbury film (which is brilliant) and the saddest thing I ever saw. A man in his mid thirties all packed and ready to begin the – as he puts it – one weekend a year that he can be himself. I want to play so badly but nothing will change if I don’t. I will still be me, living as myself every bloody second that comes my way. It’s got me this far.