Author Topic: Anna's Musical Influences  (Read 2414 times)

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Petefrombristol

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Anna's Musical Influences
« on: December 01, 2013, 08:28:41 PM »
OK, I know that Molly very kindly posted this ages ago on Tumblr, but I was in the middle of writing a response when unpleasantness broke out, followed by so much work hitting my inbox I didn't know which way to turn, so, for what it's worth....

This was Anna's Top Ten records that have influenced her, followed by my ramblings.

1/10: David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)
“This was the first record I ever bought. I really loved it, even when I was eight or nine. Just the combination of it being very strange, avant-garde and kind of discordant – it spoke to me.
At the same time, there were amazing pop melodies. Even before I understood what went into doing something like that, I was struck by how David Bowie could merge so many worlds. It’s a beautiful, very special record.”
2/10: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly - Original Soundtrack (1966)
“Ennio Morricone’s use of color with sounds was very dramatic and brave. The textures are very vivid, and they create a mood that is harsh but also very dreamlike.
I heard the soundtrack before I saw the movie, and then when I saw the film it made even more sense. But the great thing is that the music can stand on its own. You can absorb it as just music, which is probably the best thing about it.”
3/10: Tom Waits - Rain Dogs (1985)
“When making One Breath, I did listen to Rain Dogs. I love the way that Tom Waits uses really unusual instrumentation, like tuned marimbas, to sort of suggest chords instead of just the obvious guitar strumming changes.
Doing this was a real influence on me, using marimba and not relying on the guitar as an accompanying instrument, but treating it as a character that comes in as kind of a surprise. Tom can make the guitar sound wild – I really like that.”
4/10: Nick Cave - Let Love In (1994)
“I love all of Nick Cave’s albums, but this was the first one that I got. It’s very powerful and confrontational, and it’s even a little ugly at times.
His lyrics are always so beautiful, even when he’s singing about things that are quite violent. This record got me into the Bad Seeds, and I became a very big fan of theirs, as well. Nick is brilliant.”
5/10: Steve Reich - Different Trains (1988)
“I listened to a lot of minimalist composers when I was making this record. I like the idea of music being hypnotic and taking you into a different world, where things change slowly over time, as opposed to a lot of fast stops and starts. Steve’s music brings you somewhere new in a way that’s almost invisible.
Songs on my record like One Breath and Carry Me Over were influenced by this feeling, a trance-like state that evolves. Different Trains is a really amazing piece of music that uses the human voice as an instrument, the idea that as you repeat something, it has a different meaning all the time.”
6/10: Taxi Driver - Original Soundtrack (1976)
“I love a lot of Bernard Hermann’s work, but his soundtrack to Taxi Driver is really extraordinary. I actually watched the movie for the first time very recently, during the past year, and I was struck by how brilliant the music was.
The way that it changes from being something that’s so threatening and dark to being very melodic and lovely always surprises me, which I guess represents the protagonist’s mind. The idea of ugliness and beauty – and how it can shift very quickly, going back and forth – is another thing that I wanted to explore on the new record. I found this one to be very inspiring.”
7/10: Grace Jones - Nightclubbing (1981)
“I’m new to Grace Jones. This is the first of her albums that I’ve listened to, and I’m really loving the space in the grooves and how there’s a lot of unusual sounds. The fact that her character is so strong throughout is very appealing to me. She completely owns the music with her voice, and it all comes from her essence.
This is a thought that really stuck in my head when I was in the studio myself: How can I get an aura and a personality across with just my voice? That’s what Grace Jones does, and she does it so effortlessly.”
8/10: Messiaen: Quartet For The End Of Time (1941)
“It’s a piece that Messiaen wrote when he was in a concentration camp. It’s very spiritual, and that’s one of the things that’s so interesting about it. The fact that he was in such a terrible environment and could create music of such beauty is pretty remarkable.
I’m a big fan of Messiaen for his use of textures and colors. He’s like a lot of film composers in that you can really see his music; he creates a landscape of sound and uses unusual tones and instruments to tell a story.”
9/10: Leonard Cohen - Death Of A Ladies’ Man (1977)
“This might not be an album that people celebrate, but to me, the combination of Phil Spector and Leonard Cohen worked really well. His lyrics are so deeply poetic that you sometimes don’t know what he’s talking about, but it doesn’t matter because they’re beautiful.
It’s a very humanistic record. The stories are very eloquent and touching, and the melodies are very rich. I love the fact that all the songs are unbelievably slow, too. It’s an unusual-sounding record. His voice has changed a lot over the years, but on this record he’s really trying to sing. It sounds like he’s straining, but that’s OK because it sort of adds to the drama.”
10/10: Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990)
“I think that Elizabeth Fraser is such an amazing singer. Even though she’s not singing words, there’s so much emotion in her voice. The melodies are unbelievably strong, and when you combine that with Elizabeth’s voice it conveys things that mere words can’t.
I also love the way that the instrumentation is almost the same for every song. With some artists, that might not work, but the Cocteau Twins manage to take you into their own sonic world. They’re totally captivating. This is one of my favorite records ever.”


And now me (you can always tell the two of us apart because I'm the male, middle-aged, unprepossessing, talentless one. Oh yes, and I'm 11 inches taller).


I started developing my own musical tastes in the early 70s (!), which was when 'progressive rock' dominated the album charts and glam rock dominated the singles charts, so it was not a good time, but the saving graces were Roxy Music (this is when Brian Eno was still with them) and Bowie, so I've been a fan of both (I stress early Roxy) since then, but I don't need to say anything about Anna's choice of Bowie in this context! I knew about all of Anna's choices independently of Anna, and was already a fan of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen: as Anna says, the album of Cohen's that she chose isn't usually rated as his best - in fact it's often derided - but I think you can see the  influence of his work as a whole on her, certainly in terms of some of the lyrics: Cohen began as a poet, and there has always been a sense in which his songs have an element of poetry set to music about them. In his case, this isn't meant as a criticism, since he is also responsible for some truly memorable and beautiful tunes. In my opinion, in her lyric writing Anna is trying to produce material that is meaningful, but, as she says, she wants the words and music to work together to create meaning, and it would be unfair to compare her lyrics to those of Cohen, who has written some of the most haunting lyrics in popular music - as Anna said herself, his lines from Anthem, 'there's a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in' are her favourite of all - so she is not writing poetry in that sense. Given the importance Anna places on technical ability - at least, to the extent that she clearly values her own technical ability very highly, and quite rightly of course, and has also said disparaging things about people who basically find (usually fleeting) success despite making mediocre or downright hopeless music, it's interesting that she likes Cohen as a vocalist. Technically, he can't sing well. Like Dylan, like Sinatra, actually, he doesn't have much range, but he does have absolutely brilliant phrasing and timing, and the sound of his voice is both distinctive and, to my ears at least, very attractive. Try I'm Your Man, from 1988.

Nick Cave is also not a great singer technically, but has great phrasing and expression and has written some of the best songs of the post-war era, in my not-so-humble opinion. Again, it's interesting that Anna has chosen one of his albums that is perhaps not often regarded as his best, although it does have the wonderfully scary Red Right Hand, and the very, very funny Thirsty Dog and Lay Me Low (the latter I wish played at my funeral). He is capable of writing songs that are very savage, ugly and violent (and, often, real guilty pleasures) as well as some of the most sensitive, tender and beautiful love songs ever written. In the latter category I'm thinking here of some of the songs on The Boatman's Call: I love the way he recycles religious imagery on Into My Arms and Brompton Oratory, for example, or The Ship Song, from The Good Son, or Straight to You from Henry's Dream, or .... I won't go on. The man's a genius.

Steve Reich - Different Trains: this man's work has been so influential on modern popular music. This is maybe one of the easiest ways into his work. If you don't know it, or think you don't like Reich, stick with it, please. This piece is in three 'movements' one pre-war, rather nostalgic, in a slightly Ray Bradbury/small town USA/let's not talk about segregation way (that's not fair, actually); the second reminds me, at least, of how trains were used to transport people to concentration camps, and to move troops around Europe, and the third, post-war, seems to me to relate to 'progress' (but is it?: and there's that truly inspired 19:45 24-hour clock/year the war ended repeated line) I find it really moving, actually. As Anna indicated, you can hear it in the marvellous instrumental break in Carry Me Over, and I wonder if the line about 'Like the tracks of a train' - as well, perhaps, as being inspired by the truly great Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears (is there a better song?) - might not have been suggested by this piece? Also, Reich's use of snippets of fragmented memory (using, effectively, bits of oral history - Nuala springs to mind) seems to me to be echoed by Anna's references to fragmented memory in Piece by Piece.

Ennio Morricone: I remember the BBC Proms in 2011, when I hadn't long before fallen in love with Anna's work, and there was a broadcast concert of these brilliant musicians performing some of Morricone's work in the Albert Hall: slightly tongue-in-cheek (let's face it, it is somewhat overblown, in a 19th-century Italian opera sort of way) but very respectful and, let's face it, very stirring. God, sometimes this mild-mannered terribly English Middle-aged historian really wishes he was The Man with No Name.

Tom Waits: well, I've tried. God knows, but I just can't seem to connect with that hobo/flophouse/wino/drifter thing. Yes, I know he's a genius...

Bernard Hermann: it's been said (I can't remember by whom, possibly Anna!) that most people these days hear the majority of orchestral music as movie soundtracks. Maybe. But, can you imagine Psycho without its soundtrack?

Grace Jones: well, to people of my generation (I.e., old enough to have been paying attention when Grace Jones was at her height) she's best known for her on-TV-attack on the well-known TV personality Russell Harty (RIP) on his chat show, when she HIT HIM on air. This incident has rather overshadowed her talent:

A Messiaen: rather like Reich, I think he's worth the effort (huh! Like my opinion's worth anything!) and this piece is remarkable, quite apart from the circumstances in which it was composed. He was one of that small band of ornithologist-composers (is this the only thing he has in common with the Guillemots?) and bird-song is incorporated in some of his work. I was initially a bit put off by his fervent Roman-Catholicism, but got over that!

The Cocteau Twins: oh, oh, the memories. When I were a lad, the late lamented John Peel would play these very often on his 10.00 to midnight show on Radio One, which I would listen to, yes, often under the bed clothes, in classic early teen stereotype. Now, I must admit that at the time they didn't mean that much to me, but since Anna mentioned Heaven or Las Vegas in an earlier 'top ten' poll (I think for the late and very very much lamented Word magazine) I rediscovered them. Don't take this the wrong way, I do love them, and Elizabeth Fraser's voice, but I find this album perfect for lulling me off to sleep....so, I count my fresh appreciation of The Cocteaus as another among the manifold reasons I am deeply grateful to the wonderful Anna.

Well, that's it. If you've read this far then congratulations on a) having far too much time on your hands b) being really quite sad and c) reading this far in the hope that I'd say something interesting but being too polite to stop when it became all too apparent that I wouldn't.

electriclight

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2013, 08:46:43 PM »
I read the whole thing, do I get a reward? :P Haha but really, this is really interesting and I'm glad you took the time to write down your thoughts. I have to say that I was a bit baffled when Anna listed these as her top ten records, but after reading your insights I can see more clearly why they might be important to her music. I very much agree with you about Tom Waits - I'm not sure I'll ever be able to listen to him as a serious 'artist'. I was particularly interested in what you said about Steve Reich, so it's time to go off and have a listen.

Petefrombristol

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2013, 09:22:44 PM »
Electriclight: goodness me! Yes, you do get a reward: I'm sending you a virtual goldfish. Since it's virtual you'll just have to imagine it swimming about in its virtual goldfish bowl. Many thanks!

Petefrombristol

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2013, 09:09:40 PM »
I should have said, in connection with Grace Jones, that an excellent appreciation of her and her work was posted by LadyTchaikovsky on Tumblr a little while ago....

Lady Tchaikovsky

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2013, 02:27:17 AM »
Nick Cave is also not a great singer technically, but has great phrasing and expression and has written some of the best songs of the post-war era, in my not-so-humble opinion. Again, it's interesting that Anna has chosen one of his albums that is perhaps not often regarded as his best, although it does have the wonderfully scary Red Right Hand, and the very, very funny Thirsty Dog and Lay Me Low (the latter I wish played at my funeral). He is capable of writing songs that are very savage, ugly and violent (and, often, real guilty pleasures) as well as some of the most sensitive, tender and beautiful love songs ever written. In the latter category I'm thinking here of some of the songs on The Boatman's Call: I love the way he recycles religious imagery on Into My Arms and Brompton Oratory, for example, or The Ship Song, from The Good Son, or Straight to You from Henry's Dream, or .... I won't go on. The man's a genius.

I must admit I don't like Nick Cave very much. Alright, I have never heard any of his albums in full (the one Anna put on that list is going to be the first for me), but I know quite a few of his songs, and he just doesn't appeal to my aesthetic sense to put it mildly. Both the way he looks and sounds remind of a (please forgive me) pedophile for some reason. And while his powerful image does work very well when he portrays dark characters and tells stories of some not necessarily pretty events (Do You Love Me), in other cases I find his unattractiveness off-putting and "redundant" (although to simply stop being unattractive seems like a pretty dense suggestion on my part). There are sorts of ugliness in music that I consider beautiful (oh please, it sounds perfectly logical), but I don't like when the balance of the two extremes is distorted to the point the ugly dominates the beautiful. This is only my opinion of course.

(the latter I wish played at my funeral).

Oh, that deserves a thread!

Steve Reich - Different Trains: this man's work has been so influential on modern popular music. This is maybe one of the easiest ways into his work. If you don't know it, or think you don't like Reich, stick with it, please. This piece is in three 'movements' one pre-war, rather nostalgic, in a slightly Ray Bradbury/small town USA/let's not talk about segregation way (that's not fair, actually); the second reminds me, at least, of how trains were used to transport people to concentration camps, and to move troops around Europe, and the third, post-war, seems to me to relate to 'progress' (but is it?: and there's that truly inspired 19:45 24-hour clock/year the war ended repeated line) I find it really moving, actually. As Anna indicated, you can hear it in the marvellous instrumental break in Carry Me Over, and I wonder if the line about 'Like the tracks of a train' - as well, perhaps, as being inspired by the truly great Smokey Robinson's Tracks of My Tears (is there a better song?) - might not have been suggested by this piece? Also, Reich's use of snippets of fragmented memory (using, effectively, bits of oral history - Nuala springs to mind) seems to me to be echoed by Anna's references to fragmented memory in Piece by Piece.

I still need to listen to that. My recent musical interests have been slightly different from Reich's works, so I admit to not being in the right mood to fully enjoy them. However, I've heard the famous "Music for 18 Musicians" before, so I'm positive this will be just as good.

Tom Waits: well, I've tried. God knows, but I just can't seem to connect with that hobo/flophouse/wino/drifter thing. Yes, I know he's a genius...

I feel the same about Tom Waits. His music, or should I say his voice, is probably too ugly for my tastes, even though the instrumentation tends to be rather pleasant. Someone told me Waits used to drink his own urine in order to make his voice more raspy, but I suppose he did that because his urine contained alcohol.

Grace Jones: well, to people of my generation (I.e., old enough to have been paying attention when Grace Jones was at her height) she's best known for her on-TV-attack on the well-known TV personality Russell Harty (RIP) on his chat show, when she HIT HIM on air. This incident has rather overshadowed her talent:

Haha, it's a bit depressing that people actually thought she was done after the Harty controversy. GJ may not be very popular now, but it's been good for her music, I guess. She's not really looking for publicity, so she does whatever she likes. Her 2008 album Hurricane is arguably her best work ever, and it was released on an indie label, which says a lot about her not caring whether she receives a lot of radio airplay or not. To be frank, it's odd that I admire GJ so much, because I generally don't like people running around naked and swearing all the time... There's much more to her than that of course, but she's still a major anomaly in my taste.

I should have said, in connection with Grace Jones, that an excellent appreciation of her and her work was posted by LadyTchaikovsky on Tumblr a little while ago....

Yay, free advertisement! Seriously though, thanks.

Petefrombristol

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2013, 09:58:40 PM »
"I must admit I don't like Nick Cave very much. Alright, I have never heard any of his albums in full (the one Anna put on that list is going to be the first for me), but I know quite a few of his songs, and he just doesn't appeal to my aesthetic sense to put it mildly. Both the way he looks and sounds remind of a (please forgive me) pedophile for some reason."

Well, Lady Tchaikovsky, the thing about Nick Cave is that he only looks like a pedophile if you compare him to normal-looking people; relative to the other Bad Seeds and/or Grinderman (particularly Grinderman) he looks positively clean-cut and upstanding!

Lady Tchaikovsky

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2013, 11:54:50 PM »
Oh yes, Grinderman do look like a bunch of lumberjacks. Still, not particularly appealing!

Petefrombristol

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2013, 07:54:37 PM »
Lumberjacks is a polite way of describing them. I thought it quite amusing that, apparently, before Anna went on tour with Nick Cave Brian Zeno phoned him and told him to act towards her like a gentleman: which he did, apparently.


Petefrombristol

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences: Jeff Buckley
« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2013, 08:11:39 PM »
OK, I'm always last on the bus and I make a living by making a fool of myself in public places, so, here goes: a couple of years ago I read another of Anna's Top Artists lists in (I think the late lamented Word magazine) where she talked about the formative influence that Jeff Buckley had on her, and of course she's returned to that topic on a number of other occasions. I thought I knew his stuff, knew his cover of Hallelujah (hands up who hasn't done a cover of that song? Do you know the, well, spirited, version by my dog Harry when he was lead barker in the short-lived pup-band Dogs Are Loud?) and thought, yeah, he's OK. I think I may also have been confusing him with his dad Tim. Well, only 16 years too late, I actually listened, properly, to Grace today, and I've totally revised my opinion. The man was extraordinary, and you can really see how he's influenced Anna, among others (like Radiohead). Yes, I know I probably come across like a guy rushing into a call centre with the news that they've invented this wonderful thing called the telegraph.

WolfLikeHer

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Re: Anna's Musical Influences
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2014, 01:44:40 PM »
 ;D  ;D "Dogs Are Loud" - priceless!!

am still working my way through a lot of these posts, so apologies for wading in several months after everyone else. It always fascinates me to read about artists' influences, stuff they grew up listening to, all that. Aladdin Sane is (probably) my favourite Bowie album, and Lady Grinning Soul one of the first tracks I ever owned (the b-side of Sorrow), so I for one am mightily thankful she went for him over MC Hammer!!

Nightclubbing is, in my opinion, one of the best records ever made, and it's no surprise Anna picked up on its "space" - I got the remastered vinyl earlier this year and it hasn't dated by even a week. Massive Attack cited it as a major influence (along with The Scream) - just an incredible, vast empty sound, never bettered than on the title track. Trip-hop started here.