This month’s playlist is brought to you by Fallon, resident Chroma blogger and creativity nerd. You can start listening to the Spotify playlist right now, right HERE! Happy 2019!
I’m sure someone with a particular intersection of knowledge between human psychology, culture, and music theory could explain why and how music is compelling. I have always been captivated by the mystical quality of how something as simple as a chord progression can make my heart race or my eyes well up. This playlist is aims to serve as a celebration of those moments in music that could change the mood of a room with a melody, dynamic, or texture. As a special challenge, I chose artists that either don’t sing or don’t use English in their lyrics. This is to convey the old idea of “absolute music”, or music to be experienced/interpreted by itself, without the context of a program, text, or explained meaning. I realize it might be contradictory to give my reasoning for each song on the list, but I’m merely describing my own experience and interpretation. If you find the idea of absolute music new or interesting, I encourage your first listen to be without reading along to my commentary!
Nothing Changes by Saxon Shore
Non-incidental instrumental music is what some might consider the purest form of absolute music (especially if its title lacks any sort of non-technical meaning). This song is a powerful early example of how melody and dynamics can evolve, leading the listener through the song in a deliberate way. All but the outro serves as a crescendo that is equal parts euphoric and melancholy. It’s also unique in that the actual volume of the song rises with the dynamics. I remember the first time I heard it I thought something was wrong with my headphones. Turns out I was just in for a surprise.
中途 (Midway) by Elephant Gym
I don’t mean to disregard the value of lyrics in this playlist, but rather shift the focus onto the power of musical elements alone. Even if you don’t speak Mandarin, this song commands a energetic lightness and swaying sensibility within seconds. Instant pick-me-up.
Untitled #1 - Vaka by Sigur Rós
Sigur Rós is well-known for their use of the “invented language” Hopelandic, which is deliberately used to convey sounds meant to be interpreted by the listener (the physical album booklet even gives blank pages where you are encouraged to write your interpretation within). It conveys to me the sense of a difficult truth delivered softly and with empathy. What about you?
City of Tears by Christopher Larkin
Hollow Knight is an independent game made largely by two lead developers and a composer. When they crafted the game’s world, including gameplay, design, art, and music, they did so without any particular story or message in mind. So despite this track coming from the soundtrack of a game which now has an adopted context, know that the foundation of its construction stems from a nameless inspiration. The result we hear now is one we can interchangeably experience.
Nautilus by Covet
Syncopated layers of pleasant melodies that sing their own tune, only to repeatedly unite under a single musical phrase. The ‘oooo’s, like a choir of ghosts that appear peacefully to elevate the extravagance through the contradiction of a simple melody. This song not only celebrates the glory of an elaborately constructed idea, but gives reverence to minimalism as well.
Goodnight, Boogaloo by Good Weather for an Airstrike
I cheated a bit here, introducing a song with a sample of people having a conversation in English. If you are able to gleam some sort of narrative influence from the nearly indiscernible dialogue behind the hypnotic, peaceful sounds, consider to what degree is that inspired by the words you make out and what might be harder to explain than it is to feel.
Heavy Rain by Boris
The power of contrast. Boris creates an rapid liftoff between a dark, whisper-level dirge and a crushing, expansive sonic lament. Meanwhile, the vocals hardly steer away from their somber debut, maintaining their sorrowful conjecture throughout. This song is oozing with bleakness that one cannot help but be enveloped by.
sekaiwotorikaeshiteokure by Haru Nemuri
Instant chills. Don’t think moodiness belongs to slow, atmospheric music alone! With the catchy, energetic nature of electronic pop music and the emotive, rapid-fire syllabary of Haru Nemuri’s vocal style, this song explodes with an intensity that whisks you away with it.
after school by tricot
Pausing from their math-rock sensibilities, tricot delivers a ballad that brings me to the edge of tears every time I hear. Without knowing the subject matter, the vocals create an easily accessible expression of troublesome difficulty that the listener can sympathize or empathize with effortlessly. Hearing the vulnerability and desperation at 2:24 I think to myself, “This is what music is about.”
Rain In C Minor by Disasterpeace
With a catalogue as stylistically diverse and dense as Disasterpeace I was hard-pressed to choose a single song. Rain In C Minor, however, is categorically fascinating in regards to our exploration of absolute music. It is the only song on this playlist that was built modularly, or in small pieces that were deliberately composed to be interchangeable at any point. When playing the game from which the pieces of the song was derived, The Floor is Jelly, you will hear something similar to Rain In C Minor, but the key, the motifs, and the fluttering, arrhythmic melodic percussion are all dispersed dynamically depending on how you play the game. As such, this is but one arrangement possible for such a moody and pleasant piece.
Fragile Forest by Timbre
Of all the artists on this list, Timbre is, by genre, perhaps the most well-acquainted with the traditional notion of absolute music. As the swirling, circular melodic ideas are introduced, develop, and vary, the tempo gradually ebbs and flows. Emotion seeps into each aspect of the song, from harmony to polyphony to rhythm to everything else. The kinetic nature of the piece is so captivating on so many levels I genuinely get a little woozy (in the best way possible) when I intently listen to this song.
Context by Balmorhea
Is this a song? Most of what you hear might technically be considered field recordings of some sort of building full of people and a chiming bell, but eventually an amalgam of different musical pieces and exercises being played and layered over one another is introduced, only to quickly vanish. It’s a bizarre piece full of noise and silence that could never be recreated, and the fact it challenges my understanding and relationship with music is why it has a spot on this playlist.
Process by Balmorhea
On the album Rivers Arms, this track is preceded by the one you just heard, Context. Despite lacking any explicit narrative or thematic context, here are two pieces that were made to flow from one into the other. A echo-y bass guitar littered with gorgeous drone and static. Whatever universe this piece was created in, I want to live there.
Serpent Mound by This Will Destroy You
The finale to this particular journey through absolute music, though it is but another step toward a deeper love for the mystery of why we make such meaningful connections and associations with sound devoid of a given meaning. I wanted to leave you with another piece that exemplifies contrast, this time from meditative to explosive. In both cases, the song is all-encompassing; it instills calm and comfort, then compels eyes to be wide open, with tears running and arms outstretched. Another key moment to breathe deep and think, “This is what music is about.”
Waking Expectations by Rafael Anton Irisarri
A masterwork of moody, ethereal piano music interwoven with shimmering, yet gloomy soundscapes.
Guaranteed to evoke a pensive or bummer mood.
Food Is Still Hot by Karen O & the Kids
I’m pretty sure this is the first song I ever cried my eyes out to. I mean, just listen to it.
Remember, you can follow THE PLAYLIST to get treated to more expertly curated playlists like this one every month from one of our artists! And if you want to hear more examples of that emotional, instrumental goodness that kept coming up here, be sure to check out Fallon’s post-rock band A Quiet Place, as well as Chroma’s own Analecta, NAAL, and Sailbear.