Tuesday 11 December 2012

If music be the food of love, play on.

I’ve been up north for work today, and just got in after the long journey home. It’s pitch black outside, -3°C and foggy as hell. So what better on such a night than to shut the world out, settle in with a coffee and listen to some music.

Although mentioned occasionally in these pages, I haven't specifically discussed music before as the main focus has always been walking and the outdoors. But it has been a part of my life since childhood: from my early years listening to Dad's classical collection, through playing in amateur bands of one sort or another for 25 years, to now; regular (if not frequent) trips to gigs.

It’s about that time of year when lists start appearing: awards, bests of and top 10s for this, that and the other. A car journey of some 4 hours each way gave me plenty of time to consider this years' output, so, in a first (and possibly a last) for this blog, here is the Ambles & Rambles music of the year 2012 recommendation.

As I generally tend to listen to albums rather than singles, I’ve picked one track from each of my three favourite releases of the year. None of the tracks is especially short, but is hopefully representative of the album as a whole.

Somebody much more erudite than me once said of popular music that it “says nothing to me about my life.” Well, these songs may not be popular, but they are good, honest music, crafted with care and beautifully performed. All very British and all probably ignored by everybody but fans. These songs say a lot - and say it well. If even one reader takes the trouble to investigate and discovers something they enjoy, it will have been worth posting.

On the other hand, I hope you’ll leave the cold outside and find time to sit back, relax, and check them out for yourself.

Anathema - Untouchable Part 1

This is the opening track of the Weather Systems album, an album full of brooding music played with power and conviction and an intensity of performance so often lacking these days. Five band members from only two families: sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. A new band to me this year, I know little of their history or back catalogue, but on the basis of this it looks worthy of further exploration.

Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made

Most people's opinion of Marillion - if, in fact, they have one at all - is of that band that did "Kayleigh" and sound a bit like Genesis. Well, that was a lifetime ago, and they're a very different band now. For the last 20 years, Marillion have been putting out high quality stuff, most of which has slipped well below the radar of most of the music world. Which is a shame, as they deserve to be heard! This year's offering is every bit as good as anything they have ever released, and this track - the title track of the album - will surprise those who's last recollections of the band include jester-bedecked album covers and a singer called Fish.

Big Big Train - Summoned By Bells

A band I imagine few will have heard of, let alone heard. Never mind - this lot have been beavering away releasing thoughtful, well-crafted music on their own label for around two decades now, and have rarely sounded finer. Very complex, very ambitious and steeped in the English pastoral tradition: the craft is in the detail, and the often simple-sounding passages hide some fearsome playing and deft writing and arranging skills. The orchestral arrangement in the coda is a case in point: gorgeous! 

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