Hauschka's Foreign Landscapes
Recommended Tracks: 1,3,4,7,9
Recommended if You Like: John Cage, Goldmund, Johann Johannsson, classical music with pop sensibilities
Hauschka’s latest release, Foreign Landscapes, sees the pianist/composer taking a step away from the glitch-inspired soundscapes of his previous albums. His signature prepared piano (an instrument pioneered by John Cage, consisting of a piano with materials like rubber or bolts placed upon or between the strings to alter their sound) is still present, but the addition of string and wind instruments to the mix gives the compositions a more traditionally classical feel. Far from being dull or dry, however, the music revels in its exploration and (at times) playfulness, taking elements from diverse genres including pop and electronica.
The album opens with the memorable and light-hearted “Alexanderplatz”. Interestingly enough, with the strings and woodwinds dominating the instrumentation, Hauschka’s piano here essentially functions solely as percussion.
Two songs later, however, we hear the prepared piano alone, creating a curious spectrum of noises in the atmospheric “Mount Hood”, perhaps the album’s highest point. Another approach, “Early in the Park”, could almost pass as a straightforward piano solo piece, but is no less touching for it.
In “Children”, Hauschka’s techno influences clearly manifest themselves, with a driving bassline reminiscent of an arpeggiated synthesizer and a syncopated melody interspersed alongside. Similar passages occur throughout the album; their dramatic and upbeat effect creates an interesting synthesis of classical and pop.
On the other hand, the final track, the 6-minute “Trost”, epitomizes one flaw in the album, namely the aimless nature of the orchestration in some songs. When the composer abandons his piano entirely, the tracks frequently wind up getting lost and ultimately are unsatisfying.
Even so, Foreign Landscapes remains a worthy addition to Hauschka’s catalogue. While not as tonally experimental as his previous efforts, the soothing tones and majestic melodies contained inside will ultimately make any fan of instrumental and orchestral music grin.
Charlotte Gainsbourg's IRM
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 5, 10, 12
Recommended if You Like: Beck, Serge Gainsbourg, Isobell Campbell, “Les chansons d’amour”
Charlotte Gainsbourg returns to audiences with her Beck-produced and co-written third release IRM, a lively concoction of bi-lingual brilliance wrapped in a bundle of sensual familiarity and sonic oddity. But there’s a story to tell before continuing. Let’s start from the beginning.
The daughter of French music legends Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg started her forays into music with the album Charlotte Forever at the age of thirteen, followed by the notoriously controversial duet with her father, “Lemon Incest”. Next, years later, came 5:55. Written by Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon and produced by electronic-duo Air, the album carried a subtle eccentricity yet seemed a little too reminiscent of the typical, seductive chanteuse you’re always pleased to hear whisper in your ear.
Then, in 2007, Gainsbourg went through an unfortunate water-skiing accident, resulting in a brain hemorrhage, immediate surgery, and an anxious period of recuperation. IRM was her musical conclusion.
The album is full of the signature details and timbre quality that traditionally accompany Beck’s work, but Gainsbourg’s sweeping touch leads the entire journey as she repeatedly knocks on death’s door and tells you all about it. The songs either flow delicately with sweeping strings and soothing vocals, or bounce with an almost dead-pan deliberateness, while managing to feel warm and sincere.
Opener “Master’s Hand” sets the tone as a choppy acoustic track with an aerial chorus. The title-track “IRM”, inspired by a multitude of visits to the MRI machine, houses a dominant, cluttered and claustrophobic rhythm section while informing in a detached manner: “Neural pattern like a spider/Capillary to the centre”. And while lead single “Heaven Can Wait”, a fantastic yet heart-breaking duet between the two musical minds, plays as the weird, distant relative to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows”, “Voyage” pounds and emanates drama.
The album flows effortlessly from song to song and there is more variation and life in this collection than 5:55 would ever have led you to expect. The variety of vocal delivery and multitude of sounds alternate consistently, yet the songs are cohesively soaked in what seems to be a feeling of nonchalant confrontation.
If you’re willing to jump in, Gainsbourg’s grave tales will take you through musical stops ranging from mechanical chaos to sultry resignation. All you have to do is press play and the music takes care of the rest.