January Playlist 2017
I am planning on creating a mini playlist for each month, finding and collecting songs that I have been enjoying over that month and putting them together in a little post for you to discover! So, let’s begin…
January playlist artist: Marika Hackman
SONG: In the Bleak Midwinter
So I know January is about to draw to a close, but this ‘Christmas’ song by Marika Hackman is still on my playlist. And as the song is called In the Bleak Midwinter it still seems fitting for this dreary time of year. Now, strictly speaking Marika herself did not write this song. It is in fact a cover but the first time I heard it I mistook it for an original Marika Hackman song. It’s an easy mistake to make as the song is actually based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, before being transformed into a Christmas Carol in 1906. It seems obvious to me now that Marika would choose this song to cover as the melancholy and archaic melody and chords fit her genre down to a T. Also, the fact that it was a poem first seems appropriate as her lyrics are often poetic. Even the title sounds very much as if she had named it herself.
On 2nd December 2016, Marika Hackman released a Christmas EP, if you will, called Wonderland EP. She combined her versions of Winter Wonderland, O Come, O Come, Emanuel and In The Bleak Midwinter, with some Christmas songs she had penned herself, like Driving Under Stars and Paper Crown.
But back to In the Bleak Midwinter. The track opens with the plucking of two strings on an electric guitar accompanied by heavily distorted and effected vocals with the sound of something atmospheric, sitting just out of reach in the background of the song. The lyrics ‘Snow on snow on snow’ are emphasised by floating choral harmonies, and the electric guitar brings in a rhythm to stop the song from dragging. The arrangement is very minimal playing around with effects on the guitar and vocals to create an otherworldly sound, and this makes me love the track even more. If Marika Hackman was a Christmas song, this is the exact song she would be. Take a listen.
January playlist artist: The Decemberists
SONG: Make You Better
The Decemberists are a strange old bunch but I absolutely love them for it. Their songs tell of historical happenings, and mad old tales (listen to The Mariner’s Revenge Song), written as if lead singer, Colin Meloy, had swallowed a thesaurus. However, this is exactly what makes them so unique. The Decemberists hale from Portland, Oregon, and are made up of five members, with Meloy being the main songwriter and lead singer. Taking immediately to their lyrics and their affection for folklore, I can’t help but love them, especially as they often take inspiration from British and Irish folk music. The last album they released back in 2015, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is actually their 7th album release and includes one of my favourite Decemberists tracks, Make You Better. Ironically I think it’s the musicality over the lyrics that I love about this song. The opening melody is what hooks me every time and is perhaps the main reason for my love of this song. I think something else I also respect about the song, is how it takes on a more serious tone (again my love for melancholy shines through!). This is in comparison to a lot of their other songs which play around with the imagination making sure they don’t take themselves too seriously (having said that, Make You Better does have a comical music video to accompany it). For anyone who wants a quirky and imaginative take on American Indie Rock, you should definitely have a look through their vast collection of songs!
January playlist artist: Flo Morrissey & Matthew E. White
Now, it wasn’t intentional of me to include two covers in this post, but it just so happens that I stumbled across English singer-songwriter Flo Morrissey’s new music project and I wanted to include it. I can’t say I’m a particularly big fan of Flo Morrissey, but I do find that every so often I am drawn to her, and one of those moments happened to be when I saw that she was releasing Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, a cover album with Matthew E. White from Virginia. The album takes on 10 songs, covered as a duet, swaying towards a warm and funky 70s feel! I think it was Matthew E. White who actually started and drove the project, but I had not heard of him until Morrissey put him on my radar. The first time I heard this version of ‘Grease’ I was unaware of the title, as I think I heard it in the background of a video, but I immediately started tapping my foot and as soon as the line ‘Grease is the word’ chimed in I couldn’t believe how oblivious I had been. I can’t say that this is a sound I would usually listen to, but something about the 70’s style and chilled vibe that reminds me so much of the summer time is what captures my attention, and it’s a struggle not to bob my head whenever I listen to it. Plus, you can’t not bob your head to such a great classic! Their voices blend perfectly well together, with Flo’s clear and gentle voice and Matthew’s distinct, almost whispery vocals adding something unique to each song.
January playlist artist: Laura Marling
SONG: Blackberry Stone
I don’t think I have ever mentioned English singer-songwriter Laura Marling on this blog before, which is odd considering she is (from what I remember) the main reason I started song writing. When I was about 14 I discovered her album I Speak Because I Can, and after that I was obsessed, and decided I also wanted to write poetic sounding lyrics. Obviously my first few attempts were downright awful as I was never going to be Laura Marling, but I still take inspiration from the way she writes today and whenever I’m stuck in a musical rut I go back to what inspired me in the first place. As much as I love all the songs on this album, the track that resonates with me the most is Blackberry Stone. I still to this day have no idea what the peculiar title means, but what I do know is that when I listen to it I never want it to end. It’s the melody which seems so terribly, terribly sad that sucks me into it, along with it’s opening lines
“Well, I own this field
And I, wrote this sky
And, I have no reason to reason with you.”
As I said, poetical stuff.
Her delicate guitar playing and gentle soothing voice transports me into another little world, and when the string arrangement comes in, I am then completely lost. I wish I could say the same for her following albums, but sadly for me it’s only her first (Alas I Cannot Swim) and second album that I fell in love with. She is just about to release her latest album Semper Femina and I have tickets for her show at Manchester’s Albert Hall in March (so expect a blog post) and I’m excited to see her live for the first time and rediscover the magic of her music, old and new.
January playlist artist: Florence and the Machine
SONG: Queen Of Peace
In one of my previous posts from September, I talked about my rekindled love for Florence and the Machine and her album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful that seemed to completely sail past me when it was released. Four months later I am still swooning over the same album, particularly the track Queen of Peace and I felt I had to add it to this month’s playlist. Being one of the more upbeat tracks of this post (and my playlist in general!), this is a song that you most definitely want to move your body to. The track is first led by a string and brass arrangement before the drum brings in the driving tempo and so the song commences. It’s very much Florence with the strong melodies and ethereal hooks, especially in the chorus, that could arguably be described as anthemic. The brass section really adds something to the soundscape of the song and the driving tempo combined is what makes you want to move along. Listening harder though it’s clear that the undertones of the music are actually quite sombre, not just the lyrical content but the melody is quite brooding and the instrumentation heavy. As I also mentioned last time, there is a video called ‘The Odyssey’ that is part of the album, and so there is a video accompaniment for Queen Of Peace. This leads into the next song Long and Lost which I love for its contrasting mellow and stripped back feeling. Give it a listen here.
If you have any song recommendations please let me know, as I’m eager to discover new music, anything old or new!