I decided to simplify the format for this year and just pick out my favorite 10 songs I find on Qobuz each month. This is in no particular order, but pretty much just as I come across them since I have never been able to quantify a relative preference between good songs, I either love a song or am bored by it, and some music simply grates and is painful to listen to.
- 1. “Dosage” (“Soberish” – Liz Phair – 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz); Liz Phair has been one of my favorite artists since the release of her album “Whitechocolatespaceegg” so it was with a little bit of a surprise that I discovered I had missed the release of her latest album “Soberish” back in June. Like the other songs on this album there is a melancholy nostalgia to this upbeat lament about giving advice to a younger version of herself from the perspective of 32 years in her favorite bar, with a call back to another of my favorite songs by her “Polyester Bride” in referencing the bartender Henry. The song features a complex layering of rhythms and instruments backing an apparently simple popish tune, reminiscent of my favorite Bangles tunes, that becomes better with each listening.
- 2. “Against the Wind” (“Covers” – Cat Power – 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz); Cat Power is new to me despite having been around for over 27 years, but her latest album “Covers” really captured my imagination with unique interpretations of twelve popular songs that not only sported unusual instrumentation and rhythm changes but a complete rebirth of each song into something new, and none more than Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind”. Guitar plays a backing role to energetic piano set to a down beat rolling pace. That along with selective editing of the lyrics allows Cat Power to make the song completely her own with a completely different feel and meaning from the original.
- 3. “Trick Out The Truth” (“The Boy Named If” – Elvis Costello – 24-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz); I’ll admit I was never a fan of Elvis Costello, I liked “Watching the Detectives” and his album with Burt Bacharach “Painted From Memory”, though I’m not sure that he did justice to the songs vocally. That being said, I saw his new release “The Boy Named If” and decided to give it a listen. Many of the songs are well composed but most have a certain lacking mostly due to Elvis’ vocal. Then there is “Trick Out The Truth” which is an absolute gem. It has a whimsical Harry Nilsson feel, with spectacular poly-melodic instrumentation, each player performing their own separate tune.
- 4. “Polyghost” (“Fragments” – Bonobo – – 24-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz); Upon hearing “Polyghost” I had great hopes for Bonobo’s “Fragments” but was completely disappointed, yet “Polyghost” remains an incredible little 108-second gem, featuring orchestral electronica enhanced with Asian string instruments it sounds like Tangerine Dream meets Hiroshima. Definitely worth a listen.
- 5. “Barcarolle No. 9 in A Minor, Op. 101” (“Fauré: 13 Barcarolles & Ballade Op. 19” – Jean-Philippe Collard – 24-bit/88.2kHz Qobuz); Unfortunately only two tracks from this album have been released to Qobuz as yet, but Jean-Philippe Collard’s performance “Barcarolle No. 9 in A Minor, Op. 101” is a bit of piano heaven with an incredible flowing style building with emotion and feeling as only a virtuoso can. I literally listened to this track a dozen times over, drawing new nuances with each passage.
- 6. “Church Street Blues” (“Hell on Church Street” – Punch Brothers – 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz); Billed as a Cover Album of a Cover Album “Hell on Church Street” is a tribute to “Church Street Blues” by Tony Rice who was sadly survived by most of the artists that he covered (there is a song written by Jimmie Rodgers who passed at 35 in 1933 and two of the songs are credited as Traditional). The Punch Brothers album epitomizes what I think of as a Tribute Album, rather than simple Covers, as each song is a complete reimagination of the original, which were simple straight forward acoustic guitar covers, as opposed to the full-blown fully orchestrated Bluegrass interpretations performed by Punch Brothers. “Church Street Blues” in particular is a wonderful progressive rendition with each refrain increasing in pace and complexity both of performance and instrumentation.
- 7. “The Truth the Glow the Fall (Live at Montreux)” (“Live at Montreux Jazz Festival (Live at Montreux)” – Anna von Hausswolff – 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz); Anna von Hausswolff was totally not what I expected from a Jazz artist, in fact, I think she falls more securely in the Progressive Rock arena. The truth is all the songs on this album are brilliant, each completely different from the other, even her vocals change from song to song, I think this is probably the most epic find of the month. Since it wasn’t really possible to pick one song over the other, I went for the first track, “The Truth the Glow the Fall (Live at Montreux)” because that is the one that blew me away first. It opens with gothic pipe organ (Anna’s primary instrument) slowly layering in percussion, then Middle-Eastern style vocals, then cello, then synth effects, and lastly guitar building to an almost crescendo and tapering off into fugue-like epilog.
- 8. “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” (“Life Metal” – SUNN O))) – 16-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz); Anna von Hausswolff led me to SUNN O))) who she did a collaboration with. SUNN O))) is a hardcore ambient band that would make Brian Eno or Dieter Moebius proud; except they use guitars instead of keyboards and no percussion. While “Life Metal” is amazing as a whole, “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” stands out because of the addition of vocals by cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir
- 9. “Incantations (Live at Wembley Arena, 1980)” (“Platinum” – Mike Oldfield – 16-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz); It was always my intention to include at least one classic favorite in this monthly list and the dive into ambient music made me think of Mike Oldfield and my favorite Oldfield piece is his live performance of “Incantations”. Mike Oldfield is a multi-instrumentalist who plays almost everything on his studio albums from piano and organ, to guitar, to woodwinds, to just about every percussion instrument imaginable (most famously tubular bells) and nothing reflects this better than Incantations, though live he does employ other musicians. This is an abbreviated version (about one-quarter of the song) but unfortunately, the full length live version is not available on Qobuz as it was never digitized (the vinyl version is named “Exposure” and is a double album set that also includes a live performance of “Tubular Bells”).
- 10. “Riversong” (“Zero Time” – Tonto’s Expanding Head Band – 16-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz); Following links from Mike Oldfield I arrived at Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, which is what Qobuz is all about for me, discovering new music. “Zero Time” brings up images of Edgar Froese, Vangelis, and Robert Fripp. T.O.N.T.O. (the Original New Timbral Orchestra) was apparently the world’s largest Moog synthesizer and two of its creators Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff formed Tonto’s Expanding Head Band to test its limits, implying that all sounds on the album were made on the synth including the bell sounds and vocals of “Riversong” which does evoke several aboriginal percussion and string instruments.
So that’s my ten for this month, so until next month remember; it’s all about the music.
Manley Absolute Headphone Amplifier, Audio-gd R2R-1 DAC, Cardas Iridium single-ended RCA interconnects, Cardas Iridium power cords, Core Power Technologies A/V Equi=Core 1000, Cardas Clear USB cable, iFi Purifier 3, Dan Clark Audio ETHER2 headphones.