Welcome to the first post of the Nowlikephotographs blog. Here you’ll find epic instrumental musings, MP3s, videos, and more on more than the regular weekly Wednesday night basis. Since a little while back was my last official episode hosting the radio portion of Nowlikephotographs (I’ll still be posting around these parts while Brendan and Willie do a bang up job taking over at Radio K), and I could only say so much on air between tracks, I thought I’d go into a little more detail on the Top 20 Instrumental Songs of My Life that I ran through on that last broadcast. Enjoy!
The newest track on the list. It’s also one of the loudest, which is saying something because the Oklahoma outfit isn’t exactly abrasive by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, each instrumentalist plays their respective, perfectly blended riff with precise confidence, creating a miniature epic that’s just as triumphant as any 10 or 15 minute post-rock tune.
I fell in love with minimalism back before I even fully knew what the word meant in the context of music. Before they were releasing song-by-song My Bloody Valentine cover records, Japancakes constructed slide guitar jams with equal parts soul and loneliness. It’s a devastating kind of simplistic and immaculate beauty that is hardly heard nowadays.
This Portland duo is most known for taking instrumental hip hop beats and placing moving orchestral melodies atop them, but the one song that has blown me away more so than any other by Talkdemonic has been one with just a slight brush of a tom and cymbal for percussion. The layers of cello build up dramatically without going over-the-top saccharine, creating a quiet riff that is way too powerful to be listened to at a low volume.
The only song from a self-released record on the list. What’s so impressive about this band that sticks to the often tired guitar, drums, and bass lineup is that every single note matters. None of it is washed away in distortion or delay pedal (though often one of the two, if not both, are used). Everything is crisp yet overlapping in ecstasy, and that’s just the way to get my ears perked up by the supposed “same old” – when there’s always something to listen to.
Yeah yeah, it’s the song from that Will Smith movie Hancock. But more importantly, it’s heartrending as eff. It sounds full and rich while still remaining slight and cautious, it feels cinematic and climactic without ever coming off as forceful or big-headed, and it’s just plain gorgeous. Defying categorization other than film music for imaginary movies (definitely not superhero flicks), it’s one of the few songs on this list that is appealing without calling attention to itself.
Someone had to say it, and so an unassuming Montana band came out of nowhere and confronted all us “pretty” music lovers. Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, that’s probably why we like it. But what’s wrong with being predictable? Sure, it’s comfortable, but as this song proves, even the prettiest sounds can be exactly what we want, need, and thrive on.
And now for a song (once again, a one-of-a-kind on the countdown) that actually stems from a film. Babel might not be my favorite movie, but it’s definitely the only time a film score track made me break down in the theater. It sounds so natural and classic that it should have been written years ago, but luckily it’s just made by the master neo-classicist of our generation, Mr. Sakamoto.
Arguably as ambient and as noisy as it gets in my music collection, the New Orleans duo Belong somehow know how to forgo a fluid tempo and any distinguishable notes in favor of atmospherics of soundscaped rust and debris. And while it all sounds so dissembled and scattered, it also projects an air of brutal power and rebirth. This is the way I like my ambience: soaring and intense.
Now we’re heading into 1990s territory and it’s amazing that one of the genre’s fore-runners like Dirty Three have managed to keep their sound relevant and inspirational to other musicians of ilk a full ten years later. Their morose wheel wagon aesthetic is as breathtakingly alive in 2009 as it was back then, even as it lumbers along like a funeral march, just as it title suggests.
Finally returning after a much too long hiatus later this year, going back to the ebullient vibraphone/guitar stylings of A Date Learn the Language is incredibly exuberant and revitalizing. Almost every artist we spin on NLP practices the crescendo at some point in their musical career, but this is the only song I’m aware of that embodies suspense without doing the loud-quiet-loud routine. They’re just there, rocking socks and taking names.
If Dirty Three are one of the forerunners, then Tortoise are the ones that tell the forerunners to start running. Because not only have these guys been on the prowl longer than any other name in the game, but their sound is so intimidating in its uniqueness that no one has dared replicate it since the first marimba mallet was dropped. This song is the one that hypnotizes one into intimidation the easiest. Consider yourself warned.
Just when you thought only singer-songwriters could get away with sappy odes to their wives and babies, Minneapolitan Martin Dosh had to come and turn the tables upside down. It’s kind of electronic, kind of rocking, hip-hop-inflected, with a quick dose of ambient pleasantry, and it proves that Minnesota is just as good as any other city (if not better than all of them combined, not that I’m biased) when it comes to breeding the most brilliant instrumental music.
I’m aware this isn’t the original lineup of the math-rock dynamos Don Caballero that became so deservedly beloved on the first go-around, but this is quite possibly the only song under the Don Cab banner that has as much heart as it does cojones. Damon is still mind-crushingly unyielding in his masterful drumming and the guitars are still brutal, it’s just taken down a notch to feel that much more human (and hey, no joke title either!).
The pulsing electronic kick drum used to be the number one reason I couldn’t listen to house or trance music without getting a headache. Who knew all it took was a Swede deconstructing a Lionel Richie riff on top of one to not only make it bearable, but downright euphoric? Finally, a track that fits as nicely with sweaty smiles and glow sticks as it does with epic night drives and space-out airport ambience.
One of those rare bands that exceeds at composing/performing sorrow-filled (but always with a firm dash of hope) post-rock that could be either instrumental or vocally-oriented, and it would still knock out the listener with ease. From what I believe to be the only double-disc masterpiece ever created, TAC proved to me far before I became obsessed with the instrumental genre that words are often rendered useless when the right snare rolls and delay effects are combined.
An odd choice, I realize, due to the insane perfection abound on NLP’s favorite instrumental record of 2005, The Exquisite Death of Saxon Shore, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot shake the horse galloping, melodica-driven opus that is “Four Months of Darkness”. Newer Saxon Shore might have an undeniably cosmic appeal and the band’s very first record is airy and refreshing, but the night-drenched dramatics of this track have never left my psyche.
4. “My Angel Rocks Back and Forth” by Four Tet [Rounds; Domino]
As explained on air in a bit of furious self-hatred, I once dismissed all forms of electronic music. I found it synthetic, fake, coldly distant and unmusical. I was an idiot. I listened to Kieran Hebden’s breakthrough release, and this track specifically, and my heart broke into a million tiny pieces. The haunting percussive loop and twinkling piano are enough to get me through any hard day six years later, and I’m sure it will for many more to come.
3. “Absence of Oceans” by Lights Out Asia [Garmonia; Sunseasky]
Once upon a time, a little-known duo from Milwaukee showed up at the Loring Pasta Bar here in Minneapolis. Armed with just a guitar and a keyboard, suddenly I was awash with a glassy exuberant splendor unfound in music until that moment. This breathtaking track accomplishes the remarkable by making one’s eardrums swim flush with the oceans of flooding melodies and sonar clicks, all while evaporating them to make as feel as humbly close to the sound as possible.
2. “The Only Moment We Were Alone” by Explosions in the Sky [The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place; Temporary Residence]
The band that made it all possible. I know it’s hip now to discount them as they become the only post-rock band to ever go platinum (and probably ever will be), but the truth is the truth. Without the earth-shattering climaxes and moody comedowns of a simple and genuinely music-loving foursome from West Texas, as so perfectly demonstrated in this, the list’s longest and certainly most epic song, Nowlikephotographs would not be here today.
1. “Now Like Photographs” by The Six Parts Seven [Things Shaped in Passing; Suicide Squeeze]
Not much can be said to top the praise for EITS, but there’s something to be said for that personally sweetheart vs. the crowd favorite. Back when Joe and I tried to come up with a name for this show (not radio + web entity), I sat in my room listlessly listening to The Six Parts Seven on a rainy day. Their marriage of emotive guitar-led compositions with distinctly laid-back and reflective serenity made the most sense when listening to NLP’s namesake track. Instrumental songs are a lot like polaroids. They’re worth a thousand words without ever uttering one. Too bad Joe and I couldn’t keep our mouths shut about it in between sets.