Sunday, May 6, 2018

Shadowfall Equinox V

"Keep the Dark Inside"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]



When I put tracks into my mix file, there’s a complex set of symbols I use to tell me where I need to pull the track from, whether it’s in the right position, whether it has any vocals or not, and whether it belongs in this mix at all.  That last one is what I call the “suitability” column, and a question mark there means I’m just not sure this song belongs on this mix ... or maybe even anywhere.  Now, there are various reasons for this.  Maybe a song is perfect for the mix, but it’s just not that great a song.  More likely, it’s a good song, but I’m not quite sure it fits on the mix.  Sometimes a song like that gets bumped altogether—moved to a different mix, or just dropped from the mixfile.  But sometimes I just think that the song could go on the mix ... somewhere ... but not in the current volume.  And then maybe that happens again on the next volume, and again, and somehow the song just keeps getting bumped, never quite fitting in, but never quite sticking out badly enough to get permanently cut.

See, while a mix has a very consistent throughline, every volume is still a little different.  Each one focuses on a slightly different aspect of the mix.  For instance, Shadowfall Equinox I was perhaps the perfect balance of dark, and expansive, and lonely, and dreamy.  But there’s no doubt that Shadowfall Equinox II, with its rain and echoey underwater motifs, leaned firmly towards lonely.  And Shadowfall Equinox III, featuring Morpheus and not one, but two, selections from dark ambient masters Nox Arcana, was pretty dark.  Then along comes Shadowfall Equinox IV, bringing us Australis and Rapoon and Carmen Rizzo, all electro- and ethno-ambient, and, in retrospect, it’s certainly the most expansive volume to date.  So I guess it makes sense that this most recent volume is going to focus on the dreamy.

Dreampop is an amazingly useful genre that, perhaps surprisingly, shows up on a lot of different mixes.  Taking the Cocteau Twins as an example—and they are the godparents of dreampop, in many ways—we’ve seen them most on Numeric Driftwood, but they’ve also shown up on Smokelit Flashback, Darkling Embrace, and even Penumbral Phosphorescence.  Which tells us that dreampop can be soothing, trippy, darkly pretty, or just plain dark.  But of course it can also be dreamy, and that’s what we’re looking for here.  On this volume of Shadowfall Equinox, we’ll see the Cocteaus, 4AD labelmates (and the other quintessential dreampop band) Dead Can Dance, 4AD supergroup (consisting of members of both the Cocteaus and DCD) This Mortal Coil, and Norweigan dream-ambient duo Bel Canto, but it all starts with the occasionally new age, occasionally Celtic, occasionally world, but always fundamentally Canadian dreampop, Loreena McKennit.

“Prologue” is the opener to McKennit’s amazing (and amazingly diverse) album The Book of Secrets, and it’s got a little bit of worldmusic-crossed-with-RennFaire vibe that makes it tough to slot into anywhere.  Primarily because anything else that sounds even remotely like it is not as mellow and contemplative as this track, which has always screamed “Shadowfall Equinox” at me at the same time that I couldn’t imagine slotting it up against Jeff Greinke or Kevin Keller.  So it dragged its question mark in the “suitability” column around with it through 4 other volumes, until suddenly I found some compatriots that seemed to share its spirit.

So I made it the opener here, and promptly followed it up with “Yulunga (Spirit Dance)” by Dead Can Dance.  DCD are of course no strangers to worldmusic themselves, so the transition here is pretty nice: from Italo-Renaissance into droning Middle Eastern chanting.  “Yulunga” it itself the opener of DCD’s Into the Labyrinth, the follow-up to my all-time favorite Aion.  It’s no “Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” to be sure, but it has a somber and relentless quality that makes it perfect for this mix.  Lisa Gerrard not only does the vocals here, but also on the This Mortal Coil track, “Waves Become Wings,” which is TMC’s third appearance on this mix.1  Like many of the tracks from Ivo Watts’ 4AD collective, this one is pretty minimalist, mainly just Gerrard’s ethereal, almost indecipherable vocals (reminiscent of the Cocteaus’ Elizabeth Fraser, actually), and some keyboard work which is no doubt supplied by Watts himself.2  Somewhere in there you can almost make out Gerrard saying the volume title, but I’ll be honest: if the Internet hadn’t provided me the lyrics, I probably would have never picked it out.

From the Twins, we have “Sea, Swallow Me,” which is off the Cocteaus’ collaboration with Harold Budd.  Now, the majority of the songs on this album are too much Harold Budd and not enough Cocteau Twins, which I don’t care for.  But this one ... well, to be fair, it probably swings back too far in the other direction.  But then I’m starting to come to the conclusion that not enough Harold Budd is just the right amount of Harold Budd.  So I really dig this one tune.  It starts out somewhat typically for a Budd tune, then the Cocteaus really kick in, and it becomes a very layered, complex tune fully worthy of this mix.  And we’d be remiss to do a dreampop-focussed volume without returning to Twin Peaks and Angelo Badalamenti.  This time I went with the Fire Walk with Me soundtrack, which is slightly jazzier than the original Twin Peaks soundtrack.  Again, it might not have worked on another volume, but here it slots in just fine.

And we’ll round out the dreampop with Bel Canto, who are what you might imagine the Cocteau Twins would sound like if they were crossed with Enigma.  “Buthania” is a simple tune, mostly powered by some variety of flute, and it has an almost Native American vibe to it.  And, speaking of Enigma, Jens Gad was a producer for them, and I only recently discovered his excellent album Le Spa Sonique.  I would say it’s more downtempo than new age, but well worth checking out, and “Orbiting Suns” is the absolute best track on it.  Plus it makes a beautiful transition off the end of “Sea, Swallow Me” to form an excellent centerpiece for the volume.

And since we’re now speaking of downtempo, Naomi are here as well, with “The Book,” another track that has been dragged around with a question mark through several volumes of this mix.  Finally it seems to fit here, where it didn’t work on the other volumes.  Is it the added dreaminess of this volume that makes it finally work?  Yes, I think it probably is.

And you don’t have to stray very far from dreampop before you run smack dab into darkwave, which is really after all just dreampop crossed with goth.3  Our darkwave this time out comes from the usual suspects: Black Tape for a Blue Girl, who give us “We Watch Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall,” a practically operatic, string-heavy instrumental piece, and Falling You, who share “march thirty-one,” the centerpiece of their masterpiece Touch.  It’s another haunting track with vocals from Aimee Page, and it makes a perfect closer.

Of course, we still need to pay homage to the original inspiration for Shadowfall Equinox: Hearts in Space’s “Shadowfall II.”4  First and foremost, of course, is a return to Jeff Greinke’s Wide View, after a brief break from that album last volume.5  The title track appeared as the second song in “Shadowfall II”; here I’m using it to introduce the center stretch of the mix.  Kevin Keller is also back, this time with a darkly perfect track from his Nocturnes album called “November.”  And I call back to Ruben Garcia with the title track from I Can Feel the Heat Closing In, which is a great ambient piece set to the backdrop of a thunderstorm.

And that leads directly into perhaps the strangest choice here: “Within a Grey-Day Mood.”  Long ago, when my eldest child was still an infant, The Mother bought a cheesy lullaby CD from a Wal-Mart or a Starbucks or something.  It was called Lifescapes: Lullabies, and, despite being nothing special in many ways, we played it to death as music for the kids to sleep by.  We lost the CD in some move or other, and then we had to track it down years afterward and pay probably four or five times as much as the first time around, just because it was such an ingrained part of our life.  So, fast-forward to a few months ago, and the family is wandering around a local Goodwill store, trying to find something worth buying.  I’m in the used CD section, which used to be one of my favorite places to check out, but nowadays you have to really want some music to commit to owning an actual CD, and pretty much everything I want that bad I already own.  But hope springs eternal, ya know?  And I happened to spot that familiar Lifescapes label ...

This one is called Summer Thunder, and it’s not nearly as good as the lullabies one.  But it still has a few moments.  It mainly seems to consist of an extended audio cut of a very long thunderstorm, which has been overlaid with someone (identified in the liner notes only as “Steven C”) noodling around on the piano.  As you could imagine, mostly this doesn’t work.  But, occasionally, it does, and the opener (the aforementioned “Within a Grey-Day Mood”) is easily the best track.  Plus, the thunderstorm motif makes it really flow beautifully after Garcia’s (much better) similarly-themed piece.


Shadowfall Equinox V
    [Keep the Dark Inside]


        “Prologue” by Loreena McKennitt, off The Book of Secrets
        “Yulunga (Spirit Dance)” by Dead Can Dance, off Into the Labyrinth
        “Reincarnation (Saisei)” by Kitaro, off Silk Road II
        “Buthania” by Bel Canto, off Shimmering, Warm & Bright
        “No Stone Unturned” by Jade Leary, off The Lost Art of Human Kindness
        “Wide View” by Jeff Greinke, off Wide View
        “I Can Feel the Heat Closing In” by Ruben Garcia, off I Can Feel the Heat Closing In
        “Within a Grey-Day Mood” by Steven C., off Lifescapes: Summer Thunder 6
        “Theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” by Angelo Badalamenti, off Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [Soundtrack]
        “The Book” by Naomi, off Pappelallee
        “Sea, Swallow Me” by Cocteau Twins / Harold Budd, off The Moon and the Melodies [Collaboration]
        “The Orbiting Suns” by Jens Gad, off Le Spa Sonique
        “November” by Kevin Keller, off Nocturnes
        “Waves Become Wings” by This Mortal Coil, off It'll End in Tears
        “We Watch Our Sad-Eyed Angel Fall” by Black Tape for a Blue Girl, off A Chaos of Desire
        “march thirty-one” by Falling You, off Touch
   
Total:  16 tracks,  77:24


And that really only leaves us with two tracks.  “Reincarnation (Saisei)” is from the second volume of Kitaro’s music for the Japanese documentary series Silk Road, which is how he first came to prominence.  Now, Kitaro is pretty solidly new age, and generally I save new age for mellower mixes than this,7 but I knew that sooner or later I could find a Kitaro piece that would work here.  I really thought Astral Voyage would end up holding the key, but Silk Road turned out to be a better bet.  Especially on this particular volume, where the first section already has a strong worldmusic vibe, “Reincarnation” fits perfectly between “Yulunga” and “Buthania.”

Finally, the bridge between the worldy first section and the more ambient center section is a short instrumental piece from Montreal artist Jade Leary.  Another Magnatune find,8 Leary has a dark sensibility that I find appealing.  Much of his stuff has a harder edge that make him more suitable for other mixes,9 but “No Stone Unturned” is a quieter, more contemplative piece ... and that’s exactly what this mix showcases.


Next time, we’ll slink back around to some more sinuous fare.


Shadowfall Equinox VI




__________

1 They previously appeared on Shadowfall Equinox I and Shadowfall Equinox II.

2 The liner notes swear Gerrard is also playing accordian on this track, but I damn sure can’t hear it.

3 And of course we mustn’t forget my theory that dreampop derives from goth, which I mentioned briefly back on Penumbral Phosphorescence.

4 Which I discussed way back on Shadowfall Equinox I, you may recall.

5 But not from Greinke, of course.  We just switched it up and went with a selection off Timbral Planes instead.

6 This album is very difficult to get hold of nowadays—heck it probably wasn’t that easy to find even when it was new.  So, while I don’t typically like to link to free downloads where the original artist gets no royalties, this one’s a bit of an exception.

7 Primarily Numeric Driftwood.

8 I first told the story of how I discovered Magnatune in Rose-Coloured Brainpan.

9 That we shall come to in the fullness of time.









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