[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.
Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—
My eldest child and I have wondered what the music of the post-2000s is. If psychedelia is the 60s, and disco is the 70s, and new wave and alternative is the 80s, and grunge and emo is the 90s ... what comes next? I proposed two possible trends. The first is large, folky/neoclassical bands full of non-traditional (for rock, anyway) instruments: banjos and cellos and trumpets. Examples would be the Decemberists, the Lumineers, Arcade Fire, and of course Of Monsters and Men. The second is a tendency towards the melodramatic, the bombastic—
Now, I just said in our last installment that I don’t care for opera. But there’s a difference between opera music and operatic music. In fact, they don’t sound much alike, really. What makes a tune operatic is more a sense of style vs the actual melodies or instrumentation. It’s a chance for the music to swell and burst forth in unexpected ways, for vocalists to show off their emotional range, for the song to attempt to stir the listener—
Because of my perception of this as a trend for the music of the last two decades or so, only 4 of the 20 tracks here are older than 20 years old (which is fairly unusual for this series). But of course we could never make a mix like this without including the original operatic rock song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Released way back in 1975 on A Night at the Opera, Freddie Mercury referred to it as “mock opera” and famously introduced it to his bandmates by playing the opening melody and then stopping and saying “And this is where the opera section comes in!” The faux-Italian nonsense section in the middle (“Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?” and so forth) only emphasizes the operatic connections, and yet the song is undeniably (and indelibly) a rock classic: #1 in the UK, top 10 in the US, nominated for two Grammys, spawned one of the earliest music videos, re-immortalized in Wayne’s World, and its name was used for last year’s biopic of Mercury. Our volume title is an obvious lift from its lyrics (“thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening”1). And, above and beyond all its importance and relevance to the theme, it’s just an amazing, fantastic song.
It was frankly amazing that I restrained myself from opening the mix with it, really. But I felt like an even better opener would be the theme from The Shannara Chronicles: “Until We Go Down,” by Ruelle. Like “You’ve Got Time” from Orange Is the New Black2 and “If I Had a Heart” from Vikings,3 the non-abbreviated version from Ruelle’s EP is even better than what you get on TV. It’s the perfect opening for the first section, and for the second section I use Muse to introduce Queen—
Other obvious choices were Kate Bush (almost any of her hits would have worked, but I felt like “Cloudbusting” fit here the best), and Pat Benatar, who actually trained as an opera singer before switching to rock (and here the obvious choice was Benatar’s cover of Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”): that’s 2 more of the 4 selections from the 80s or prior. Emilie Autumn is another no-brainer; Fight Like a Girl has been called “an operatic feminist treatise set inside an insane asylum,” and, while I don’t think it always works, “If I Burn” is a shining example of her at her best. My Morning Jacket, who I first heard on Stephen Colbert’s show, are sometimes described as alt-country, but I find their album The Waterfall to be way more operatic than twangy.
Closing out the “no duh” list would be MILCK’s dramatic tune that came to epitomize the Women’s March in 2017, “Quiet,” and “Conqueror,” by Aurora, a Norwegian artist sometimes characterized as baroque pop. For introduction to the former, I have to thank Samantha Bee; for the second, I have absolutely no recollection of where I first heard it,4 but I fell immediately in love and knew it had to land here. “Conqueror” is one of those songs that just fills you with a sort of joy despite all attempts to resist it. The early 2000s offers me multiple candidates here, but some of them—
Of course, not everything here is only about the melodrama. Several songs are cherry-picked from adjacent subgenres. For instance, representing the oldest song here post-80s, and representing the tendency of a decade’s music to start slightly before the decade itself,5 we have Incubus, with the title track from their amazing 1999 album Make Yourself. Theoretically, Incubus was nu-metal, in the vein of Linkin Park or Korn. But they managed to break out of that mold in many ways, primarily with a flair for the dramatic. “Make Yourself” is not a song for you if you’re bothered by the F-bomb, but, assuming you can get past that, it’s pretty amazing. I can also draw a straight line (in my mind, anyway) from Incubus to the Struts—
Another genre with some major similarities is goth. You may recall that back on Penumbral Phosphorescence I talked about how goth wasn’t technically about death and darkness; its original meaning was more about drama and spectacle. Which is also the aspects of “operatic” that I’m talking about here. So I threw in a little goth: first of all and most obviously, “Garden of Delight” by the Mission, who are probably the most operatic of the proper goth bands, and then “Ancient Delirium,” the title track off the odd collaboration between Angels of Venice’s Carol Tatum and Seraphim Shock’s Charles Edward.6 Finally “The Woman of the Snow” by goth/industrial/darkwave duo Faith and the Muse is one of those layered, voice-as-instrument affairs that can often be found in works by Beth Quist7 or (especially) Julianna Barwick;8 here’s it’s a bit of a bridge between the powerful, raw emotion of “Quiet” and the subtler but also soaring vocals of “Home.”
This latter tune, by the way, is from an undeservedly obscure artist called Glasser. I only discovered her while idly looking up what the members of Human Sexual Response9 were up to now and finding that their only female member went on to mother a musician herself. So I had to check that out, right? Glasser is hard to pin down: she’s a bit electronica, a bit indie, a bit experimental ... and, yes, a bit operatic. “Home” is, in my opinion, the most emblematic of that off her excellent Ring.
Which nicely transitions to other female vocals that only occasionally drift in operatic territory. Iiris is an Estonian singer who has thrice come in the top 5 in the Eurovision Song Contest but is not europop in any meaningful sense; she’s more of an indie voice who’s more likely to show up on Sirenexiv Cola. But “Curaga” is actually sort of a sister tune to “Conqueror” and flows beautifully from it. It’s a bit more mellow than the latter, but has its moments of bursting forth (“to wake up is to light up all the nightmares by your side”). Lucius is a beautiful melding of two female vocalists, and we’ll no doubt also see them eventually on Sirenexiv Cola, but also probably on Smokelit Flashback, which gives you some idea of their range. “How Loud Your Heart Gets” has many moments of upswelling beauty (“we were children now we’ve grown” and, later, “the things we know we just don’t know”) and also fades out with an interesting discordant section that jumps from left speaker to right and back again. Definitely a great track.
Fulminant Cadenza I
[ Thunderbolt and Lightning ]
[ Thunderbolt and Lightning ]
“Until We Go Down” by Ruelle, off Up in Flames [EP]
“Quiet” by MILCK [Single]
“The Woman of the Snow” by Faith and the Muse, off :ankoku butoh:
“Home” by Glasser, off Ring
“Il Pirata” by Ugress, off Cinematronics
“Resistance” by Muse, off The Resistance
“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, off Greatest Hits [Compilation]
“In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” by My Morning Jacket, off The Waterfall
“Garden of Delight (Hereafter)” by The Mission, off Godʼs Own Medicine
“Cloudbusting” by Kate Bush, off The Whole Story [Compilation]
“Wuthering Heights” by Pat Benatar, off Crimes of Passion
“Conqueror” by AURORA, off All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend
“Curaga” by Iiris, off The Magic Gift Box
“If I Burn” by Emilie Autumn, off Fight Like a Girl
“Ancient Delirium” by Carol Tatum, off Ancient Delirium
“Peel” by Jade Leary, off The Lost Art of Human Kindness
“Make Yourself” by Incubus, off Make Yourself
“Could Have Been Me” by The Struts, off Everybody Wants
“How Loud Your Heart Gets” by Lucius, off Wildewoman
“Ban the Game” by Men Without Hats, off Rhythm of Youth
Total: 20 tracks, 76:49
For bridges, I was first off drawn to a weird little track by Jade Leary: “Peel.” Featuring an airy flute counterpointed by some strings which somehow convey the impression that you’re late for something dark and foreboding, and whispered, distorted vocals, it’s certainly got melodrama in spades. And the bridge between our all-female opening quartet into the more male-dominated stretch of the next 4 tracks is 48 perfect seconds from Norwegian electronica artist Ugress.10 “Il Pirata” sounds like an old 78rpm record that would be played as the soundtrack for a silent movie (probably during the scene where the train is about to run over the heroine tied to the tracks), but set to a drum machine beat. Definitely an attention-getter.
Our closer has similar DNA, but lives at the other end of the spectrum. “Ban the Game” is a slower, piano-driven track, about as far away from “Safety Dance” as you can get and still be Men Without Hats. But somehow it still feels like the soundtrack to an old movie, only this scene is the one where the heroine is walking off into the sunset, leaving the hero to wonder how he’s going to live without her. Which leaves us in precisely the proper mood to say goodbye to a set of tunes that is properly operatic without sounding anything like opera.11
Next time, we’ll mix a little magic into our music.
1 Also quite fulminant.
2 Which is our closer on Sirenexiv Cola I.
3 Which we haven’t seen yet, but we probably will sooner or later.
4 Although I note that she was also on The Late Show, in July of 2016, so that’s a good guess.
5 For instance, one of the most iconic songs of the 80s is “My Sharona” ... released in 1979.
6 More discussion of both those bands and albums can be found in Penumbral Phosphorescence I.
7 We’ve heard from Quist many times: Shadowfall Equinox IV and V, Numeric Driftwood III, Paradoxically Sized World IV, and Sirenexiv Cola I.
8 Who we shall hear from in the fullness of time.
9 I talked a bit about this somewhat odd Boston classic new wave band back on Totally Different Head.
10 Ugress is one my favorite musical discoveries from LittleBigPlanet, as we discussed back in Paradoxically Sized World II.
11 Thank goodness.