Jump into the minds of PHASER Music and explore the albums that have provided the soundtracks to our very own lives…
NICOLA: Pat Metheny Group – Letter from Home (1989) ◊◊◊◊◊
This album was played to me throughout my childhood, and remains one of my absolute favourites to this day. The first knockout track for me was ‘Better Days Ahead’ – it begins with a monkey drum of some kind, before breaking out into an insanely energised, Latin-style tune with original chromatic chords and modulations. Although Metheny is undoubtedly a die-hard jazz artist, he has a skill for memorable melodies (even in his guitar solos) which makes the music accessible to all. This is reflected in the individual parts of each musician, such as in pianist Lyle Mays’s fantastic solo in ‘Every Summer Night’. The reason I give this album five stars, however, is because of the power each track holds as an individual masterpiece. The first tune, ‘Have You Heard’, is a beautiful, rhythmically slick masterpiece, featuring the Pat Metheny Group’s trademark ability to balance texture perfectly to achieve this iconic sound. ‘Vidala’ is even more unusual, reminiscent of a Buddhist chant with its heavy drum beat and modal tonality. Metheny’s lyrics act as an accompanying narrative to the instrumental parts, as in the lyrics of ‘Vidala’ “I asked the guard of the temple / His lips were sealed by my own doubts,” creating a wholly cinematic experience. The great thing about this band is that they can appeal to any kind of listener, and each time you hear a song, it will keep you hooked with the plethora of quirky instruments and tunes. I hope you find the time to check out Letter From Home and enjoy it as much as I do! Other great albums from this group include Offramp (1982), Still Life (Talking) (1987) and The Way Up (2005).
Related artists: Michael Brecker, Brad Mehldau, Michel Camilo, Chick Corea
REVA: The Antlers – Hospice (2009) ◊◊◊◊◊
The narrative premise of Hospice follows the relationship between a terminal patient and the hospice worker who, first by assignment and then by self-made obligation, becomes her caretaker. The Antlers’ songwriter and frontman, Peter Silberman, has explained that the album also serves as an extended metaphor for a past emotionally abusive relationship.
Through harrowingly delicate falsetto and gut-wrenching instrumental progressions, the listener is placed against their will in the hospice room next-door, ear pressed against the wall, scrawling notes on the neighboring tragedy but never able to see the sacrifices on their faces. If “Kettering” explains the desire to take responsibility for the personal suffering of someone you love, then “Atrophy” showcases the maddening desperation of trying. If “Sylvia” is baring one’s teeth at a parasite that just won’t leave, “Wake” is pleading oneself for forgiveness after she’s gone and “Epilogue” is accepting that closure may never come. Call this album what you may—fragile, indulgent, wallowing—but be sure to call it human.
When I first crossed paths with Hospice, I held a self-proclaimed disinterest in any and all soft-spoken music. Yet I couldn’t buck the idea that, regardless, this album somehow managed to make me profoundly feel something my sixteen-year-old self had thankfully never had to experience. My tears fell from Silberman’s head voice; my heart grieved inside his chest voice; for 51 minutes, I nearly lived in someone else’s room. With that power, it opened up my listening repertoire and drew me to artists who share a wide array of stories. And I hold steadfast that this, in turn, helped me become more connected and more vulnerable.
I don’t play Hospice as often as I used to because they’re no longer songs to me. Rather, they are chapters in a story, but whose? The wall’s long since blurred, and I can’t seem to tell anymore.
Related artists: The Microphones, The National, Perfume Genius, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear
MIA: Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985) ◊◊◊◊◊
Released at a time when exorbitant synth pop held sway, it is a testament to Kate’s fifth album, Hounds of Love, that it remains as much a feast for the ears today as it ever was. The elegance and otherworldliness of her voice chimes effortlessly with the notions of romanticism which permeate her album, with her eponymous song and ‘Running Up That Hill’ in particularly treating us to an unabashed exploration of the human condition. This two-suite album remains a perfect exhibition of Kate’s eclectic aesthetic; the first side of her album containing her more buoyant, accessible collection of pop tracks, which precipitously tumbles into its darker, more conceptually-challenging B-side, ‘The Ninth Wave’. Consisting of a narrative “about a person who is alone in the water for the night”, this gothic counterpart explicitly covers subject matter of drowning, hallucination, exorcism and rebirth. Lyrically, Kate indulges us in her poetic faculties, with ‘Cloudbusting’ paying homage to Reich’s A Book of Dreams and the whole premise of ‘The Ninth Wave’ to Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Kate’s self-realisation of this whole album really does afford her the title of a true auteur, and Hounds of Love’s authenticity really does make this album something of a piece of genius.
Related artists: Björk, Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey
RAVI: St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011) ◊◊◊◊◊
Strange Mercy manages to scream of uncensored modernity whilst also having an aged and classic feel, making it St. Vincent’s (Annie Clark) strongest offering and comfortably one of the best albums of 2011. Perhaps abundant similarities to artists such as Kate Bush tie the singer and guitarist’s third album to these canonical figures, but she never feels shackled, and her unapologetically heavy electric guitar breaks any chains that are put on her. Her later work shows this too, comfortably holding her own in collaboration with Talking Head’s David Byrne a year later on the avant-garde masterpiece Love This Giant. Strange Mercy has an infectious bounce which saw the beginning of St. Vincent’s endearing of more mainstream audiences: ‘Cruel’ particularly aided this process. However she never embraces this upbeat direction at the expense of her creative authenticity with which she arrived onto the scene with 2007’s Marry Me – particularly with her innovation as a guitar player: ‘Northern Lights’ is almost Pulp-like in its texture and musical arc, but it sounds as if Clark is catapulting Brit-pop into the 21st century with her frantic American bite. A wonderful album from a woman whose work is perilously under-appreciated, and a fine way into St. Vincent’s impressive catalogue.
Related artists: Fiona Apple, Perfume Genius, Dirty Projectors
SOPHIE: All Time Low – Put Up or Shut Up (2006) ◊◊◊◊◊
Whilst All Time Low have evolved far from their gritty pop-punk roots into synth pop-rock experimentalists showcased in their latest singles, this EP has provided a timeless friend to me from my discovery of them in 2010 to the present day. This portrait of the highs and lows of teenage life, as epitomised in the concluding lyric of ‘The Girl’s a Straight Up Hustler’ (“Leaving you to be forever seventeen, / Cleaning up the messes that you’ve made”) riddles me with the nostalgia of teen romance and sadness, and transports me back to every emotional experience of my adolescence. Whilst this EP is vocally and instrumentally imperfect, it is this imperfection and subsequent development of All Time Low that has become a sort of Bildungsroman documenting my own journey from shy 13-year-old girl to slightly-less-shy undergraduate.
Related artists: You Me at Six, Mayday Parade, The Maine