Friday, 23 December 2011

Oxford Soundtrack: Fall 2011

I listen to a fair bit of music while I work, both on my thesis and my novel (and while doing the dishes).  I tend to listen to one thing pretty obsessively at a time, with other artists and songs thrown in for flavouring.  For this reason, my first term at Oxford and the lead up to Christmas has had a pretty identifiable soundtrack, which I will share with you, if you are interested.

If you, like Tim, have absolutely no interest in European symphonic metal, you will probably want to skip this entry.

Moving over here will probably always be associated with the first single off Evanescence's self-titled album, which came out at the beginning of October.  I remember very clearly blasting "What You Want" in the car on our terrible speakers while driving around Saskatoon during our last weeks there.

The album itself came out right as term began (and, ahem, leaked shortly before that), so I listened to it repeatedly during my orientations and my first few weeks of research.  For the record, I think it's a great album, an improvement over their last effort and, frankly, better than We Are the Fallen's debut record (though I'd be very happy to listen to their follow-up).

Then I discovered both that Lacuna Coil, an Italian metal band I've been listening to for ages, has a new album coming out in January (huzzah!), had released a new single, "Trip the Darkness", and would be coming to Oxford for a concert at our O2 Academy in late November.  I went.  It was a good concert, but it didn't have the energy of the Epica concert I went on an "epic" journey to Edmonton to see two years ago (I really didn't intend to make a pun) and the lyrics were mostly drowned out by the bass.  But it was still a lot of fun and the new single makes me very hopeful about the next album, Dark Adrenaline.

Then beginning of December, I was looking for something new to listen to and decided to listen to song samples from Florence + The Machine's new album Ceremonials, which is advertised all over the place over here.  Once I started listening to the sample for the promotional single "What the Water Gave Me" on iTunes, I knew I had to download it immediately.

I think it was the quality of the restraint in the song that struck me at first, as if the song was straining against itself.  That sounds very funny in retrospect.  As I listened to the song for the first time through, I was struck with how beautiful it was and hoping, hoping that the song could explode into a blaze of glory (it does).  I was also hoping for a crazy, Hotel California-esque guitar solo, as I always do (this didn't happen; I am greatly saddened by the lack of awesome guitar solos in contemporary music).  Also, the entire album is fantastic.  Really inventive pop, with reminders of classic rock, I think.  I was not surprised to learn that Florence loves Stevie Nicks (one of my favourite, favourite musical people ever).

P.S.  If you watch the video, does Florence not look way too happy singing a song inspired by Virginia Woolf's suicide?  (Stones in pockets in the river Ouse).

And finally, Nightwish's Imaginaerum.  In the back of my mind, I had been thinking that maybe this album would be coming out sometime in 2012.  So I wondered if the first single had been released.  It had, and I watched the awesome, pretty creepy video that goes with it.  (See below).

I hadn't exactly been anticipating this album because I was a bit ambivalent about their last album, 2007's Dark Passion Play.  For me, it couldn't stand up to 2004's Once because I was bitter about Tarja Turunen's being fired and didn't like her replacement, Anette Olzon, as well.  I also felt like there were parts that were just a bit two extreme ("Master Passion Greed", for instance, which they no longer play live).

But this album, which I discovered was released at the beginning of the month but which I only purchased about a week ago, is fantastic.  It is probably better than Once (and that's saying a lot, because that's one of my favourite ever albums).  Anette's vocal style is much more varied and powerful; the album is a concept album, so it is at once unified and varied.  The songs are all fantastic and as a whole it's just fabulous, with a rather cathartic ending, after the massive "Song of Myself" (literary geekery: inspired by Walt Whitman's massive "Song of Myself") and the orchestral finishing piece, with snatches from all the songs, "Imaginaerum".  If you are also a Nightwish fan and were ever uncertain about buying this album, you should definitely do it because it's really, really, really good.  I'm sure I will look back at this era of my thesis research and at my novel and have very fine memories of listening to it over and over again.

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