This week I found myself with five tracks available in my monthly allowance on eMusic and no idea what to download. This is something that happens a lot. Under pressure to choose something, I experience the same thing that generally happens when I walk into a record shop, where I forget the name of every band I’ve ever heard of and just start flicking aimlessly through the shelves in the vague hope that something might trigger a memory.
The other option, of course, is to ask someone else what I should be listening to. So, I fired up Twitter and posted this message: “I have five eMusic tracks that I don’t know what to do with. Everyone name one achingly beautiful song. Please. Thank you.” Simple but, as it turned out, very effective.
There are plenty of new ways to get automated musical recommendations, on sites such as Last.fm, or Pandora, or iTunes’ Genius function. But these all have their faults. They’ll never quite match up to real human recommendations, because a computer will never say to you “I want it played at my funeral, but only as a way of forcing people to listen to and remember it,” as @marshamusic did when recommending Bread by Clem Snide. Plus a computer’s recommendation is all too easy to dismiss. But when someone’s told you that they find something achingly beautiful, you feel some kind of duty to listen to it. You can’t just click delete and forget about it.
For example, I’ve never had much time for Sigur Rós, but as you might expect, there were a number of their songs recommended. Normally I’d avoid them but today I’ve sat down and given them proper time and attention and discovered Sæglópur, which left me gasping for air when it kicked in. I also have to admit that Svefn-G-Englar was a pretty impressive track to end on.
For the most part, people recommended the kind of gentle music that would initially spring to mind when you mention beautiful music. But then there’s Thinktank by Airiel, a fast-paced rock track with shoegazer-y vocals that builds and almost runs out of control across four minutes. It’s not an obvious contender, but you can see why @_joshhall_ thinks it’s beautiful. It is beautiful. The way the guitar and vocal melodies play against each other is really lovely and there’s an upbeat feel that is completely infectious. The same could be said for Teen Angst by M83, which rushes at you and envelops you, rather than soothing you from a distance. Or even Dilaudid by Mountain Goats, which you could argue is a bit confrontational but is so simple and compelling that I had to listen to it four times in a row.
It’s also interesting to see which songs by bands whose music I know well other people rate. For all the Elbow songs that came through, no one mentioned Switching Off, which for me is their finest moment and finds them at their most beautiful. Also, the one Cure song that was recommended was A Night Like This. Not a bad choice by any means, but on the very same album (Head On The Door) you’ve got Push. And while Samson by Regina Spektor is definitely beautiful, what about Us?
But if I wanted to write a list of all the songs I think are achingly beautiful, I would. That’s not what this is about. This is much better than that. It’s been an opportunity for me to discover new music, as well as re-discovering some old things as well. If I was to write my own list now, there are some things I’ve just heard that would now appear on it, which I suppose is the point.
So, after that very long introduction, here is the playlist. We kick off with my own choice, An Ending (Ascent) by Brian Eno, before moving onto what my followers on Twitter decided was the most achingly beautiful music out there in the order it was recommended to me. If you want to contribute to my next playlist, follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/andymalt.
You can listen to all the tracks that are available on Spotify (sadly not everything at the moment) all together here.
Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) (Spotify | Last.fm)
TV On The Radio – Family Tree (Spotify | Last.fm)
Catherine AD – Carry Your Heart (Last.fm)
Sigur Rós – Vaka (Spotify | Last.fm)
Clem Snide – Bread (Spotify | Last.fm)
Andrew Bird – Masterfade (Last.fm)
The Reindeer Section – Where I Fall (Spotify | Last.fm)
Elbow – Scattered Black And Whites (Spotify)
Elbow – Great Expectations ( Spotify | Last.fm)
Fionn Regan – Snow Atlas Mountains (Spotify)
Death Cab For Cutie – Brothers On A Hotel Bed (Spotify)
Regina Spektor – Samson (Spotify | Last.fm)
Sufjan Stevens – Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois (Spotify)
David Berkeley – The Blood And The Wine (MySpace)
Richard Buckner – Lil Wallet Picture (Last.fm)
King Creosote – Admiral (Spotify)
Jenniferever – From Across The Sea (Spotify | Last.fm)
Airiel – Thinktank (Last.fm)
M83 – Teen Angst (Spotify | Last.fm)
Mew – White Lips Kissed (Last.fm)
Oceansize – Music For A Nurse (Spotify)
M. Ward – Post War (Spotify)
Elliott Smith – Whatever (Folk Song In C) (Spotify)
Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine (Spotify | Last.fm)
Tunng – Bullets (Hot Chip Remix)
The Mountain Goats – Dilaudid (Spotify)
Joanna Newsom – This Side Of The Blue (Last.fm)
Nick Drake – Northern Lights
Bonnie Raitt – I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again (Spotify | Last.fm)
The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build A Home (Spotify)
Joseph Arthur – Honey And The Moon (Spotify | Last.fm)
Jacques Brel – Ne Me Quitte Pas (Spotify | Last.fm)
Doves – The Cedar Room (Spotify | Last.fm)
Elbow – Starlings (Spotify)
Bette Middler – The Rose (Spotify)
Coldplay – Yellow (Spotify | Last.fm)
The Cure – A Night Like This (Spotify | Last.fm)
Beck – Lonesome Tears (Spotify | Last.fm)
Nick Drake – Way To Blue (Spotify | Last.fm)
The Beatles – She’s Leaving Home
The Postal Service – Nothing Better (Last.fm)
Joni Mitchell – Blue (Spotify | Last.fm)
Sigur Rós – Sæglópur (Spotify | Last.fm)
Alison Krauss and Union Station – Ghost In This House
Wolfman feat. Pete Doherty – For Lovers (Spotify)
M83 – Unrecorded (Spotify | Last.fm)
Sigur Rós – Hoppípolla (Spotify | Last.fm)
Sigur Rós – Glósóli (Spotify | Last.fm)
Manchester Orchestra – Sleeper 1972 (Spotify | Last.fm)
Nine Black Alps – Intermission (Spotify | Last.fm)
Interpol – Untitled (Spotify)
Radiohead – All I Need (Last.fm)
Maria Mena – It Must Have Been Love (Last.fm)
Des’Ree – Kissing You (Spotify | Last.fm)
Smashing Pumpkins – …Said Sadly (Spotify)
Iron & Wine – Upwards Over The Mountain
Michel Polnareff – Lettre À France (Last.fm)
Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road (‘Live 75-85’ version) (Spotify | Last.fm)
The Magnetic Fields – All My Little Words (Spotify)
Sigur Rós – Svefn-G-Englar (Spotify | Last.fm)
Thanks to @MyChemToilet, @CatherineAD, @luke_is_best, @marshamusic, @adamkillip, @sesp, @_joshhall_, @mrstealeaves, @katbrightlights, @SongHooks, @charliemoo, @CaroUnLimited, @radioedit, @agoss, @Astrild, @winstonszen, @JonathanDeamer, @ianshepherd, @lsutherland, @Quiverdisc, @JackMarshall, @myrrhlarsen, @James1am, @samovarious, @JeremyMeyers, @smkng, @Mark_Mulligan, @frani_lieberman, @Jeremiah_James, @tomgillet, @tamipants