Backtrackin'

Things you may have missed the first time

In his brilliant analysis of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, legendary critic Dave Marsh wrote that quality music could never come simply by force-feeding the complexities of classical music through rock and roll amplifiers. Although many have tried (with practicably bloated results) to fuse Beethoven and Chuck Berry, it wasn't until Brian Eno stumbled upon what would come to be called "ambient music" that folks began to understand the inherent and subtle power of strings and bows. Now a host of newer acts prove to have learned this lesson well.

The Landau Orchestra is not really an orchestra at all, more like two guys (Matt Young and Grant Wheeler) and an ensemble of capable players who produce electronic music that features well-integrated hints of jazz and folk. Janus Plays Telephone, the catchy and cathartic sophomore effort, is ambient music for fans of Miles Davis and Van Morrison. Warm and appealing, this is the kind of music guaranteed to impress the guests at your next dinner party.

Prelude to the Sea is the debut EP of Sur La Mer, the brainchild of Atsu Nagayama, best known for her work with The Boredoms. Much more traditionally centered than anything in her résumé, the four generically titled movements are grandiose in scope but never succumb to neo-classical heavy-handedness. Engagingly pretty, the sweep and power of "Adagio" and "Allegro" offer the perfect backdrop for repainting your kitchen with style.

Small Sails is a film- and music-making collective from Portland who plow ground similar to The Books and Album Leaf, but with a definite lean toward conventional pop. Similar Anniversaries, the band's recent effort, is hypnotic and inviting, just enough crystalline shine to make the most warped electronica palatable.

Hailing from Iceland, Ben Frost has scored numerous film, dance and multimedia productions and has collaborated with Sigtryggur Baldursson of the Sugarcubes. Frost's most recent effort, Theory of Machines, is a dense mélange of sound and texture that is both dreamlike and dramatic. "We Love You, Michael Gira," Frost's tribute to the leader of the Swans, ebbs and swells like a weary machine, sputtering a memorable spell of dissonance and disharmony.

Terry Riley is considered to be the father of neo-classicism and his 1964 composition In C is one of the landmarks of minimalism. Recently performed by the Ars Nova Percurama Percussion Ensemble in Copenhagen under the direction of Paul Hillier, the piece loses none of its protracted oomph. Indeed, by incorporating a large chorus to accompany the marimbas, vibraphones and gongs, Hillier has made Riley's work even more challenging and essential.

 
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