Tag Archives: bonobo

The Music I Listened To in 2017: (#24-1)

I listened to 544.66 hours of music on Spotify this year – about 13 full-time workweeks – and captured all the data with Last.fm. The ranking is ordered by how many times I listened to a song by the artist, with #1 claiming the most listens.

My top 50-25 artists were published in the last post. So here, without further ado, are the rest of them.

My #24-1 most listened artists of 2017:

24. Anderson .Paak
.Paak may have crept into the top 50% of my artists this year on the strength of his NPR Tiny Desk concert alone. I probably watched it 30 times this year. His record ‘Malibu’ is great too.

23. Jon Hopkins
Surreal soundscapes that thrive on simplicity. Hopkins can have an impact as strong as an artist who goes five times as loud because of the clarity of his compositions.

22. Eric Satie
When I picture the streets of Paris in my mind, a Gymnopedie by Satie plays in the background along with the image. A more formidable critic could even trace a line from Satie across the century to my previous entry, Jon Hopkins.

21. BADBADNOTGOOD
After compulsively listening to their first studio album for months, I got to see BBNG perform live this year. They’re full of young, raw talent and I’ll be waiting to see how they develop.

20. The xx
I haven’t gotten into the newer work by the xx, but their first album stays in my rotation. There’s so much heart in their songs.

19. Oddisee
Homegrown D.C. hip-hop instrumentalist Oddisee has a classic track about biking through the city, and a lot of other chill tunes that sound like home to me.

18. Lapalux
Lapalux’s ‘Lustmore‘ is a couple years old, but it wins the ‘sexiest thing I listened to in 2017’ award. Discovered by way of the tracks featuring Andreya Triana & Szjerdene, known to me from their work with Bonobo.

17. Mac Quayle
I haven’t watched any of the latest season of the TV show Mr. Robot, but I have continued listening to the soundtrack while I’m working to force a quality of suspense to all the hum-drum shit I have to do.

16. Jack Johnson
Jack’s easy, happy songs feel ageless, even 15 years after the first time someone recommended him to me – I remember it clearly as one of the sincerest recommendations I’ve ever been given.

15. Yppah
I don’t really know anything about Yppah – if I had to guess, one day Spotify recommended it based on my listening to Tycho. OK, computer, you have figured me out. I’ve been returning to ‘Eighty-One’ a lot this year.

14. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
Nine Inch Nails were hugely popular when I was in high school, but I only came to appreciate them years later. This year I’ve been playing the soundtrack to the film ‘The Social Network’ on repeat, and it makes perfect background music for watching polite society immolate itself on Facebook in 2017.

13. Steve Reich
Learning about and listening to Reich this year was kind of a milestone for me – a lesson I taught myself in what I was capable of enjoying. I guess I’ve always been more of a pop and rock fan, so this kind of neo-minimal-classical is a brave new world to me.

12. Thelonius Monk
At the end of some long workdays, driving home through the city, the only recording I want to hear is ‘Round About Midnight.’ Monk sounds like those minutes after the daily grind is over but life keeps buzzing all around.

11. The Roots
The legendary. I don’t watch the Fallon show, despite their nightly presence as the house band, but I go back to their records over and over. ‘What They Do’ is still as fresh & powerful to me as it was when I first heard it 20 years ago.

10. Odesza
I learned about Odesza by hearing them on the ‘Song Exploder’ podcast, as they explained the genesis of the song ‘Kusanagi.’ The song turns out to be completely unlike the rest of their catalog, but I really enjoyed getting into their music this year. So much happy energy.

9. Nick Drake
There are some nights in the Summer when there’s a full moon and the world is quiet and the only music that should be played at that moment is Nick Drake. There are lots of other moments when it’s OK to listen to Nick Drake, too.

8. Igor Stravinsky
As a contrast to Debussy’s soft piano work, I got into Stravinsky’s challenging violin concertos this year. Thanks to Alex Ross’s tremendous book ‘The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century‘ I learned a lot about Igor, and now understand how I’m hearing echoes of him in jazz and rock.

7. Claude Debussy
Debussy emerged as my favorite composer as I went deeper than usual with my interest in classical music this year. I’m not at the level of discerning which renditions I prefer, or which orchestras I like, or anything like that – but ‘Claire de Lune’ is the most beautiful composition I listened to in 2017, 112 years after it was first published.

6. Wolf Alice
What an amazing discovery Wolf Alice was for me this year. On the strength of their appearance on the Trainspotting 2 soundtrack, they slid into my top ten. I just caught their concert last weekend and Ellie Roswell & Co were just as brilliant live as they are on record.

5. Tycho
There are not many artists I’d rather listen to than Tycho when I’m feeling good and optimistic and bright about the future of the world. They sound like a self-help book without any words, in a completely non-corny way, if that makes any sense. The latest record is a year old now, so let’s keep ’em coming guys.

4. Foals
Has it really been two years since ‘What Went Down’ came out? It still feels new every time I spin it – but don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a new record from Foals in 2018. As strong as ‘WWD’ was, I probably listened to ‘Total Life Forever’ even more this year.

3. Little Dragon
I had the pleasure of seeing Little Dragon perform live for the first time this year. I started writing a blog post about it, but really just couldn’t find words. If Super Mario, Janet Jackson, Pink Floyd and Lady Gaga came together to form a super group, they still couldn’t come up with what Little Dragon does.

2. Bonobo
Meeting Simon Green & Co. as they toured the U.S. this Summer was a highlight of my year. Readers of my blog will know how much I appreciate them. I listened to their new Grammy-nominated album exhaustively in 2017 and will continue to do so for years to come.

1. The Beatles
I know, they’ve been around for a few years. I’m a little late to the party. I started going deep on the Beatles last year after watching Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Love’ performance in Las Vegas, which remains one of the most incredible live entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. This year I read Bob Spitz’s tremendous (and enormous) biography, and I had to listen along with every anecdote. Their story and their music goes beyond inspiration and into something else – an earnest belief that all you really need is love.

#ShowYourWork

I read Austin Kleon’s book “Show Your Work!” last week.

It presents an idea that seems pretty basic on the surface, but is actually pretty challenging: “You can’t find your voice without using it.”

According to Kleon, creative people have to show what they’re doing for it to be meaningful. Showing the work is as important as doing it.

I used to have a good habit of doing that with this blog. Until a few years ago, I was posting regularly, and it seemed like people other than my Mom were actually reading it. (Thanks for reading, Mom!) Things I wrote about here turned into the things I talked about with people out in the world.

Then life caught up. I started grad school. I got engaged. We got a dog, moved, got married, bought a house, and moved again.

Amidst all that, I also changed jobs – and in doing so, had to significantly refocus my energy on learning a new organization and becoming a useful part of it.

Some people use their work experiences as material to write about, but I’ve never thought of this blog as connected to my professional life. In my mind, blogging is separate, a kind of mental ‘safe space’ where the drudgery of work can’t encroach, where I can let my creative brain run free without any requirements or deadlines or connection to the stuff that pays the bills.

Reading Kleon’s book had me thinking about that differently.

A few months ago, my wife and I had an awesome night out – we went to see Bonobo in concert. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that I interviewed Jack Baker, Bonobo’s drummer, almost three years ago. (That interview continues to be, by far, the most read thing I’ve ever posted here.) After their amazing show, we hung out with Jack and the group for a little while. I was embarrassed when Jack and some of his bandmates asked about what I’ve been writing lately – and I had nothing to say.

To me, Bonobo et al. are artists who are right up there where Michael Jordan was when I was a kid – legendary and truly inspirational. They make the world a better place by doing something beautiful that they love (#LifeGoals.) When they seemed to be genuinely curious about what I’ve been writing, it hit me like a brick – I have not been writing or doing anything else creative lately, and that’s a huge missed opportunity when people I admire are asking me about it.

Me, Jack, & Wifey

I quickly resolved to get back into a creative routine after that night. Freshly motivated, I’ve been rekindling my interest in art… drawing, trying to learn how to paint, challenging myself to write at least 500 words everyday… and relishing anytime I can spend away from a glowing computer or phone or TV screen. It isn’t easy. Life is busy, and there’s always something to do. But I’ve found when I make the time for it, the rewards of creating something… anything… are abundant.

Getting back to Kleon’s book – I haven’t been showing anything that I’ve been up to. There’s always a voice in the back of my head, whispering… “This isn’t real work. No one needs to see this. This isn’t what you get paid for.”

After reading “Show Your Work,” I’m starting to think that voice might be right… as long as I don’t show what I’m doing, it won’t be real work. No one will want to see it if I don’t have a story to tell about it. If I don’t show it, it will never be something I get paid for.

So… ahem. Fuck that voice.

Here’s a watercolor I’ve been working on. It’s a work in progress. I had fun doing it – it’s the first time I’ve tried anything like this. I started with a photo I took of Circular Quay, in Sydney. I put the image on a lightbox, traced it into a grid, then reproduced the grid on watercolor paper with pencil. I mixed up some paints (without knowing nearly enough about color) and did some work with my poor student quality brushes. Viola! Now I have a painting of Circular Quay to show the world:

Circular Quay. Watercolor in progress.

Circular Quay. Watercolor in progress.

So, that’s that. I’m showing my work, and I hope anyone who finds this enjoys it.

I’ll close with some wisdom from one of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, who is quoted in “Show Your Work.”

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Interview with Jack Baker, Drummer of Bonobo

Since the April 2013 release of the album ‘The North Borders,’ the electronic music group Bonobo has gained immense popularity by performing more than 175 concerts in 30 countries around the world, delighting over 2 million fans from Milwaukee and Moscow, to Istanbul and England.

Along with a core group of live instrumentalists, Jack Baker made heads nod all along the way with his incredible drumming and percussions. I reached out to Jack, who was very kind to answer a few questions for the first interview I’ve ever posted on ‘Brian Writing.’

The truly wonderful North Borders – Live album was just released. Do you have any favorite moments or tracks on it? Did you know an album was in the works as you were performing on the tour? 

Cirrus is my favourite tune on the album, mostly because we start the live set with it.  The adrenaline kicks in when I hear the opening bell parts and you know the show is about to start.  Every time I hear it now it puts me right back in that place.

Simon works a lot when we are on the road, he sits in the back with his headphones on making tracks.  Simon is either touring, DJing or making music in his studio so we know when there is an album in the pipeline. He tours then writes, tours then writes and has done for a while now.  Some albums take longer than others but the North Borders was fairly quick to put together so there wasn’t a huge gap between finishing the Black Sands tour and starting the North Borders one.

When did you get involved in the Bonobo project? How long have you been drumming and touring? 

I’ve been playing with Simon ever since the live band got put together in 2004.  I’ve had many other projects that I play with, one being a soul singer called Alice Russell.  I produce and write music for a number of different artists including Yungun aka Essa and a fiery vocalist called Lea Lea and had my own projects out in the past under the name The Jack Baker Trio.  I’ve been drumming since a kid and playing with many different bands but the touring didn’t start until leaving university in 2003.  My father was a drummer so I just followed in his footsteps.

Jack Baker on his kit

What’s your daily routine like when you’re not on the road? Do you wake up and start working before your first cup of coffee, or does it take a while to sit down and get to it?

I’m a worrier not a warrior! The second I wake up I’m working till the second I’m sleeping.  I’m always thinking of new projects or ways of making money, hustling to get gigs or a recording session.  I’ve got my own recording studio and I work from that a lot. I share the studio with a couple of the guys from the Bonobo band so we’re often in there having a laugh and making strange music (mostly going for long tea breaks and getting nothing done!).

To make a living in music in England is hard and you have to work at it. Shows will only bring in so much money and unless you are playing ever night of the year you are going to struggle. You have to think of other ways of making money, fingers in pies!

How amazing is it to travel as much as you do?  Which places or experiences stand out?

I got into music partly because I wanted to travel.  I’m one of those guys that likes to keep moving, it get itchy feet if I stay in one place for too long (I’m guessing you know the itchy feet saying in America? I don’t actually get itchy feet!!).

I’ve been so lucky to travel around the world a number of times and see what I have seen.  It opens your eyes to how other people live and how they make (and listen) to music.

People always ask if we actually see much of the countries we go to and I think we experience more than if we were a tourist.  We get taken to the best restaurants, see the tourist sights before sound check, hangout with promoters for dinner and learn about the city, party with the locals in the best bars and clubs in each city, I would never do this if I was just a tourist!

Places that stand out is Japan for its madness, America for its natural beauty, Australia for is beach life, Easten Europe for is exciting harshness and the warmth of its people, Europe for its culture and food, England for its architecture. Everywhere is amazing!

What are you in to lately? TV, music, websites…  

You can’t go wrong with Gospel Drummers on Youtube.. Those cats are crazy! I’m also watching Treme and Homeland, series 4 (I have no idea whats going on with Homelands, but its cool!). The music I’m listening to is, Badbadnotgood, Jaga Jazzist, James Blake (on repeat!), Flume, A$ap Rocky, Clap! Clap! Gilles Peterson podcasts and a load of Hip Hop, Jazz and Ragga.  I like music that makes me wanna shake my head or close my eyes and listen.

Do you ever have creative impulses that push you to things other than drumming? How do you stay focused on your craft?

At the moment it’s all music music music, it’s my hobby and my career.  The music that I play changes all the time and thats enough to keep me busy.  However I do have a dream to sail round the UK one day and I have just passed my level one yachting certificate. I’m not sure I trust myself in charge of a boat but it would be awesome to do.

Is the internet making it easier or harder than it used to be to earn a living as a musician? 

I think the internet can only be a good thing.  You can’t live without it, it is the music industry, and it’s every other industry too, you can’t operate without it.   Other than the actual act of playing the drums, everything else is now done online.

I’m just starting an online recording sessions website called The Online Players and it will act as a portal for people to get the best musicians in London to record on their tracks.  Many of the best musicians are always touring so this website will  reach them when they have some spare time and get them in the studio.

I think before the internet you had to work hard for your income, now you can make money whilst drinking a gin and tonic from the comfort of your own home!

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? 

Getting on some terrible Russian planes!!! Also giving up my day job and being a musician full time, that was scary but lucky I had a great boss at the time and he was amazingly supportive and believing that I should do music for my career.

When’s the next tour?

How long is a piece of string?  You never know what’s around the corner, it could all go quiet tomorrow, who knows.  There is a lot of waiting involved but I’m hoping that the next Bonobo album won’t take too long and we can all get back on that dusty road.

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Jack spacing out at Coachella music festival

 

on The North Borders

The recording artist / DJ known as Bonobo released “The North Borders” last week, and made Washington D.C. the first tour stop in support of the album.

The songs came to life on stage, energized by complex layers of live drums, keys, saxophone, clarinet, bass, and a host of other instruments.

The electronic genre, lately dominated by house and ‘dubstep,’ owes a great credit to Bonobo for expanding the possibility of what can be done in a masterfully orchestrated mix of jazz, two-step, big beat, and ambient chillout.

Vocalist Szjerdene contributes to the album on the tracks “Towers” and “Transits,” and is along for the tour. She silenced (and amazed) the crowd with her soft, soulful style and substituted for Andreya Triana on some of the older tracks from ‘Black Sands.’

The North Borders opens with ‘First Fires,’ a brilliant track with an epic atmosphere that captures the apprehensive spirit of a new beginning. The elemental poetry of the tune had me visualizing the first fire ever lit by mankind, and imagining a re-creation of that moment, charged by a modern discovery.

What if humanity found something as important as fire, again? Maybe the North Borders will be the soundtrack to the next technological revolution.