Glass Heart String Choir – ‘Light’ is available @ Bandcamp.
by Katie Mosehauer & Ian Williams
It’s difficult to narrow down what influences us as composers, songwriters, and instrumentalists; there are thousands (tens of thousands!) of songs, sounds, and performances that affect us both consciously and subconsciously each year. But some stick in our brains and our record players, the ones that we keep finding ourselves returning to, again and again. These are the albums that we reference when we’re stuck or tired, a sort of lofty comfort, like little masterclasses in production or composition that make us feel like we grow a little as artists each time we listen. We listen over and over, in minute detail, asking ourselves how a particular sound was captured, why a chorus bursts with such intensity, or sometimes just bathing in the impeccable craft of a certain song, hoping by osmosis to achieve the same level of mastery that we hear.
KATIE: Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems – (Did I Ever Love You)
There are some artists that I will consume whole, imbibing one album after another until I’ve exhausted their collection. That’s the way I experienced Bob Dylan. Leonard Cohen, on the other hand, has been a careful rationing of albums over the years. I listen slowly, with purpose, pirouetting in each story until I know it’s whole.
Popular Problems was released while I was apprenticing to be a recording engineer, and it was hard not to gobble it up immediately. Songs like Did I Ever Love You unfold like a novel, with each theme carefully introduced and eventually woven together to great effect at the end of the song. I listened to it on repeat trying to decipher how they’d made the vocals meld together so magically and somehow become more than the sum of their parts. I loved waiting for the final chorus when the vocal round enters to take up space you never imagined existing until just that moment. I drew heavily on both of these sound experiences in producing Wildfires. I created the strings to blend like the voices of the background vocalists and for the orchestra to similarly swell at the seams of the sound field. One of these days I’m going to track down Patrick Leonard (this album’s producer) to see if he’ll share the finer points of his alchemy with me.
KATIE: Modest Mouse – Good News for People Who Love Bad News (The View)
I was a campaign staffer in 2004 and we suffered a crushing defeat in the presidential election a few months after this record came out. The album was nearly medicinal for a lot of us reeling from that election—its sardonic themes and roiling disappointment were a perfect anthem for recently disillusioned idealists.
As life gets longer, awful feels softer.
Well, it feels pretty soft to me.
And if it takes shit to make bliss,
Then I feel pretty blissfully.
I mean, that is exactly where we were at. That’s part of the beauty of this album—it is deeply relatable and authentic. Isaac Brock’s perfectly imperfect vocals draw you into a moment that has no distance, it is close, pressing and as if the emotional colors haven’t had time yet to settle or fade. As a producer, I want every performance to be that convincing. A lot of my time in studios is finding how to lead people back to the emotions that sparked a song to begin with. In the end, I want the listener to do more than hear that story. I want them to feel it.
IAN: Jocelyn Pook – Untold Things (The Last Day)
The first album I came across (somewhat randomly) from composer/vocalist/violist Jocelyn Pook was Flood, which struck me as this beautiful and unique melding of amazing vocals, theatrical storytelling, and no-boundaries composition. A few years later I was introduced to Untold Things, which immediately grabbed me with its distillation of the musical things I loved about Flood, but even more focused on her incredible vocals and string playing. Her music makes me feel the way that I want my music to make others feel… it haunts me, fills me with a sense of mystery, all wrapped in beautiful and otherworldly sounds that seem to spring from an artistic space that has no boundaries. Untold Things sums up the magical, non-derivative feeling that I try to capture when I write.
IAN: Beck – Sea Change (Guess I’m Doing Fine)
This album does a particular thing for me; the journey that it takes you on isn’t particularly vast. It sits you in a pretty small world. It’s a break-up album, but its mood remains relatively stable throughout; melancholy, melancholy, melancholy. It’s like a detailed exploration of a particular facet of sadness, and it manages to hold me in this place for its entire length. The orchestrations are perfect, creating the right space and atmosphere to just sit with your bruises and cuts in a sorrowful haze. The lyrics are honest and direct and delivered with a wounded air that hits me every time.
There’s a bluebird at my window
I can’t hear the songs he sings
All the jewels in heaven
They don’t look the same to me
It’s such a simple stanza, with jewels being the only poetic addition to the line. When I’m working on lyrics, sometimes I need to remind myself to just speak simply and concisely, and the honesty and earnestness will carry the emotion.
IAN: Devotchka – How It Ends (How It Ends)
I used to work in a warehouse shortly after moving to Seattle, and it was there that I kind of got my introduction to indie music. I’d grown up listening to lots of radio pop, classical, jazz, etc, but never had any inroads to the indie scene. My warehouse manager was a big record collector and would always be playing bands and albums that I later found were iconic in the indie world, like Neutral Milk Hotel, My Bloody Valentine, etc. He also introduced me to the iconic Seattle independent radio station KEXP. He brought in How It Ends shortly after it was released, and I just remember loving how different it sounded from anything else. The various musical influences that are all seamlessly woven by the four members, the trumpet, tuba, accordion, bouzouki, and Nick Urata’s soaring voice all opened up ideas for me about how limitless songwriting and arranging can be while still staying true to pop sensibilities. The long, patient build of How It Ends still stands as one of my favorites.
GLASS HEART STRING CHOIR
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