Music recommendations please
February 20, 2023 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Looking for two kinds of music that at least in my head are related. These are works that are formally innovative, yet melodic. They often incorporate folk elements from various international traditions. They may be on the 'classical' continuum or may be pop musicians who are doing weird compositional stuff within a pop language. I do not like dissonant, cold stuff. I like warm, emotionally evocative, melodic, but also weird.

Examples of the kind of pop/rock that scratches this itch for me: Tom Zé, Juana Molina, Micachu and the Shapes, Tune Yards.

Examples in the mostly 20th and 21st century 'classical' compositional world include: Steve Reich, Moondog, the Missa Luba, Satie's Gymnopédies. Especially looking for more 'classical' composers. Again, in the warm, emotional, rhythmic and melodic continuum. I tend to like smaller ensemble pieces more than big orchestral works. And classic 70s 'tape music'.
posted by latkes to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Ok I'm gonna take classical since it's likely to be less popular here and I'm better at it. Classical, formally innovative, melodic, weird, folk elements, smaller ensemble: Janacek quartets? I'm not sure if they will strike you as "warm" though they are certainly very emotional. Bartok more in folk mode like the Romanian Folk Dances?. I'll see what else comes to mind but let me know if these scratch the itch.
posted by less-of-course at 6:13 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

Somewhat less edgy/innovative but often evocative and contemplative in the mode of the most famous of the Gymnopedies: Cancones i danzas by Catalan (I think) composer Federico Mompou. . (I adore them.)
posted by less-of-course at 6:25 PM on February 20

Have you listened to Caroline Shaw? I think she is typically considered to be modern classical, but her work definitely spans genres. I really like her albums Orange and Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part, and her Partita for Eight Voices is weird and great. (I think she has a couple more albums, which I’m sure are also excellent; I just haven’t listened to them yet!)
posted by bijoubijou at 6:55 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]

Although it is admittedly big and orchestral, try Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, performed here by the Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra and Choirs in Ljubljana. It's very late 19th century.
posted by Rash at 6:55 PM on February 20

Seconding Caroline Shaw. See how Other Song or To the Sky work for you. Her soundtrack for Fleishman is in Trouble is quite lovely.
posted by maudlin at 7:03 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]

Birdbrain "I fly" from 2004. female vocals, trombone and two saxophones.
posted by noloveforned at 7:12 PM on February 20

Devendra Banhart
posted by aetg at 7:29 PM on February 20

The Danish String Quartet has two albums of their arrangements of Scandinavian folk songs. Wood Works and Last Leaf. They are amazing!
posted by matildaben at 7:37 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]

Have you checked out much of the (still i guess) young composer, Nico Muhly? His "I drink the air before me" record I find remarkable, for example this movement
posted by dis_integration at 7:37 PM on February 20 [3 favorites]

Also, Muhly's "Mothertongue" might be just what you're after (despite an album cover that i find a little upsetting)
posted by dis_integration at 7:51 PM on February 20

On the folk end of things, try Sam Amidon (an occasional collaborator with Nico Muhly, who I second as a recommendation).
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:10 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]

Aram Khatchaturian, the Soviet Armenian composer, wrote some amazing work incorporating Armenian folk influences. His Piano Concerto in D Major is stunning. There's a touch of dissonance in there, but offset by so much melodic warmth and beauty.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:19 PM on February 20

Peter Gabriel: Passion (Title Track) 7:14
Perhaps this is an obvious/redundant choice, but this album is the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ" and Passion is the music for the Crucifixion sequence. It features the late Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan. The rest of the album draws on folk music from the region with PG's contemporary touch. All on YT/Peter Gabriel's channel.

If you like the works, there is also an album called "Passion Sources" that just features the original folk sources. I hope it's helpful.
posted by effluvia at 8:27 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]

Adding re: Khatchaturian: His music sounds sweepingly cinematic... because he was one of the composers of the first half of the 20th century whose music was heavily mined by film composers like John Williams during the second half of the 20th century.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:39 PM on February 20

Ooo. I think I share this sweet spot. Here are a few possibilities:

Walter Franco's early- to mid-seventies stuff is on par with Tom Zé in how innovative it is, I think. Here is his record Revolver (bold title!) and the track me deixe mudo from Ou Não, which is also really interesting.

Itamar Assumpção e a Banda Isca da Polícia is pretty great along these lines too.

Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes have some stuff like this too. Caetano can be a (beautiful) crooner, but he can also be very experimentalist and lyrical, like this version of Terra.

Also, Naná Vasconcelos is extraordinary. He did a record called Saudades with the Radio Symphony Stuttgart that includes what is basically a berimbau concerto (full disclosure--I wrote a book about this record. It really is an amazing recording. The orchestra starts 4:00 into the first track.) As are Dança das Cabeças, Amazonas, Africadeus, and the recordings he did with Arto Lindsay.

Also, more recent interesting Brazilian artists who might fit your criteria are Sessa, Bala Desejo and Kiko Dinucci and Juçara Marçal.

There is a fascinating, conceptual Colombian band called Meridian Brothers that plays with microtones a lot while staying mostly within a cumbia/salsa framework. They invent bands from from the past and then 'collaborate' with them on their records.

Finally, in Egypt, Lekhfa is fantastic, as is the solo stuff of their lead vocalist Maryam Saleh.
posted by umbú at 10:26 PM on February 20 [6 favorites]

Two classical composers turned electro-pop artists: Dan Deacon (Warning: pretty icky video for a pretty lovely song) and Anna Meredith.

Congotronics International is a collaboration between a bunch of musicians from the USA and the Democratic Republic of Congo, including Deerhoof, Konono No. 1 and Kasai Allstars.

Richard Dawson is a hugely eclectic Newcastle-based musician who draws from all kinds of influences, including English folk and history. His recent trilogy of time-travelling albums (Peasant, 2020 and The Ruby Cord) is just great.
posted by dudekiller at 4:10 AM on February 21

I share this appreciation! I will list a few of my favorites that I think are in this zone. (This is a little all over the place and certainly 70s-80s centric, fwiw)

Francis Bebey
Jon Hassell
Max Richter
Family Fodder
Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Michael Nyman string quartets
Anthony Moore
Ralf & Florian-era Kraftwerk
Franco et le TP OK Jazz
Dave Holland Quartet
The Raincoats
"Blue" Gene Tyranny
Harmonia (& so much Michael Rother stuff, really)
Cage sonatas for prepared piano
Haruomi Hasono
posted by alb at 5:35 AM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Looking through the other posts, maybe I'm off base, but the first thing I thought of is some of Nigel Kennedy's non-classical stuff, like Kafka.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:29 AM on February 21

You might like Cate Le Bon, and if you do, you also might like some of her favorites
posted by bendybendy at 8:14 AM on February 21

Perhaps the first album by the Punch Brothers? Classical done with bluegrass instruments that occasionally foray into bluegrass sections. Very eclectic and moved me in directions I had not previously considered.

Additionally, The Goat Rodeo sessions, are also interesting.

Chris Thiele is in both of my mentions. Also a good name to look into, in my opinion.
posted by kabong the wiser at 8:16 AM on February 21

Beirut has a few albums that are very heavily influenced by various folk traditions. These are the ones I know best (and love):

The Flying Club Cup (inspired by French folk music)
Gulag Orkestar (inspired by Eastern European folk music)
posted by number9dream at 9:49 AM on February 21

Some lovely recommendations here, lots for me to explore!
I’ll add Four Tet and especially Morning / Evening
posted by tardigrade at 11:14 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Lau, maybe?
posted by aesop at 1:02 PM on February 21

Happy to see the Meridian Brothers on the list, chiming in to specifically recommend this album. It checks the boxes of warm, melodic, referencing folk tradition, and weird.
posted by tentacled at 3:11 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

From the rock side - how about Thinking Fellers Union Local 282?
There are a couple of great live shows on YouTube that make a good introduction:
live 1994
live 1995
posted by equalpants at 5:44 PM on February 21

Julia Holter
posted by wondermouse at 6:51 PM on February 21

I've been meaning to add some suggestions here for a while, since folk elements in classical music is completely a thing I have always loved. Here are a bunch of recommendations which may be too classically classical, I can't really say how innovative they are or rather were at the time they were composed.

Gustav Holst - St Paul's Suite in particular.
Antonín Dvořák - Slavonic Dances - here's a selection of four.
Bedřich Smetana - Má vlast (my country), a series of 6 symphonic poems - my favourite bit is Vltava (The Moldau) .
Sergei Prokofiev - Lieutenant Kijé in particular.
Aaron Copland - Appalachian Spring, especially at about 17.40 the section which is variations on a Shaker song "Simple Gifts".
Ralph Vaughan Williams - pretty much made a career out of this, highlights include Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, The Lark Ascending, the English Folk Song Suite and Fantasia on Greensleeves.
Igor Stravinsky - Petrushka I think fits your bill but it's The Rite of Spring which was definitely innovative to the point of sparking a sensation, if not a riot, when first performed in 1913. You can watch a 100th-anniversary performance.

I feel like I need to mention Percy Grainger (of Country Gardens fame) but I hate it so much. It's up there with Waltzing Matilda as some Australiana I would like to never hear again. And he seems to have been, um, problematic to put it mildly. For all I know the others I've mentioned here are as well, I haven't done much biographical research.

Somewhat more modern, I find Arvo Pärt utterly sublime but he may not be warm enough for you? Here's a sample of some of his best.

On the pop side of things, Sufjan Stevens - especially Michigan (which is a bit more downbeat) and Illinois which is mostly more upbeat, especially the title track.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:56 PM on February 21

Jesca Hoop takes some very interesting songwriting twists and turns. Start with her first album, Kismet — I feel some of the songs on there show the seams of her melodic craft in an instructive way. It's like she fuses 2-4 different songs together that have no business being one single song, and yet it somehow works.
posted by edlundart at 12:48 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]

Check out Song Cycle and also maybe Songs Cycled?
posted by cybertaur1 at 2:04 PM on February 25

oh! also try Joanna Newsom, I really like Ys, Have One On Me, and I love Divers
posted by cybertaur1 at 2:12 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]

ok last one I promise - if you haven't listened to Laurie Anderson's Big Science I'd strongly recommend it, IMO nails "warm, emotionally evocative, melodic, but also weird".
posted by cybertaur1 at 3:52 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]

Maylee Todd's Maloo is a great record from 2022, as is the more rockish Painless by Nilufer Yanya.
posted by tovarisch at 2:41 AM on February 26

Response by poster: Thanks for all these wonderful suggestions! Impossible to mark any best answers but have just been listening and listening to so many artists and composers I never knew before!
posted by latkes at 9:53 AM on March 3

« Older Buckling Down   |   Non-Baby-Centric Gifts for New Parents Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments