Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
YouTube user QuintonSung has uploaded his own takes on Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A that render the band’s acclaimed albums in an 8-bit chiptune form. “The National Anthem” and “Idioteque” work especially well in this new form, methinks.
I’ve never been to Australia, but even just a quick perusal of photos of the country reveals it to be a land of majestic natural beauty, even in its most desolate areas. And guitarist Cam Butler has made a career out of tapping into his country’s awe-inspiring vistas, and using that to compose music that plays very much like a soundtrack for a film inside your mind.
I first became aware of Butler’s music via his self-titled EP on Dreamland Recordings. Clearly taking a page or two from Ennio Morricone‘s playbook, the EP’s four songs blend skillful, evocative guitar-playing with soaring, majestic string arrangements that evoke mental scenes of blasted wastelands, glorious desert sunsets, and similar environs. “Today, Troubles Seem Far Away” sounds like it ought to play over the credits of some long-lost spaghetti western classic, “Brothers & Sisters” would be the perfect soundtrack for two steely-eyed gunslingers as they approach each other on some godforsaken town’s main street, and “So Long Friend” lives up to its title with a elegiac, wistful tone.
A number of Butler’s other releases can be found on his Bandcamp page, and they all tap into this cinematic sound. Some are a little more experimental than others, some rock a little harder than others, but if you’re looking for music that takes you on a film-like journey — or if you’re a fan of Morricone’s classic film scores, or of other desert-minded acts like Scenic and Friends of Dean Martinez — then Cam Butler’s epic, sweeping compositions will be right up your alley.
Richard Hawley’s latest album, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, is slowly starting to make the rounds. I’ve listened to it a bit via NPR’s website, and it’s certainly a striking album full of searing psychedelic rock and pointed lyrics that I’m sure will continue to grow in stature as the year goes on. However, I want to take a minute and focus, instead, on his previous album, 2009’s Truelove’s Gutter.
Hawley is clearly a man out of time, more comfortable with evoking the ghosts of classic crooners like Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley than pursuing any modern pop music fads. His rich baritone voice is smooth as silk, but with a rough edge to it that serves his songs well, and provides an additional heft to the unabashed romanticism that marks much of the album. And Hawley is nothing if not a romantic: he’s perfectly at ease with singing lyrics like “I just want to make you smile/And maybe stay with you awhile” or singing the virtues of watching his lover… sew.
It’s not the sort of music that sells a lot these days, and yet, its attention to the beauties of seemingly mundane domestic life makes it an often transcendent listen. Even when the album moves into some darker territory — “Remorse Code”, for example, deals with cocaine addiction — it never becomes maudlin or gratuitous, but rather, remains a stirring and poignant listen.