While preparing our second monthly singles chart, it was hard not to think of the Grammies. In 2014, Herb Alpert won for Best Pop Instrumental, while Brian Eno received a nomination in the New Age category. Sadly, no instrumentals were included in the rock categories (which swallowed up Best Rock Instrumental in 2012). From this pitiful showing, it would be easy to believe that instrumental music had been spinning its wheels since 1980. Our readers know that this is not the case. They’re smart enough to know that the “alternative” tag no longer applies after millions of downloads. This column presents a real alternative: original tracks that are memorable enough to make a singles chart, but that haven’t done so. Since such a chart didn’t exist, we invented one. For selection criteria, see last month’s column; to enjoy the music, start right here.
1) Monochromie ~ Winter Pt.1
The “polar plunge” has descended upon the American North, moving as far south as Atlanta. We’re deep in the heart of it now: the bleak midwinter, where snow has fallen, snow on snow. Shedding instruments like leaves, Monochromie’s new album of solo piano reflects the hidden beauty behind the cold and wind; it’s the perfect soundtrack for the season.
2) Ali Helnwein ~ Untitled
We reviewed Ali Helnwein’s cassette Strange Creations in 2012. Since then, the composer has kept himself busy with a number of projects, including the scoring of an Orla Keily fashion video. Over the past few years, visual media has become an entry point for new fans; Entertainment Weekly even features a regular column in which the tunes of trailers and advertisements are identified. This untitled work is one of the artist’s best, and we hope to find it included on an upcoming album.
3) Hauschka ~ Elizabeth Bay
The premiere single from Hauschka’s upcoming album on Temporary Residence (Abandoned City, 17 March), “Elizabeth Bay” is a dark, string-induced saga that recalls Hauschka’s earlier work with Hilary Hahn. We expect that the artist may be turning a corner to full instrumentation. This shift is likely to pay huge dividends, as this sneak peek is one of the most powerful works he’s produced to date.
4) Max Cooper / Tom Hodge ~ Fragments of Self
Inspired by the experience of mixing ‘Olafur Arnalds’ piano with Vaetxh’s glitch, Max Cooper invited pianist Tom Hodge to the studio, resulting in an IDM/modern composition blend that hearkens back to the (credited) work of Venetian Snares. The album Human drops March 10 on Fields, and if the whole thing sounds like this, we’ll be enthralled.
5) Department ~ Late Nights
The title track of 16-year-old Department’s debut release, “Late Nights” is a jazzy buffet of trumpet and wordless vox, featuring a brilliant voiceover. Languid, cool, and backed by plundered beats, “Late Nights” is the sound of now. Take that, Herb Alpert.
6) Richard Saunderson / Peter Marsh ~ A Separate Mouse Shade
Despite bearing a difficult title, “A Separate Mouse Shade” possesses a memorable sound: a ticking clock, combined with electronics, that reminds us of the passage of time. The track is part of Button Box, which is comprised of 46 reactions to Saunderson’s Air Buttons. “A Separate Mouse Shade” contains segments of three different tracks; the clock was originally part of the finale of “Shade”.
7) Marcus Loeber ~ Perpetuum
This new composition is used to score the lovely zoetrope film “Wheel of Life”, directed and edited by André Gidoin. We expect it to feature strongly on Loeber’s upcoming album, Emancipation. The combination of piano and chimes makes it sound crisp, clean and pristine, like newly fallen snow.
8) Random Forest ~ See the Storm
Random Forest is the new side project from David Walters (The Echelon Effect), working alongside Aaron Gilbert. The track begins as sparse as early February, but erupts in the center with military drums and bells, a reminder of the season that awaits.
9) Jettison Tape ~ Night Driver
DJ, film composer and Secretly Canadian alum Dave Fischoff has just released his debut solo effort, and as one might expect, it’s a combination of disparate influences that manages to gel together as a whole. The highlight of the set is “Night Driver”, thanks to the Peter Hook-referencing bass line that enters at 2:30. 12″ remix, please!
10) Cosmic Monster ~ Strontium 90
Featured on Cosmic Monster’s self-titled debut album, “Strontium 90” is a raucous tribute to the atomic era, with squalling guitars, walls of feedback and a sense of reckless abandon. Strontium 90, the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, is credited with the creation of Godzilla, who in turn inspires the work of Cosmic Monster. It’s the loudest entry on this month’s chart, a reminder that we’re not always about the sedate.