Enviro Songs of the Year 2006

Is it too late for a 2006 music retrospective? Let’s hope not.

I agree with Matt Singer: in popular music, 2006 was a year of nothing much. Unfortunately so, and unlike 2005, which was spectacular. Nonetheless, last year had its moments.

I will list the three that come to my mind, and move on to the bigger questions.

For Best Cover…Is It Like Today, by Eliza Gilkyson. I can’t give you a sample, because she hasn’t posted one on her site, but this brilliant folkie remakes a song by the keyboards band known as World Party to huge effect (and something of a hit on alt-Internet stations such as Radio Paradise).  If you try it (via iTunes) and don’t like it, I’ll repay you myself. The haunting chorus:

How could it come to his?/I’m really worried about living/How could it come to this?/Yeah, I really want to know about this…

For Best Warning…The Eraser, by Thom Yorke. For more, please see Global Warming: #2 on the Pop Charts.

For Best New Discovery: I See Hawks in L.A. This band has a lot of good songs, but start with the eponymous song that made them semi-famous, in L.A. at least, which blends SoCal country into the apocalypse with rare style. A key stanza:

One more day on the 605/What if this place got buried alive/The biggest quake the world’s ever seen/Let the snakes take over again…

But before we go on to the grand prize winner, we must ask the obvious question. Is there such a thing as environmental music, or nature music? If so, what is its character?

Is it music that echoes the sounds of nature? Is it music that binds us to nature? Or is it music that reminds of the worth of the planet, and warns us of what we have to lose?

All these definitions can apply, and we heard examples of each this past year, especially the warnings (see above). But I will follow Beethoven’s example, in his description of the famous Pastoral Symphony, and say that it is "a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds."   

This method describes perfectly the best environmental music of last year, which I think was John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur. (Listen to a sample, and read Adams’ notes about it here.)

Although written in 2003, for the inauguration of the Disney Hall in Los Angeles, it was first made available on a recording in the fall of 2006.

More importantly, this is Adams’ hommage to Jack Kerouac and the Beats, and also to their Buddhist love for Big Sur. It’s wordless, driven by an electric violin, and blends a harsh beauty with a great freedom, like a turkey buzzard soaring in an ocean breeze. 

Listen for a moment, and if you’ve been to Big Sur, I think you’ll see what the Beats saw; a nature beyond owning. The wind flowing in over the steep hills, the fog gathering on the ocean’s horizon, the bird in flight. Drift off for a moment, and maybe you’ll be back there, perhaps with a friend or lover, watching the birds’ endless swoop and dive and rise…endless change and perfect stillness in one body…

The_dharma_at_big_sur

More prosaically, it’s also exciting to be able to report that classical music is making a comeback. I think this has to due with the fact that classical composers, blessedly, have turned away from atonality, beginning roughly with Gorecki’s great 3rd Symphony of l976 (which became a big hit, thanks in part to an incandescent recording by Dawn Upshaw with an orchestra led by David Zinman, which went on to sell over a million copies after being released in the early 90’s). The composers of today, including as Adams, Arvo Part,the late Lou Harrison, and Steve Reich, write music which is rewarding, accessible, and exciting. Audiences are beginning to notice–just in the nick of time.

But on to popular music.

The Eraser, by Thom Yorke. For more on this Grammy-alternative hit, please see this post on Global Warming: #2 on the Pop Charts.

Is It Like Today, by Eliza Gilkyson. I can’t give you a sample because she hasn’t put one on her site, unfortunately, but know that this song has become something of a hit on alternative stations such as Radio Paradise, and for good reason. Although this is a cover of a song by a keyboards band called World Party, the gifted folkie Gilkyson makes it her own, and lyrics become haunting:

Oh What a Beautiful Morning, by Ray Charles. If there was any doubt about Charles’ ability to make songs anew, this record dispells it. Lyrics I never heard before:

All the sounds of the earth are like music..

 

2 thoughts on “Enviro Songs of the Year 2006

  1. I just got the CD of Adams’ “Dharma at Big Sur” last month, and wasn’t expecting to like it much because of the tepid reviews. The reviews (except you) were wrong. It’s a great work, easily accessible and very beautiful.

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  2. Thanks Mike. I’m glad beauty still matters to some of us, and I’m glad you said so!

    Correction of above: I mentioned a song from the band “I See Hawks in L.A.” but forgot the mention the title, probably because it’s the same as that of the band itself. Those of you who like country/rock can try it out on iTunes or the band’s site. You won’t regret it.

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