Hello reader, I hope this week finds you well. Late on Saturday night, I was flicking through television channels and stumbled on a programme, I didn’t check what it was, where in a two minute video the actor Steven Mangum discussed his relationship with the album ‘Five Leaves Left’ by Nick Drake. He spoke of his first encounter as a teenage university student with the album, the qualities that draw him back to the album and how of all his friends and family he is the only person who adores Nick Drake, which makes me concerned for the mental well being of his friends and family. Although I personally do have an immense fondness for Nick Drake, it has been a long time since I have either listened to or even thought about the man and his music. It seemed strange to me that I would, because of Steven Mangum’s endorsement, spend the rest of the evening following a train of thought about Nick Drake and the folk music I grew up listening to; but that is precisely what happened.
I was very fortunate, I believe, to grow up when I did in relation to folk music. Although through the 1960s to the ‘90s, folk music was having constant revivals and new artists progressing the genre, from Joni Mitchell to John Martyn to Billy Bragg to Neutral Milk Hotel, when I was in my late teens music that was being labelled as folk was in the process of an interesting mutation. As with much new music genres are constantly hybridised into expansive spaces, drawing upon a dense and endless reserve of pre-existing experiments, technologies and genres to cross-pollinate each other allowing for the blossoming of new forms. I recall well the re-emergence of folk as a genre taken as the basis for cross-pollination with other genres, in particular with electronic music, nominally the antithesis of folk in its ‘purest’ form.
This weeks mix tape, then, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, compiling some songs I was smitten with in my late teenage years. I hope you enjoy. (You can listen to the whole playlist here.)
The artists who have stayed with me the longest and dearest, Animal Collective, as I have mentioned in my first article, are possibly the band I would hold as the gold standard of modern music. Making a name for themselves with the album Sung Tongs, Who Could Win a Rabbit was the first song I heard, and ever since I have held tightly to them.
Swedish wife and husband duo, Wildbirds and Peacedrums operate more precisely in folk traditions, using predominately percussion and vocal instrumentation. As can be hear in ‘There Is No Light’, they have a wonderful ability for ambiance and creating a primal pulse through their music.
No one epitomises the new folk renaissance as well as Devendra Banhart. Spring boarding into the music scene with his hippie vagabond appearance and with a trunk of strange, esoteric songs, Banhart was the breakthrough that brought a wealth of similar artists recording contracts and album releases. Picking one song of Banhart’s is a challenge so here’s ‘Little Yellow Spider’. Enjoy.
This duo began a musical relationship after scoring soundtracks to softcore pornography together; thankfully they didn’t bring much softcore porn aesthetic to their music. Originating in London, they became the forefront of the British ‘folktronica’ scene and are still making damn fine music today.
One of the most elegant performers around at the moment, usually sharply dressed in a suit, Andrew Bird has produced hours of beautifully composed music. Although his earlier albums are not available on spotify, they are worth tracking down as they are truly beautiful works.
I had the privilege of seeing Ben Chasny, a.k.a. Six Organs of Admittance, live in a small café in Penryn about two years ago. He is one of the most mesmeric guitar players I have ever witnessed, his hands moving faster than the sound that was hitting our ears. His compositions are often more restrained, but always are impressive and beautiful.
One of the great achievements of the folk renascence, and the tireless dedication and efforts of Devendra Banhart to bring this about should be noted to, is a great number of artists from the early 1970s who released brilliant but poor selling records began to get the attention and rereleases they deserved. Vashti Bunyans’s album ‘Another Diamond Day’ is a handful of masterpieces that finally got their dues paid to them.