Bookish Beats: Massive Attack – Mezzanine


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


Mezzanine

Massive Attack


Listen to with:

A beautiful but gritty fantasy

Such as:

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Massive Attack returns in this week’s Bookish Beats with their phenomenal album Mezzanine. This modern masterpiece is, without a doubt, one of my favourite albums of all time and after a countless number listens has become one of my go-to albums whilst reading. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to a beautiful gritty fantasy, whether its urban or epic or something in between, then you can’t go far wrong with Mezzanine. This album really is a beauty.

Mezzanine is a throbbing, beautifully strange and artistic album which brought a surge of electronica to Massive Attack’s trip hop sound. Released in 1998 to wide critical acclaim, Mezzanine became Massive Attack’s most commercially successful album and, almost twenty years later, it’s not hard to see why. This is an atmospheric and addictive musical masterpiece whose lazy, rolling and electronica suffused beats, and surfeit of wonderful vocalists, have you reaching for the repeat button time after time.

Mezzanine opens with Angel, an almost hypnotic track whose slow beat and drawn out vocals take you to another world entirely. Featuring the reggae singer Horace Andy, whose vocals also appear in every one of Massive Attack’s other albums (his contribution to Heligoland on the track Girl I Love You is one of my all time favourites), this is one artist who doesn’t fail to make his presence felt with this pulsating, rhythmic and incredibly haunting track. Man Next Door, a track which features Andy’s reverberating and beat led vocals, becomes increasingly addictive as it reaches its pitch and is one of my favourite tracks on this entire album.

But there is another outstanding vocal contributor to Mezzanine who is more than worthy of a mention. Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, whose wonderful vocals also feature on The Lord of the Rings soundtrack on both Lothlorien and Isengard Unleashed, is a singer whose haunting and eerily addictive vocals contribute to some of the most stunning tracks on this album. Teardrop is arguably the most well known track on Mezzanine and for good reason; an emotive and incredibly beautiful piece, this is a track which ensnares you in Fraser’s vocals and refuses to let you go. But her genius doesn’t end there. Black Milk, another highlight from this album of highlights, and Group Four, one of my favourite tracks, both carry you above a steady underlying beat on a tide of Fraser’s haunting and brilliant vocals; vocals which truly make for a unique album.

Mezzanine is a phenomenal album which deserves its well recognised status. Horace Andy and Elizabeth Fraser make a stunning contribution and, for those of you who have yet to sample the Cocteau Twins or Andy’s other work, I urge you to check them out. Massive Attack never fail to impress and with Mezzanine have provided a wonderful backdrop to countless literary delights. This is one album which can’t be missed.

Favourite track

10 – Group Four

07 – Man Next Door

Top track for action

04 – Inertia Creeps

Top track for tension

01 – Angel

Top track for emotion

03 – Teardrop

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Bookish Beats: Bonobo – Black Sands


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


Black Sands

Bonobo


Listen to with:

An atmospheric science fantasy

Such as:

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Black Sands is the fourth studio album from Bonobo, the stage name for musician and DJ Simon Green. Following on from the success of his previous three albums, Black Sands, with its combination of electronic beats, world music – in particular its eastern and afrobeat inspired tracks – and jazz, is a beautifully composed chillout album which succeeds in transporting you to another place.

Black Sands opens with Prelude, a beautiful and soaring track whose violin melody exhibits the eastern influence which is drawn throughout the rest of the album. This atmospheric melody is similarly picked up by other tracks and remains one of my favourite Bonobo tracks to date. Kiara samples Prelude to maximum effect, using electronic beats and distorted vocals to create an addictive track which retains the beauty and atmosphere of the original whilst adding dynamism and pace to an otherwise perfect melody. Similarly, Kong uses a repetitive melody which continues to build on the atmosphere in a supremely chilled out track which resonates with positive beats.

Eyesdown introduces some vocals into the mix with the soulful sounds of Andreya Triana, whose vocals are featured in a number of tracks throughout the album. With its repetitive and paced beat and electronic underscore, Eyesdown is another track which instantly takes you out of this world. Triana’s vocals return in The Keeper, a track which succeeds in slowing the pace of the album right down; and again in Stay the Same, which showcases the beautiful tone of Triana’s voice in this jazz and soul inspired track.

Black Sands builds on the success of these tracks with a number of instrumentals which set the tone and pace of the album, introducing new themes and diverting it where necessary. El ToroWe Could Forever and Animals are upbeat, jazz influenced tracks which revel in their own beat. 1009 uses traditional electronic beats to create a dance inspired track which remains tied to the rest of the album through the use of a steady electronic violin overtone.

All in Forms is another favourite from this album; an upbeat track which retains a haunting quality through sampled vocals which create an eerie and distorted atmosphere, both complementing and setting themselves apart from the rest of the track. This atmosphere is picked up again in Black Sands, the titular and closing track of the album; a beautiful, slow and haunting track which has an old world quality to it, playing off a sad melody against a positive beat.

This is a beautiful chillout album which provides a wonderful backdrop to reading. I wouldn’t normally have paired an album with such a positive overtone with a heady and atmospheric book such as Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, but its success in transporting you to another world only emphasised the strange of this novel. They say opposites attract, I guess they’re right.

Favourite track

01 – Prelude

Top track for action

02 – Kiara

Top track for tension

08 – All in Forms

Top track for emotion

12 – Black Sands

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Bookish Beats: Moby – Play


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


Play

Moby


Listen to with:

A post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure

Such as:

Falling Sky by Rajan Khanna

We’re back this week with Moby’s stunning album from 1999, Play. This is a defining album of my childhood – one of those which stops you in your tracks and changes your entire perspective on music – and the first which drew my attention to Moby.

Play is a catchy, fun, soaring and lyrical electronica mash-up which captures emotion and heartbreak in its folk and blues laden tracks whilst contrasting the incredibly chilled out with the extremely upbeat. This is another of my go-to albums when reading, one which never tires and one which remains relevant all these years later.

This is an album of parts, and one where favourites are incredibly difficult to narrow down. The tracks range from the beautiful and heart-wrenching, to the downbeat and chilled out, to the fun and uplifting. It’s not impossible to go through a full rollercoaster of emotions when listening to Play, and it isn’t difficult for it to truly enhance whatever it is you’re reading.

Much of the success of this album comes from the careful sampling of other artists, using their music to create an atmosphere and elicit a reaction. Play does this incredibly successfully with tracks such as Natural Blues, which samples Vera Hall, and Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?, which samples Banks Brothers. These are two of the most emotive tracks on the album; incredibly beautiful, exceptionally heartfelt and highly addictive.

This same tone is picked up in tracks such as Find My Baby, which retains an element of the emotive whilst conjuring up an uplifting atmosphere, and Honey, an incredibly catchy track with repetitive vocals and folk guitars which is very hard not to listen to whilst reading fight scenes. For some reason, It just works.

Play is also incredibly successful in creating those chill-out tracks which create a subtle atmosphere, those which you can just listen to and watch the world pass you by. Porcelain is a perfect example of this, along with Rushing, Inside and My Weakness. Whether they come with vocals or not, these tracks instantly stick in your mind and give your world, or that between your pages, a slower pace.

This is contrasted with some of the more upbeat and fast-paced tracks on the album, such as Machete and Bodyrock which build up tempo by leaning heavily on the electro. Run On and Honey, however, use folk music samples to create fast-paced tracks which are instantly uplifting and retain an element of fun through their catchy melodies. This same uplifting vibe is echoed in some of the instrumental tracks, such as Everloving.

Play is a masterpiece which stands for repeated listens and, in fact, only seems to get better the more you’re exposed to it. This is an album which in reality could be listened to with anything; whether a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure, or a tense thriller. Give it a try and see what you think.

Favourite track

02 – Find My Baby

08 – Natural Blues

Top track for action

01 – Honey

Top track for tension

09 – Machete

Top track for emotion

08 – Natural Blues

04 – Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?

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Bookish Beats: Massive Attack – Heligoland


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


Heligoland

Massive Attack


Listen to with:

A thrilling urban fantasy

Such as:

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

This week we’re taking a break from my love of film and game soundtracks to listen to a band which have topped my list of favourites for an inordinately long time. Massive Attack have repeatedly produced incredible album after incredible album, and their perfect fusion of wildly differing beats and melodies have made them industry leaders in the rise of trip hop.

Heligoland, released in 2010, is Massive Attack’s fifth studio album and, with its seriously chilled out, downbeat vibes and lazy electro undertones, is the perfect backdrop to reading – and to urban fantasy in particular. This is an album which is soulful and atmospheric, and only gets better with each successive listen.

The opening track Pray For Rain, with its gentle vocals and rolling, lazy beat, sets the tone for the rest of the album, and fans of the brilliant crime drama Luther will instantly recognise its theme tune in the deceptively haunting Paradise Circus. Heligoland, which with Girl I Love You has produced one of my favourite Massive Attack tracks of all time, is a triumph of downbeat, rhythmic tracks which only become more addictive the more they are listened to.

This is an album of halves, an album which celebrates the fusion of different sounds and tones for maximum effect, and an album which makes one brilliant and mesmerising whole. Babel, a long-time favourite, succeeds in combining a fast-paced and tuneful melody with an understated and relaxed vibe made apparent throughout the entire album. Splitting the Atom contrasts a deep male vocal with an insistent, repeating melody which has a similar effect to Rush Minute, a track which combines a fast paced backing track with a soft and creeping vocal.

If you’re looking for an album which instantly gives off a city vibe and provides an effortless backdrop to any urban fantasy, then give Heligoland a listen. I can’t imagine reading Rivers of London without it.

Favourite track

04 – Girl I Love You

Top track for action

02 – Babel

Top track for tension

01 – Pray For Rain

Top track for emotion

08 – Rush Minute

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Bookish Beats: The Secret Garden OST


Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 


sg4

The Secret Garden (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Composed by Zbigniew Preisner


Listen to with:

A haunting and atmospheric tale

Such as:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of my favourite books as a child. Burnett could create a world of magic, a world from secret and simple wonders which I would dream I was a part of. The film was no exception; I would watch it over and over again, and become lost in the gardens and halls of Misselthwaite Manor.

This soundtrack suffuses haunting melodies with tension and magic, interspersing them with  joyous crescendos.  As soon as I started reading The Somnambulist, I knew which soundtrack to go to. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between Misselthwaite Manor and Dinwood Court, and this soundtrack accompanied Essie Fox’s writing like it was made for it. During the opening track, Main Title, you could envisage Phoebe Turner and the exotic and dazzling world of the music halls, and Leaving the Docks was a perfect complement to her conflicted journey to Dinwood Court.

This is a soundtrack with a good range of music; exotic tracks lead into magical and haunting piano pieces, which lead into light and airy choir numbers. The main theme, which I can’t help but love, runs through many tracks including Leaving the Docks, First Time Outside and Shows Dickon Garden. If you are looking for a soundtrack to accompany a haunting and atmospheric tale, or indeed a Victorian Gothic novel, then I wouldn’t look any further – The Secret Garden could just be perfect.

Favourite track

04 – First Time Outside

Top track for action

01 – Main Title

Top track for tension

03 – Mary Downstairs

Top track for emotion

02 – Leaving the Docks

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Review: The Somnambulist by Essie Fox



The Somnambulist

by Essie Fox

Historical Fiction | 405 Pages | Published by Orion in 2012


| Rating |


I first discovered the work of Essie Fox through her blog, The Virtual Victorian. I had been writing my dissertation and had been musing on Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet, a Victorian fragrance inspired by Turkish Baths, when a random search took me into Fox’s world of Victoriana. After reading through countless posts I discovered that Essie Fox had also become a published author of fiction. I knew that if I saw The Somnambulist I would buy it; Fox’s blog was so aligned with my own interests that I was certain her novel would win me over. And I did just that. Then the deadlines came thick and fast, reading time was down to a minimum, and here I am several years later having only just read it!

The Somnambulist is a haunting tale of life, love and loss in Victorian England. Phoebe Turner lives under the rule of her strict, fanatical mother in the East End of London and takes every opportunity to escape into the world of the music halls where, dazzled by the lights and sounds, she watches her aunt Cissy perform. But when a dark and mysterious stranger turns up at Wilton’s Music Hall, Phoebe’s universe is turned upside down. Through heartbreak and pain, Phoebe is whisked off for a new life at Dinwood Court – a life of comparative luxury. But appearances can be deceiving. Dark secrets and lies hide beneath the surface and threaten to become exposed at every turn. Haunted by past mistakes, broken promises and cries in the night, Phoebe must unravel the past and find the truth at the heart of Dinwood. Nothing will ever be the same again.

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The Somnambulist is a beautiful tale, which Essie Fox has written in an incredibly poignant and honest way. It thrives on its power to convey the reality and complexity of life; the tough choices we all must make, the truths we must conceal, and the hardships we must endure. Written entirely from Phoebe’s perspective, the descriptive style of narrative makes her every thought and action, her entire world, come alive. From the rough and grimy streets of London to the imposing and atmospheric beauty of Dinwood Court, Victorian England becomes vivid and real.

This novel sets the stage for a whole cast of characters. No one is wholly good, nor are they wholly bad, they’re just very real. They lie, they cheat, they make mistakes; they care, they love, and they forge ahead with good intentions and bad luck. Phoebe is a very likeable protagonist who is incredibly easy to empathise with and care for, and the rest of the cast are well fleshed out and given room to grow. Essie Fox has written a book which successfully captures the duality of human emotion and personality, and weaves it through the narrative to create a haunting, but ultimately believable, story.

Though some may find the ‘plot twists’ predictable and there are several instances where it is hard not to know what will happen next, I felt more like a voyeur. I was watching Phoebe make the wrong choices, I knew the pain and heartbreak that lay ahead, and I could see the way a road would lead as she stumbled on down it. This is, after all, historical fiction and isn’t a crucial element of history knowing the outcome whilst continuing to unravel the story behind it? However much you may feel like Old Riley by the end of it, this book isn’t diminished by the lack of ‘surprise’.

And maybe this book holds a special place in my heart – my great grandparents were also Music Hall Artistes in late Victorian Britain – but I truly think there is magic to be found in The Somnambulist. This is an enchanting, haunting and utterly compelling tale which cast its spell over me from start to finish and which I, quite literally, couldn’t put down.

…And thank you Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet for leading me to the musings of an author I feel sure I will read for years to come.

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