As I said in my previous post, Wifey has pretty much got the Bagl blogging under control, with posts on his reading, eating, clothing - but if there's one subject I wanted to get my mucky mitts all over, it's writing about the music he listens to. All sorts of music gets played to him, not least through BBC 6Music being the general soundtrack to our daily lives, but every now and then there'll be music that he really responds to, really listens to. No doubt it's just a matter of time before he becomes obsessed with music targeted exclusively at children, which we'll have to listen to over and over and over and over and over and over and over... but for now at least he's only hearing what we play.
We've never been ones for the whole "classical music makes babies smarter" idea, especially as it's been pretty much scientifically debunked. Music selection has nothing to do with future development and everything to do with exposing him to sounds and rhythms that he might enjoy - like food, we want to make sure he gets to try a whole bunch of stuff before his tastes inevitably narrow to nothing but The Goddamn Wiggles. So here's a spotlight on what I think are his favourite album and single thus far, and possibly why.
If this album has the same effect on other babies as it does on Bagl, it ought to be given to every new parent by law, or at the very least advertised as a drug-free substitute for Calpol. Ever since I first played it to him on a whim, it's become a sonic godsend for calming him down, catching and holding his attention and generally taking his mind off whatever was irking him. He really, really likes it, and it's now reached a point where he makes a happy noise just from recognising the cover art on the front of the iPod (plugged into speakers, I've not got him on headphones yet!) even before the music starts. Which probably begs the question from many of you - what is it?
Roman Roads IV-XI is the debut LP from Land Observations, otherwise known as James Brooks. Essentially it's that most maligned of things, a concept album, the concept being roman roads. Imagine a more pastoral Autobahn, the Tarmac and tyres replaced with dust tracks and horseshoes. Each of the eight tracks is an instrumental that wonderfully evokes the sense of travel in an earlier time. Via Flaminia could be the soundtrack to the steps of a pilgrim Canterbury bound, while Aurelian Way gently canters on horseback, a carriage wheel clicking. Then Appian Way moves up a gear and age, smooth, faster, petrol-fuelled on freshly laid A-roads, the closest to Autobahn in spirit, if not in sound. Sewn together by guitar loops and repeating melodies, it's an excellent collection of music that manages to stay consistent and true to the concept without ever feeling repetitive or samey. The album's actual release passed me by, so it was only when it cropped up in The Quietus' best of 2012 list that I first heard of it.
“That notion of momentum but also the poetry of it, if you have a certain kind of mindset you can’t help but be swept up in the evocative quality of it. I want to try and grapple with that in some way, the melancholic introspection that travel has.” - James Brooks
So what makes this Bagl's favourite album so far? Certain tracks have the ability to put him in some kind of mild trance, at the end of which he's quite delighted, even more so when he realises there's another song coming. It's that simplicity, the use of repetition and loops without becoming overwhelmed with layer upon layer of sound that I think he responds so positively to. I've tried Bagl on Kraftwerk, and although he didn't dislike it (he seemed rather taken with Tour De France) there's not the same attraction for him, possibly because there's just too much going on sonically. Land Observations, by contrast, feels more open, as though there's space between the sounds - you quickly lock onto the beat of each track and stay with it, enjoying the journey.
James Blake - Retrograde
This was unexpected. We had 6Music on one day back when James Blake's Retrograde was on the regular playlist, and in the middle of something (a meal, I think) Bagl suddenly froze as that electrifying opening began, a moment of relative silence in the usual pleasing noise of music. He stayed pretty much transfixed all the way through, then smiling and making his happy noises right at the end. After he reacted similarly upon hearing it later on, we ended up adding the track to the start of his bedtime playlist, so he now gets to hear it every day, signalling the start of sleepy time.
Despite being altogether more electronic than the guitar loops of Land Observations, James Blake's music often shares that sense of sparseness, of space between the sound. Backed by a gorgeous vocal loop that opens, closes and whirls throughout the track, Retrograde has to be one of the best singles this year has to offer. It's that vocal loop that I think has Bagl so hooked, coupled with the gentle singing and (for the most part) sparse instrumentation. Again, I reckon it's music he can get a grip on, without a wall of sound to work through. Or maybe he just thinks it sounds nice, like I do. Either way, the boy done good.