I started purposely avoiding anything dubbed “chillout music” a few years ago. The genre, so to speak, had become big business and at once became lost, diluted and utterly boring at the timid hands of such miscreants as Morcheeba and Zero 7. Anything that could be marketed to a backdrop of palm trees and pina coladas qualified and inevitably wound up on the latest Café Del Mar compilation.
Of course, as with everyone, I’ve still always had music that I enjoy chilling out to and since going back to college, the music has become more important. Trying to hammer out lines of Teeline shorthand or trawling through McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists (19th Edition) with LCD Soundsystem blaring out the stereo, sadly isn’t an option. I’ve had to, gulp, seek out new, improved chillout music. Let’s call it study music…
Here is my Top 3:
Stars of the Lid – And Their Refinement of the Decline
I’ve had this for a while and played it sparingly. I was a bit hesitant when I first read the words ‘drone music’; it just doesn’t sound very, y’know, welcoming. This album is the antithesis of that though: warm and soothing, this stuff’s like a nice sonic cup of tea.
Essential Track: Apreludes (in C Sharp Major)
Low – Things We Lost In the Fire
Low are a band I always thought I would like but kind of missed the boat on. I had a few bits and pieces, but this album is breathtaking. The songs are all incredibly simple and formulaic: hushed vocals, perfect harmonies and softly strummed guitars, but it’s a model that works amazingly well. Some of it is pretty dark stuff, but at just the right level, is a great accompaniment.
Essential Track – Sunflower
Yann Tiersen – Black Sessions
I could just as easily have included the Amelie OST or the Goodbye Lenin OST. Maybe not as laid back as, say, Steve Reich or Philip Glass, Yann Tiersen’s stuff is arguably more enjoyable. There are a couple of great covers on this one, particularly the essential track. It’s a live performance, but as long as you don’t mind the odd round of applause, this comes highly recommended.
Essential Track – Life on Mars (feat Neil Hannon)
Hailing from disparate parts of the UK, the band’s members first came to each others’ attentions in Glasgow, formed together and started playing music at the end of 2006. That all sounds very simple, so we asked frontman Rob Armstrong to put some meat on the bones. “It built on from those hours spent in freezing rehearsal rooms,” he reflects. “Then we started to fall in love with what we were doing. A non-for-profit label from down south called art/goes/pop contacted us about releasing a couple of our records and we put out our double a-side Telephone/Yorkshire a few months back. I suppose 2008 was all about us cutting our teeth but we still got a buzz doing stuff like Glastonbury, releasing our first record and playing some cool gigs closer to home.”
The early signs are promising: comparisons to the likes of The Smiths and The Wedding Present are unlikely to do any up and coming band much harm and whilst admitting such links are flattering, Armstrong is confident “that Nacional is doing its own thing and there are no rules.”
Nacional’s members forged musical bonds over a love of “guitar bands that created a sort of tension and energy when they played”. It’s a theme they’ve incorporated into their own sound, giving them a definite sense of vitality and urgency. Influence wise, the lead singer finds it hard to pinpoint, but politely nods to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and The National as three acts currently floating his boat.