over the last few months of listening, two records have been my favourites, and if I spin it right (see what I did there) I can present them as representing almost opposite strategies for how to be a musician.
One is meditative, intricate, makes use of mostly traditional orchestral instruments, has no vocal lines unless you count birdsong, responds to traditional crafts, remote places and the natural world, and comes upon you gently; it’s a record to think with, to be alone with, to drive through the rain with (as I have); and I realise I don’t actually know what the artist behind it looks like, which is appropriate given the project is called Hidden Orchestra. The album is the exquisite Dawn Chorus.
The other is brash and loud, draws on a garish mix of genres but most prominently on rock and EDM, has songs about drugs, vacuous self-help, twisted internet obsessions and cowboys finding friendship, veers from the utterly bleak to the camply hilarious, is ugly in places and cliche’d in places and full of catchy tunes, and is made by an artist who dresses like he’s in a different Sacha Baron Cohen film every week, when not actually naked. (Or wearing – brace yourself if you plan to click the link – these very memorable underpants.) Also, he’s pissing on his own face on the cover. It’s amazing I like it, but I do, very much. (Not the pissing part, but those truly are memorable underpants.) In this case I’m talking about Kirin J. Callinan and Bravado.
What do these records have in common, apart from that I like them? Collaboration, for one. Hidden Orchestra combines field recordings, especially of dawn in various places, with instrumental performances, all brought together by the magic of a laptop; one of the performers is Tomáš Dvořák, the clarinettist and composer responsible (as Floex) for the Machinarium and Samorost soundtracks. Kirin J. Callinan I discovered through his collaboration with Alex Cameron, another singer who likes to inhabit different characters, though without experimenting so recklessly with his trousers. Here’s the collaboration. It should win Eurovision and bring about world peace.
Another connection is that they both repay repeat listening. With Hidden Orchestra perhaps this is obvious: some of the tracks are quite long; they’re richly textured; the way the field recordings blends into and works with the instrumental music is worth thought. (I found myself thinking about how the birdsong somehow starts to seem melancholy in conjunction with the human music – for its innocence, for the damage we might do it, for the consciousness of fragility and loss that we bring to this sound that is so much more ancient than we are, for how we strain to connect with the natural world around us). But with Kirin J. Callinan too I find there’s a lot of substance behind the brashness. As I keep listening, the funny tracks don’t stop being funny, and the difficult or initially ugly tracks (thinking here especially of “Down 2 Hang”) turn out to have powerful stories to tell and music that helps to tell it. And his lyric writing is remarkably good, as witness this bonkers piece of rhyming from “Song About Drugs”: “wrapped up in plastic, thrown down the stairs / feeling fantastic…” But approach his Instagram account with caution.