No Grave Inspiration Soundtrack

I create soundtracks when I write, particularly if I’m writing long-form (No Grave, for instance, is a novel).  I find it helps to surround myself with music with similar motifs and emotional resonance when I write.  This is, of course, after all the initial brainstorming is done and I actually sit down at a keyboard or notepad to start work on the actual words (brainstorming is a whole different bag of cats–er–crap).  I usually start off by making a soundtrack of anything I think matches up remotely with what I’m doing.  For No Reflection and No Grave (as well as a couple other half-finished projects I haven’t announced), the first-draft playlist runs about 40 songs.  In perspective, the final draft playlist for No Reflection was 12 songs, and the final draft playlist for No Grave is…15 songs.  There are overlaps between the two soundtracks because they have similar themes, overlapping characters, and, of course, similar setting.

The playlist gets cut as I learn more about the story.  The more I write, the deeper I get into the narrative, the characters, and the action, and the more I figure out what the story is really about in terms of themes, motifs, metaphor, politics, etc… the fewer of the original songs make sense, and the fewer of them serve to put me in the mindset of the story.  They get sloughed off so that by the final draft the playlist is significantly shorter and more poignant…actually, they’re rather like the words, themselves, in that way.

I was under the impression, for most of this, that nobody really cared what I listened to when I wrote things.  Since I have had three different people ask about it, this week, however, I’m beginning to think that maybe I was wrong?  In any case, instead of simply answering the people who asked, I decided I would put it out for anyone, anywhere, at any time, to read.

Without further ado, the track list for my inspiration soundtrack for No Grave (I have added links to those artists who have posted their work online — I’ve done my best to make sure the link is sourced from the artist, so if I’ve messed up, please let me know):

1. Lauren O’Connell – House of the Rising Sun
2. Johnny Cash – Ain’t No Grave
3. LEGS OCCULT – There’s a Sadness
4. Dinah Washington/Max Richter – This Bitter Earth/Nature of Daylight
5. Lorde – Biting Down
6. Johnny Cash – Hurt
7. LEGS OCCULT – Breathe
8. Nine Inch Nails – The Wretched (Keith Hillebrandt Mix)
9. Marilyn Manson – Golden Age of Grotesque
10. Lauren O’Connell – Oh Death
11. John Murphy – In the House – In a Heartbeat (from the 28 Days Later OST)
12. The Crawdiddies – Ain’t No Grave
13. Marilyn Manson – This is Halloween
14. Tom Waits – Dirt in the Ground
15. Marilyn Manson – Spade

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Lauren O’Connell, Demos Vol. 1. (Review)

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Lauren O’Connell is a fantastic folk and country artist with tremendous musical flexibility.  If you haven’t checked her out on YouTube or Bandcamp, you should do yourself a favor and give a little listen.

Demos Vol. 1 is…well, it’s exactly what it’s called.  These are demos, most of them prety lo-fi and straight-up, and that’s something I actually really appreciate in these genres.  If I wanted to listen to highly-produced jam sessions, I probably wouldn’t be listening to a largely acoustic album.  If that’s a sticking point for you, maybe try one of her other albums (Quitters and Covers are the only ones I can rightly vouch for).

Getting over that hump, however, this album is wonderful.  Most of the tracks are l0w-key instrumentation with a heavy focus on lyricism and vocal work, but that’s not to say instrumentation isn’t important and/or doesn’t serve as a tremendous underscore to these powerful songs.  For instance, the lower key instrumentation of “I Would Rather Be Gone” does a great job of filling the song, without detracting from the power of the lyrics and the voice singing them.  That song, by the way, is what initially attracted me to the album — after some recent upheavals in my life, I just couldn’t stop listening to it.  It’s a very honest, authentic piece of work.

The rest of the album turns out to be just as good.  Whether it’s cover work, such as her covers of Neko Case (“Deep Red Bells“) or Neutral Milk Hotel (“Oh Comely“), or her originals (“Bystander” or “I Would Rather Be Gone,” for instance), Lauren O’Connell always comes out sounding real and honest, with an excellent voice for folk and a great command of her audience.  I loved the album.

You can purchase Demos Vol. 1 here, for the low price of only $10 USD (or more!).

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Review: Modern Man, EP by LEGS OCCULT.

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The whole album is sick and vibrant with exactly the kind of authenticity we need right now.  The lyrics and music contain an artistic honesty arranged with meticulous care, and the listening experience showcases amazing, if under-recognized, talent.
The rock’n’roll intensity of the title track, Modern Man, is thrumming with energy, sex, doubt, need, and pain, is the sort of song that people could write essays about.  I know because I almost did (actually, I did, but you’ll never read it).  With lyrics that simultaneously evoke unbridled sensuality and painful nihilism, and a maddening guitar part both simple and driving, it is a song in both mourning and celebration of a flawed, troubled existence.  It is a hell of an anthem, a gritty fist-pumper for the neo-punk set.
The second track, Love’s Dark Sisters, is a sparse, emotional track supported by the beautiful but attenuated vocals of Allie Sheldan, who does a phenomenal job of selling a song underscored by remorse and anguish.  The song doesn’t need decoration.  Stark poetic descriptions and simple line construction serve to create an emotionally rich piece of music, accented perfectly by austere instrumentals that ebb and flow like waves from a midnight ocean.  Here is someone who can sing some blues, and the jarring vocals and stabbing lyrics make sure you know it.
The final track, Supernatural, is probably best described by the words “unbelievably” and “sexy.”  Twisting, chunky riffs wrap around coiled vocals, giving the song a sleek, sensual dynamic that kicks in at the beginning and doesn’t let up.  Again, bluesy vocals are well-supported by excellent guitar work to create a dark, sublime experience.  Perfect dirty day dream music.
LEGS OCCULT does you the added favor of letting you pick how much money to give them (as little as $3 Canadian, you cheap ne’er-do-wells) in exchange for these gorgeous tracks, so I highly recommend taking the time (and the cost of a artisanal coffee) to make the purchase.
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