So while searching my collection for good things for writing during November, I’ve compiled a little list of songs to make up a kind of sampler CD. You will probably recognize something off this CD, but I doubt you will recognize everything. Take a look and expand your musical horizons.
(Title, artist, and album given when available)
You will probably recognize the CD itself, if not the particular song – it’s one of the soundtracks released for the Lion King. The difference is that this CD is primarily the work of Lebo M, a South African composer, and so the CD actually sounds like it came from Pride Rock. Some of the tracks are mixed English and an African language I’m not going to embarrass myself by attempting to identify, while some are in said African language completely. The entire CD is worth a listen, but my favorite track is actually “He Lives In You”.
J-pop enthusiasts are probably familiar with the Queen of J-Pop. Those who are not: Ayumi Hamasaki is a long-performing Japanese singer primarily known for two types of music: energetic dance/trance remixes, and beautiful ballads. Moments is one of the latter, and is an uplifting piece, even if you don’t understand a word of Japanese. Since she has been producing CDs since the 90s, there are a wide selection of music to sample: the trance enthusiasts will want to try things like Ayu Mix whereas the ballad lovers should check the original mixes on CDs like Memorial Address. The CDs are imports and therefore a fair bit more pricey, so digital is a cheaper option.
If you watch a lot of TV, you may recognize a couple of her songs from the Speak for Yourself album – I’ve heard Hide and Seek and The Moment I Said It on various shows. Her songs tend toward the quieter and pretty, though she has a few tracks that are surprisingly harder, like Angry Angel. She has a beautiful voice and makes for some very easy listening, as well as some good mood-setting for various somber or introspective moments.
4. Sora – Yoko Kanno – Escaflowne Movie OST
Those that know anime probably know Yoko Kanno, Japanese composer extraordinare. With a track record a mile long that includes well-known things like Wolf’s Rain and Cowboy Bebop, this little gem is just one in a long line of soft, beautiful, thoughtful pieces. The Escaflowne soundtracks are excellent mood setters for dramatic or dark scenes, with a strong classical tone, but unfortunately, since the series is from the 90s, they are increasingly difficult to find (legally). (Like pretty much everything, they are simple to find online.)
Want some peaceful, slightly uplifting instrumentals, perhaps with wordless vocalization? Look no further. Ryan Farish’s entire CD is full of it and includes some nice instrumental work. A great thing to pop in for writing that scene with a massage therapist’s session.
6. Belladonna’s Snare – Shinkichi Mitsumune – Utena the Movie – Adolescent Rush
Utena is an…interesting series/movie/comic. The music is also pretty unique, ranging from this quiet piano piece (which I swear sounds like it could come out of Chrono Trigger as well) to dramatic choir chants (The Absolute Destiny Apocalypse). At Times, Love Is… is a nice romantic piece as well. Finding Japanese movie soundtracks on iTunes is rather hit and miss, but for those wanting a legal copy, this CD did get a domestic release so it’s a lot cheaper.
Admit it, everyone at one point has thought classical music was boring. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at some point in the eighties decided to attempt to rectify this by doing fast(er)-paced medleys of various pieces. Sadly, I remember this both as a record and a cheap 3-CD set. The first two parts were the best in my opinion, with a large selection of pieces and a nice dramatic feel. There are other ‘Hooked On’ collections that you might also be interested in checking; individual piece-wise, Tchaikovsky and Can Can are pretty awesome, as is Mendelssohn (who I had never even heard of before this collection – you learn something new every day.)
If you liked the gothic overtones of Evanescence but thought “wouldn’t it be better if they had an orchestra?” then Nightwish is the band for you. Moondance is a powerful instrumental piece that’s operatic in tone and fits well with a fast-paced battle. Although the band is Finnish, most of their works are in English, with meaningful lyrics. Wishmaster is also an excellent album in a similar style, while their more recent album Once is harsher and more rocked-out.
9. Hana Dorobou (Flower Thief) – Yoko Kanno – Turn A Gundam Movie OST
This is seriously the only purchase link I could find
I didn’t actually mean to include two from the same artist on this, but the pieces and the shows they come from are substantially different. Hana Dorobou is an interesting guitar piece with a nice tempo suited toward low-key situations that don’t fit into the other classifications. Although Amazon carries all three of the series OSTs, plus the concert CD which is also phenomenal this is the one CD they don’t have. And again, they’re all imports. Maybe they will get a domestic release since the series has been licensed here…maybe.
10. tsurugi no mai – Nujabes – Impression
Nujabes is a Japanese hip-hop artist who did several (mostly) instrumental OSTs for the series Samurai Champloo. Think hip-hop is an odd background music for a samurai series? They are not “gangsta” like we might associate with American hip-hop/rap, but this piece in particular is pretty laid-back. The songs on this and the other three albums are also on Amazon and are largely more of the same and make for some great, not distracting background music, though the vocal tracks (battlecry, You, Shiki no Uta, Hiji Suru Style) are also good – You is a peaceful piece, Shiki no Uta has a good beat, also sung by a woman, and my favorite, whereas battlecry and Hiji Suru Style are both more hip-hop-ish. And they’re surprisingly well-priced.
Here’s the one band you will probably recognize from the list, and possibly the CD too–but you may not have explored the rest of it. The CD is a mix of voiced and voiceless tracks, this one being my favorite (aside from the aforementioned Aerodynamic).
iTunes describes her as a mixture of “Bjork, Natasha Bedingfield, and Evanescence” and uhh…it sounds weird but the music is good. With a bit of a darker/gothic tone overall, the music itself is mixed, from the mournful “Bulletproof” to the lighter, upbeat track that’s next on the list, “Beautiful Day”. Every track on the CD is worth listening to on its own–and I don’t say that often about a CD.
13. Lonely Star – Lisa Furukawa Ray – Pearl Diver
Lisa Furukawa is one of those performers you happen to stumble across one way or another. I happened to walk in to one of her concerts a few years back and thought the cello and piano work was beautiful. The rest of the CD is good too – Pearl Diver is a great track, as is Fuel. She offers some of her songs for download on her website, including This Vibrancy, which is also a beautiful, somber piece.
14. Domine, Ad Adjuvantum Me Festina (Lord, Make Haste and Help Me) – 1998 Georgia All-State Chorus
Download it now
Ah, something I can finally offer you to download! Few people know that I was a chorus dork for eight years up through high school–and yes, my voice is in there somewhere (and no, it is not one of the solos, so you will never be able to pick it out.) From eight years in chorus, I can say this is the best “classic” choral piece I’ve ever heard (even without the violins!) Rather than trying to put you to sleep, it’s a dramatic, almost desperate piece, and if you understand latin the lyrics are pretty interesting, too.
Old English? Yes please! That would be both the language it is in, and really the best way of describing the sound, as well. This particular piece I love because it just sounds creepy. Excellent piece for setting a tone of dread. Dringo Bell is also a pretty neat piece.
16. Smote – Extraordinary Contraptions – Inappropriate on Purpose
Self-described as a “steampunk” band, their sound is, well…nothing like the pop you’ll hear on the radio. This piece can best be described as “just cool” or perhaps “funky” but not in the three-day-old-sock-smell. You can listen to both their CDs on their website, and I don’t prefer one CD over another – both have standout tracks. This song is my absolute favorite, though.
I’ve started lately to explore the musical world of Bollywood (the Indian cinema). Despite not being able to understand a word, this stuff is really cool – it’s one part hip-hop and one part ethnic sound. It’s not goofy or shallow like bubblegum pop but is nevertheless going to make you smile. The Kambakkht Ishq soundtrack is another one I’ve been enjoying for those interested in this genre.