Music

Songs to get through an essay crisis

Songs to get through an essay crisis

You’ve got a deadline to hit, about twelve hours in which to hit it, and you haven’t even planned your essay yet. You sigh. You know it’s going to be a long night. You put on some coffee, open your word processor, and slip on a few tunes. This list of songs will get you through yet another essay crisis with your sanity intact (ish).
You start: Imagine Dragons – ‘It’s Time’. You play this as you finish your incredibly rough and hazily-drawn plan. Right. Time to begin the essay… In a minute. Maybe you should listen to this song just one more time.
Now you’ve finally begun, you know you’re in it for the long haul. You turn on the Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’. The going may get tough, but damn it, this essay will not beat you. ‘Cause I would write five hundred words, and I would write 1,500 more! After your neighbour yells at you to stop signing, you change the track and get back to work.
Time for something classical. What else? Pachelbel – ‘Canon in D’. Ah, something soothing and relaxing. So soothing and relaxing that you get nothing done for the next seven minutes.
Quick, energy. Need energy. Anything to get that second paragraph flowing. Who’s got the energy of an excited puppy? Ed Sheeran. The song: ‘Sing’. Try not to get distracted by how much Ed sounds like a nine year old asking to leave the dinner table when he says “Maybe we can get down now”. Although figuring out how this dweeb managed to make such a fun party song is an intellectual exercise that deserves an essay of its own.
Up next, The Rolling Stones –‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’. An excellent one to listen to after several irritating minutes spent trying to untangle the various rhetorical knots you’ve managed to tie yourself up in. Nothing alleviates frustration quite like hearing it shouted by rock gods.
It’s getting really late. You need a real pick-me-up, and there’s nothing like the ‘00s falsetto of the Scissor Sisters. ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’’. It is scientifically impossible for people not to get at least a bit more of a spring in their step after listening to this one. A perfect pick-me-up as you struggle to the end of your half-baked point about quantitative easing
And so you reach the 1,000 word mark. You’re ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, and Bon Jovi will help you out. Take a few minutes off and listen to this hard rock classic. You’re halfway there, after all (note: this works particularly well for theology essays).
You turn to your old friend, David Bowie with ‘Starman’. You ponder the effectiveness of ‘I’d like to hand in this essay, but I think I’d blow your mind’ as an excuse. You decide it is not feasible, sigh, and get back to work. You know it’s all worthwhile, after all.
It’s time for an ego boost with the single most egotistical song ever recorded: ‘Mirrors’ by Justin Timberlake. Its core message boils down to: ‘I love you because you remind me of me’. This is exactly the kind of self-esteem boost you needs while staring at a screen at 3am and questioning your life choices. Especially useful if writing about Lacanian theory.
You need anything to stop you resorting to that ever-more-tempting three quid bottle of wine you’ve got in the fridge. ‘We Are Young’ by fun is a song that consists of the kind of bollocks you would drunk-text to your ex at four in the morning, and thus serves as an excellent warning against hitting the drink. Plus Janelle Monáe turns up for three seconds on that wonderful bridge.
Next, an overlong, incoherent mess of half-formed, disjointed sentences, with occasional outbreaks of terrifying noises suits ‘Revolution 9’ by The Beatles.
You stumble, bleary-eyed, to a conclusion at long last. You save your document, shut down the computer, and stick on one of the most relaxing songs in the world, before you collapse into bed, exhausted. Art Garfunkel sounds like the angel of sleep on Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. You try not to think about all the edits you’re going to have to make in the morning. For now, the waters are calm.

IMAGE/ Leonid Pasternak

Review: The Coronation of Poppea

Review: The Coronation of Poppea

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Despite being nearly 400 years old, The Coronation of Poppea is a work that is frequently noted for its striking modernity. Written as the young genre of opera was learning to find its feet, the work is immensely confident in its exploration of the black humour of human emotion and motivation.

 

This was brought to the fore by the witty and idiomatic translation of Busenello’s libretto. In his retelling of a story from Tacitus, Monteverdi’s librettist presents a story whose characters are rich in baroque ambiguity of motivation. The opera focuses on the affair of the emperor Nerone with the manipulative Poppea. As Nerone descends into paranoid psychosis, his wife Ottavia watches on distraught. She, however, is far from being blameless, attempting to convince Poppea’s former lover to murder her. The only symbol of classical virtue in the piece – the stoic, Seneca – is forced to commit suicide by the tyrannous Nerone.

 

It is Monteverdi’s music that brings this time in which bad men could flourish to life. In his music, Monteverdi exploits the full potential of the operatic form to explore the depths of the human psyche. The score is no mean feat to tackle and it therefore comes as nothing short of a triumph that an amateur, student-led company could have performed it with such aplomb.

 

The orchestra was largely professional. In part, this was due to the exotic rareness of the instrumentation – a player of the theorbo (an enormous lute that could have come straight from the set of Wolf Hall) had to travel from Wales for the performance. However, it was also due, as producer Katie Jeffries-Harris explained to me, to the need for the singers to be provided with a rock-solid base from which they could show off their musical talents. The orchestra excelled in this function magnificently. Tomos Watkins provided a steady harpsichord continuo, whilst the orchestra played immaculately without ever drowning the singers.

 

For these performances to have been buried under the orchestra would have been a tragedy. The overall standard was truly astonishing for an amateur company. Having come to the opera without even having read a synopsis, I was afraid that I would be lost; however, such was the clarity of the diction that I was able to follow every twist and turn perfectly.

 

Of particular note was the pathos in the voice of Lila Chrisp as Ottavia, whose lamentations at her fall from grace were truly heart-rending. Sonia Jacobson‘s Nerone possessed the imperiousness of a Roman emperor. It was, moreover, a treat to have seen not one but three counter-tenors (Francis Gush, Henry Kimber, James Potter) on such fine voice. Lucy Cox – appearing as multiple characters – sang beautifully. However, to single people out for praise is particularly difficult given the impressive standard of the cast. This strong ensemble left little to be desired.

 

It was a real treat to have seen an opera mounted in Oxford to such a high standard. The musical quality left one wanting little in terms of staging. Somerville College chapel played host to a very pleasant night at the opera; hopefully, this will provide a beacon of inspiration for further students wishing to mount operatic performances of their own.

The magic of mashups

The magic of mashups

Swing the Mood – William Shaw 

Girl Talk and Sam Ryel are all very well, but to truly understand mashups, you need to go back to the source, and see how three maniacs from Rotherham managed to get to number one by stitching together bits of aging bubblegum pop to form ahead of their time musical masterpieces. I’m talking of course about the seminal Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, whose huge success in the late eighties and early nineties marked the mashup’s first real break into the mainstream.
Listening to the first track on their first album (imaginatively titled ‘The Album’) it’s not hard to see why. An invigorating cocktail of early rock’n’roll hits and Glenn Miller’s iconic jazz track, with a rock-solid bass line forming a reliable backbone as the song skips between genre highlights, ‘Swing the Mood’ does a wonderful job capturing the infectious, youthful energy of that period of music.
Mashups are pop music’s own form of alchemy; disparate sources, wantonly forced to occupy the same space, creating something more than the sum of its parts. And here it is, all the way back in 1989. As above, so below.

Of The Night – Kate Bickerton

Don’t lie: we all have a secret passion for 80s dance music. Why else do we all flood to the Park End cheese floor on a Wednesday?! For me, Bastille’s reworking of ‘The Rhythm of the Night’ by Corona and ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer’ by Snap! is the epitome of what a mash up should try to achieve. Rework and create something unique whist retaining a sense of the original tracks.
Interestingly, for songs that sound so poppy, so energetic, they have dark undertones which Bastille exploit expertly. Sonically, they use haunting xylophone melodies mixed with low booming drum beats to create an eerie feeling. In true Bastille fashion, the chorus is anthemic, but still retains an element of unsettling emotion. The band has given a new, gloomier slant to the lyrics that in an original context would sound hopeful. Now they sound desperate and pleading.
I think this is why I like this mashup so much. It manages to change the whole mood of the original and take what I like so much about 80s dance pop and turn it around on itself. You can still dance to it, but it has a darker, clubbier feel.

Blank Space/Style – Emmanuelle Testudine

Don’t lie: we all have a secret passion for 80s dance music. Why else do we all flood to the Park End cheese floor on a Wednesday?! For me, Bastille’s reworking of ‘The Rhythm of the Night’ by Corona and ‘Rhythm Is a Dancer’ by Snap! is the epitome of what a mash up should try to achieve. Rework and create something unique whist retaining a sense of the original tracks.
Interestingly, for songs that sound so poppy, so energetic, they have dark undertones which Bastille exploit expertly. Sonically, they use haunting xylophone melodies mixed with low booming drum beats to create an eerie feeling. In true Bastille fashion, the chorus is anthemic, but still retains an element of unsettling emotion. The band has given a new, gloomier slant to the lyrics that in an original context would sound hopeful. Now they sound desperate and pleading.
I think this is why I like this mashup so much. It manages to change the whole mood of the original and take what I like so much about 80s dance pop and turn it around on itself. You can still dance to it, but it has a darker, clubbier feel.

Numb/Encore – Henry Holmes

Back in the dark dark days of 2004, people still thought that Linkin Park had any cultural value whatsoever. Several of these severely misguided people apparently worked at MTV, and persuaded Jay-Z to be associated with them. They released the mashup EP Collision Course.
I was, I confess, one of these people back then, and ‘Numb/Encore’ blew my tiny little mind back then. The combination of Nu Metal angst and the uplifting, boastful flow of Jay-Z led to the epitome of early noughties rage blasting out into the world, it was in fact the first rap song I learned all the words to, and so it lives on in my heart. Many may knock it, and their criticisms will be very valid, but given the cultural context of the mashup, there’s not a lot more you can hope for.
So I will live on with Linkin Park in my mind and in my soul, thankful that I managed to move on, via Jay-Z, to a much better music taste. We must accept our past mistakes, and so I shall never deny my roots. ‘Numb/Encore’ is the mashup that grounds me, and of course, I still know all the words.

PHOTO/ Leo Reynolds, flickr

OxStu Music’s pet hates

OxStu Music’s pet hates

The 1975 – Naomi Southwell

Hailing from Manchester myself, many are shocked by my contempt for my fellow Mancunians, The 1975. Manchester has an incredibly vibrant and influential musical history, which is being vehemently pissed on by this faux “indie rock” band. The 1975 seem to rely on Matt Healey’s “edgy” image complete with trendy shaved quiff and token leather jacket to sell their records. Admittedly some of their riffs may be catchy, in an entirely predictable way, but their frequent referencing of stoners and weed in their lyrics reeks of try hard, not “Chocolate”. The reality of this style over substance vibe is ever present in their music videos. The video for “Girls” sees the band intermittently replaced by conventionally attractive white women in lingerie. This video was supposedly an attempt to poke fun at the standard pop music video formula that sees women frequently used as props for male fantasies. The irony is that a video where the band played in their underwear surrounded by fully clothed women would have been a better satire but this may not have been quite edgy enough. If we have to rely on bands like The 1975 for the future of British rock, then it’s not going to be a bright one.

Out of the Blue – Henry Holmes 

There are a lot of bands I despise, and thousands of words of vitriol I could unleash about the soul-destroying state of the modern music industry, but most of these already have prominent critics. However, the one act that seems to go totally unscathed is Oxford’s own Out of the Blue. I’m pretty sure all male a capella groups are one of western cultures greatest crimes against itself, and while it usually seems to be quarantined to America, the perfectly-harmonised miasma somehow managed to descend upon our dreaming spires. There’s a reason choirs have both men and women in them, and it’s so nobody has to attempt to beatbox just to fill out the utter lack of any interesting texture. My gripe may be with the genre rather than this specific group, but can anybody really tell the difference between them all anyway? Yes, there’s the initial novelty of it all, but then you realise you couldactually listen to the actual songs instead of having to pay attention to some breathy blue-suited twink for more than the thirty seconds that you can keep the bile down. So, in in a language that they’ll understand: “Can you not?”

Coldplay – Lucy Clarke

A quick visit to Urban Dictionary presents a dichotomy of opinions about Coldplay. On one hand, you have your slavish devotees, citing the powerful emotional succour of lyrics like ‘and it was all yellow’. On the other, you have those who recognise the crippling awfulness of a band led by the human personification of beige. Perhaps some people enjoy listening to music that leaves next to no impression upon them. I, however, am almost insulted by the blandness of a band that seems to take inspiration from whatever’s successful… and then make it boring. It’s almost impressive how an album subtitled ‘Death and All His Friends’ could be so painfully unmemorable. Whether over-played earworms or horrific dirges, Coldplay’s music crucially lacks heart. Ballads like ‘Fix You’ and ‘The Scientist’ seem calculated to hit at some generic feeling, while Chris Martin counts his royalties under cover of minor piano chords and appallingly trite lyrics, while ‘anthems’ like ‘Paradise’ and ‘Viva La Vida’ are just wails of nonsense with absolutely no soul (or stage presence, for that matter). There’s an emptiness at the centre of their songs that no amount of flashing concert wristbands can disguise.

Led Zeppelin – Alex Bragg

I could have used this space to smack down Bieber, Swift, Sheeran or any other of the nauseating denizens of the hit parade, and indeed, I would have relished it. But, it seems to me a simple truth that to truly, deeply love an artist, you must be aware of their flaws. Therefore, it seems it falls to me to expose the many and varied flaws of Led Zeppelin. As a younger music geek, I venerated them as no less than the greatest band in history, it’s probably thanks to the late great John Bonham that I first picked up a pair of drumsticks, and even recently, I would have done terrible, unforgivable things to get my grubby mitts on a ticket to their 2012 reunion. They brought a frenetic fury to rock and roll that the sedate likes of the Beatles and even the Rolling Stones lacked. But this doesn’t excuse the wholesale, uncredited pilfering of their beloved forbears’ material (‘Whole Lotta Love’ is nothing more than a reworking of a Muddy Waters song with a Hendrix riff tacked on), the Spinal Tap-inspiring proto-prog silliness of some of their later material, the monstrous pseudo-reggae misdemeanour of ‘D’yer Maker’. Also, Robert Plant’s ubiquitous chest hair was a bit much.

 

PHOTO/ Andrea Labate https://www.flickr.com/photos/earthmover/

OxStu’s music predictions for 2015

OxStu’s music predictions for 2015

A lot happened in music in 2014. Kate Bush played her first live shows in decades, Against Me! released the most important punk album in years and Beyoncé was the undisputed queen of everything. But what does 2015 hold?

Firstly, the pop royalty: Rihanna released seven albums between 2005 and 2012, so the three-year gap since Unapologetic is especially notable. It’s also been four years since Adele released the record-obliterating 21, so the anticipation for the follow up this year is mountainous. To complete the trifecta, Kanye West’s new album is also coming soon, and judging from recent single ‘Only One’, it’s going to be spectacular. It was also announced back in September that Jay-Z and Beyoncé are collaborating on an album together, which, if released this year, will almost definitely be another big seller.

Elsewhere, Marina and the Diamonds’ new album Froot is looking to be another great pop album, judging from the three exceptional singles ‘Froot’, ‘Happy’ and ‘Immortal’. Grimes and Sky Ferreira have both hinted at new albums coming this year, and Chelsea Wolfe revealed on Facebook that she’s releasing new album Abyss this year. Following the drone-folk masterpiece that was 2013’s Pain is Beauty, it should be a good one.

Sleater-Kinney are also returning after a 10-year hiatus to release No Cities to Love, which comes out in late January, and so is likely to be one of the first big releases of the year, and guitarist and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein is releasing her memoir this autumn, which will be required reading for any punk, feminist or fledgling indie rocker.

Deafheaven are releasing their third album after the universally acclaimed Sunbather, which was easily one of the best metal albums released in the last decade, and so their new efforts should hopefully be just as good. Following their recent instrumental album Fashion Week, the second half of Death Grips’ final album The Powers That B comes out soon, which should be an appropriately spectacular finale to their explosive career.

And this is just talking about albums coming from already established artists; a lot of the most exciting releases of the past year have been secretly dropped, come in non-traditional formats or have come from debut artists. Artists such as Perfume Genius, FKA Twigs and Alvvays came out of nowhere with some of the best albums of 2014; the music to look forward to in 2015 is the unpredictable!

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