The instrumental is often a rather maligned part of an artist’s repertoire.
There was some discussion of what counts as an instrumental. Wiki suggested:
Tuesday Ten: 304: No Words, No Thoughts
Full submission playlists
“In commercial popular music, instrumental tracks are sometimes renderings, remixes of a corresponding release that features vocals, but they may also be compositions originally conceived without vocals.”
Better still was this specific definition. Remixes are a different case, as far as I’m concerned, as I wanted “popular” music that was intended as instrumental from the off.
“a piece of (usually non-classical) music performed by instruments, with no vocals.”
That said, my original request for submissions last week was specific in noting that I wanted instrumentals from bands that usually use vocals. Which, obviously, knocks out most post-rock. But then, I’ve featured those bands many times before anyway.
So, twelve instrumentals worth hearing, simply because there were so many great submissions. Thanks to everyone who got involved.
A Warm Place
The Downward Spiral
Aside from Pretty Hate Machine, Trent Reznor has long been a master of using instrumentals across his albums to maintain a flow and continuity – and indeed eventually released Ghosts, which was an entire album of them. NIN’s pinnacle, though, was on The Downward Spiral, the band’s second full album and a fourteen-track masterpiece of conflicting emotions and tension. Pretty much the whole album flows almost seamlessly, with little if any gaps between tracks and indeed some continuing directly into the next. That said, the sheer intensity of the first half of the album is extraordinary, with the three-minute bliss out of A Warm Place (track ten, thirty-nine minutes or so into the album) the first pause for breath at all. The track is hardly a bright moment, but it allows a collection of thoughts and an admiration of the utter beauty of it, before we are dragged back under the surface for the savage, drum-led Eraser that follows it.
No Sleep Demon
It is easy to forget just how long Seabound have been around now. Their striking debut album No Sleep Demon first appeared in 2001 (and was later remastered and re-released with new artwork in their now standard, unusual style), and listening back to that now, it is easy to see the seeds that were there for the more complex electronic band that they would become. When they first appeared, of course, they were on the tails of the futurepop scene, and were initially dismissed as such.
One song on that album, though, has endured like no other. Originally appearing on No Sleep Demon as an instrumental, it was later re-recorded as a heartstopping vocal ballad (and has remained a mainstay of their live sets for many, many years now in that form, too). The original version is the one we’re talking about here, though, and even without vocals it is a beautiful, sweeping electronic piece, with sad, wordless melodies bringing to mind dark evenings of desperate loneliness.
A band who have a number of instrumentals in their catalogue (their most popular albums actually had a surprising number of them), but until recently they’d kept vocals to the fore. As Andy suggested, their latest album (a compilation of low-key EPs from recent years) is a surprising about-turn from a band who left behind futurepop for synth-rock with ever-diminishing returns, and have now changed again to instrumental retro-electronics. Thankfully not another synthwave, 80s-obsessed album, mind, this goes back further to the electro-end of Krautrock, and yet further to sixties electronic experimentation (there is a nod to the Doctor Who theme, at least subliminally, to the intro if I’m not mistaken). There is something of Apop’s effortless ability with memorable melody here, but otherwise this is nothing like the rest of the band’s storied career whatsoever.
A band about to return after a while on hiatus (they’ve started playing live again, and an album is due at some point), their vocal-based take on electro-industrial has gained them a dedicated fanbase over the years, but their more rock-based stylings live perhaps divided the crowd a bit at Infest a few years ago (LINK). That said, their sound has evolved over the years, and for me they hit their creative peak with the ten-song blast that was As We Fall. Tucked away on the second side of that album was the staggering instrumental Hang From Your Own Rope, easily the grooviest, most dancefloor-friendly track they ever wrote, and one that doesn’t need any vocals to absolutely slay a dancefloor (I’ve played it quite a number of times in the past).
Interestingly it is built like it was meant to have vocals – it has clearly defined chorus and middle-eight sections, although synth hooks take the place of vocals. It works so brilliantly, though, why bother with vocals?
The Call of Ktulu
Ride the Lightning
Eighteen years after release, this song gained a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, for the epic appearance on S&M, where Metallica recorded a couple of concerts with accompaniment from the San Francisco Symphony – with admittedly mixed results. This track, though – the closer from Metallica’s second album Ride the Lightning, now a remarkable thirty-three years old – seemed to come out best from the metal/classical meeting, and that might be because it was written almost like a classical piece in the first place.
In addition, Ride the Lightning‘s production, even on re-mastering, is still a bit thin, and the S&M version provides an amazing, dramatic rework that stretches out the song even further (to nearly ten minutes). That’s a lot of guitar solos.
Despite being lumped in with punk initially, it’s fair to say that Wire were some way ahead of their time. Rather more “arty”, if you will, than their punk peers, they were doing something entirely different with the punk template that resulted in ultra-short songs (twenty-one songs make up Pink Flag, in just thirty-five minutes – and three tracks take up a third of the album’s length!), and their curiousity with what they could do ended up influencing bands in styles as disparate as Hardcore Punk (Ian MacKaye was a devotee) and Britpop (just listen to Elastica and Menswe@r in particular for the latter, and they were a little too close to Wire!). At the very centre of Pink Flag, though, is a bright, head-spinning instrumental that lasts just forty-nine seconds and fits in two stuttering breakdowns and a breathless, jangling closeout.
Inside The City of Glass
Another song later reworked with vocals (only released a decade after release, when a fully remastered version was released, the band unhappy with the original mix), this song closed out Katatonia’s greatest album, the still chilling Viva Emptiness. Like most of Katatonia’s output, it digs into the darker sides of human emotion and relationships – the sadness, the betrayal, the untruths, but did so with soaring charges of melody and such energy that the whole album is an exhilarating listen.
It finishes off with this song, an instrumental of power and heart, that unlike much of the rest of the album appears to have a more optimistic core (something rather undone once the lyrics were added!) and the minute-long fade-out of it, that eases you out of their world and back into the real one, is a neat touch.
In their imperious, untouchable period (The Real Thing and Angel Dust), Faith No More made great use of a couple of instrumentals that were so good that they became live staples and fan favourites in their own right. Woodpeckers From Mars was one, with a odd sci-western feel to the synths, and the thundering funk-rock groove erupting periodically – and I saw it open their 2012 London show with Mike Patton adding in vocals to Delilah (complete with the whole crowd howling joyously along). The other was actually a cover, a surprisingly tender – in light of the mayhem that had been unleashed in the previous twelve songs – take on John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy that closed out Angel Dust. The film, let’s be honest, is brilliant but unremittingly bleak, and Barry’s theme is one of wistful beauty, and Faith No More simply provide a reverential, heavier take on it that is no less brilliant.
The shadow of Ian Curtis loomed large over New Order in their earlier years, as they tried to deal and move on from an understandable void. By the time of Low-Life, their third album as New Order, they had largely become the electronic-oriented band whose sound is so recognisable, but the palpable darkness still hung over this album like a shroud.
None more so than on Elegia. A nod to Ian Curtis, this is a beautiful, slow-paced requiem that seems to exist in shades of grey, never moving into colour and is all the better for it. A seventeen-minute version of this track was confirmed as existing by New Order some years later, and to be honest is even more of a difficult listen than the originally released, five-minute take.
Dreaming a City (Hugheskova)
While since this album the Manics have spent a fair amount of time revisiting their past (with tours for The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go twentieth anniversaries, both of which were very good in different ways), the 2014 album Futurology was a striking release in that it saw the Manics trying to push forward. It also was an enormously positive, outward-looking release, one that celebrated the idea of outside influence in culture, in travel, in movement between countries and cultures.
One particularly striking track was the instrumental Dreaming a City (Hugheskova). Something I didn’t know was that Hugheskova is actually a real place. It’s the anglicised variant of original name for the city of Donetsk in Ukraine, a city founded by Welsh Industrialist John Hughes, and perhaps can be seen as nod to a time where Wales was a positive, thriving place that could export it’s ideas around the world, rather than the image now of a place that wants to isolate itself.
From the positive, outward view of the Manics, to the introverted gloom and elegance of The God Machine. A rather overlooked band by many, sadly, but perhaps that was because their music often only suited certain moods (this was hardly an album to prepare you for a night out, or as a virtual “pep talk” before something important). But revisiting it again after a few years away from it reminded me just how striking an album it is (they were using samples from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares some years before VAST (I’ve got a hunch the one used in Home is the same used by VAST in Touched, too) and others did similarly, among other things). It has a shocking intensity, with drums like rolling thunder and huge swarms of guitars, with Robin Proper-Sheppard’s strained vocals at the heart of it.
The closing Piano Song, though, is almost a cleansing from what has come before. Barely more than a piano melody, it is made that bit more different by the detritus of other studio items being moved and clattering around through it, and I wonder if it was an accidental recording that they realised was far more interesting than just clean piano sounds…
The First Five Minutes After Death
When I saw Coil suggested for this week’s list, I realised that the only place where this track could possibly fit would be as the closing song. An album that is preoccupied with sex and death (not, I guess, unusual for Coil), and it’s also not the only album of theirs to open with a track obviously about anal sex, either (see also Backwards, at least), this is not an easy listen for the most part – even the Leonard Cohen cover.
It is, though, like most Coil material, a work of striking beauty. Their sound composition work is extraordinary, with amazingly rich detail in every aspect of the mix, and Balance’s strong voice just one part of it, never dominating, and the album closes with an extraordinary instrumental. It is a piece using electronic elements that seems to take instruction from classical music, and restlessly moves through a number of distinct sections, as if ideas are bubbling to the surface and then fading as the next arrives. The concept of death in music has never sounded so alluring.