By Jolie Klefeker
Finals is right around the corner, and I always like to use stressful times like these to recommend some practical music for studying or just getting stuff done. Today's mix features instrumental music or music with gentle, muted vocals to serve as a non-distracting backdrop to a hopefully productive finals season.
Ethiopia's Hailu Mergia was a pretty influential guy on the Addis Ababa scene back in the 70s. He played accordion and organ in the influential Walias band that, due to strict curfews, would often play through the night until 6 a.m., when the curfew lifted. These guys were rockstars, and Hailu Mergia still is. He had kind of fallen off of the music map for a while, living and working as a cab driver in the Washington, D.C. area, but recently he's had his music reissued and he's making some new stuff. "Wede Harer Guzo," recorded in 1978, is my study pick. It's a raw soul-jazz record that has a lovely, warm, vintage feeling and features unobtrusive, gentle but groovy vocals. This one is hard to dislike: It's passionate, easy to listen to and a classic in my books.
Maria Teresa Luciani is a mystery. There isn't a lot known about her, and original copies of her music are basically near impossible to find. It's understandable why she is in such high demand, "Sounds of the City" is an impossibly complex maze of tape loops, samples, found sounds and a genre-breaking suite of experimental sounds. This record is difficult to describe. It's simultaneously everything and nothing but best imagined as a landscape — an immersive environment ripe for exploration. Prepare for hypnotic layers of repetition and so much great, spacey, echoey, reverb. Take a mental vacation from finals, put this one on and walk around inside a parallel universe.
Pram's "The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small... Stay as You Are" is whimsical, experimental and beautiful. Taking on a cinematic feeling, the album incorporates a wide range of instruments and timbres, navigating us through some a confusing dreamscape. Influences of jazz, krautrock and early experimental rock are clear throughout, however their sound is difficult to place. It's avant-dream-pop, it's neo-psych and shoegaze all at once while maintaining a sense of subtlety and a very well-curated sound. This album gets extra credit for being named after a quote from Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Massage." For fans of Broadcast or Stereolab.
I will start by saying that I have never seen the French film "La Scoumoune," but that does not stop me from recommending its soundtrack. The movie is about getting tangled up with some bad people, being sent to prison and planning an escape, which is why this is the perfect soundtrack to a week of finals. Composer Françoise Roubaix crafted a very distinct sound for the film. It's dynamic, with a very tinkery, playful sound, and is based entirely around a principal melody that sneaks its way into most of the songs, giving a cohesive, not monotonous, feeling. For something a little mischievous and lighthearted, throw this one on.