Skip to main content

The Icelandic band Sigur Ros performs at Madison Square Garden in New York, March 25, 2013.MARCUS YAM/The New York Times

BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah featuring Tree: Street Knowledge (2015)

Toronto's BadBadNotGood are the best part of Sour Soul, their full-length team-up with Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. The band's instrumentals are neither too faithful nor too modern: They're funky soundtracks for a modern film noir, shadowy men on a compact-fluorescent-lit planet. Unfortunately, I agree with the critics who have acclaimed Ghostface's guests over Ironman himself: On Street Knowledge, Tree's flow is more catchy, his advice more practical. He should have a podcast.

Nicolas Jaar: The Color of Pomegranates soundtrack (2015)

Last week, Jaar released an alternative soundtrack to Sergei Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates, one of the most strangely beautiful films of the 20th century. Jaar, an American-Chilean electronic musician, has always been a wizard of affect – weaving together organic sounds and beats in a way that evokes memory, forgetting and desire. Wisely, his soundtrack leaves the fireworks to Parajanov: Soft synths and impressionistic piano drift underneath Parajanov's stunning surrealism, the story of a poet who lives, dreams and dies. Watch it free (for now) on YouTube.

Sigur Ros: Svefn-g-englar (1999)

With Wednesday's announcement that Sigur Ros is planning a 16th-anniversary edition of Agaetis byrjun came the staggering, stomach-churning realization that it has been 16 years since the Icelanders' international breakthrough. I am old; we are all going to die. Shivering with my own mortality, I decided to revisit the album. It's still staggering, I think. It's still the kind of music that provokes long strings of adjectives – shimmering, shining, glacial, epic. But mostly its yearning, pretty noise reminds me of music's capacity to define a new landscape: to wipe away the stories of fleeing llamas, Madonna's cape, and unfurl before you a bare, awaiting world.

EasyFun: Fanta (2015)

For all those with a sneaking suspicion that we are already just bits of data floating in a giant computer brain, well: enjoy! EasyFun is the newest permutation of London's brilliant PC Music group, who gave us QT, Hannah Diamond and A.G. Cook. Like those acts, this is demented, Kool-Aid-tinted club music – an algorithmic Ace of Base. For many listeners, this genre will be the most vomitous invention since piano house. For me it's captivating: ringtone-y, fugue-like, more unsettling evidence that art is just human software.

Nina Simone: Mood Indigo (1958)

But at home mostly we've been listening to Nina Simone's Little Girl Blue, a record that feels impossibly alive even after 57 years. The opening track is all dart and swing, Bach in a rondo with Duke Ellington, and then Simone's voice like an absolute arrow out of one channel – an arrow, a lightning bolt, a diving bluebird. "You ain't never been blue/ 'til you've had that mood indigo," she sings. I don't quite get how it's a song about deepest sorrow, not with all this sonic salt and pepper, but certainly there's no better cure for the grey troubles of late February.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.