Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.
Arnold Schönberg"Verklärte Nacht"
Schoenberg’s Varklärte Nacht draws all its power from its quietest moments. A string sextet playing as quietly as it can; the listener leaning in and in, searching for the sound. Makes me wonder: Instead of gigantic, monumental homages to the things we love, why don’t we build tiny, tiny tributes? No more $100-million statues, 24 metres tall. Miniscule, not majuscule. Sincerities hidden in the grass, which you have to bend down to see.
Janet Jackson -"No Sleeep" (2015)
Absent an actual heatwave, I’m making do with this. No Sleep opens and closes with what is literally a quiet storm. Janet’s first new song in seven years is absolutely sweltering. It’ll steam up your windows, it’ll tangle in your sheets. For 30 years, R&B like this has been keeping lovers up: From Janet to D’Angelo to Jessie Ware and now back to the youngest Jackson, showing off the power of murmurs, a certain BPM, rain and thunderclap.
The Monks - We Do Wie Du (1966)
Ravishingly stubborn. This is my impression of Berlin after five nights under its grey skies. A city that has hung on, rioted, celebrated; that’s now still full of raggedy punks, perverse institutions, artists grinning like death’s-heads. And changes, too: The tattooed punks have cute little kids, toddlers tottering through rose gardens; there are million-euro mansions leaning against dilapidated squats. Everyone’s smoking everywhere. Everyone’s wearing black. The sausages are so cheap that it seems stupid to eat anything else. My days are crammed with fried onions, the illuminated spike of the Fernsehturm, factories and palaces turned into dive bars and coffee shops. I find myself reaching for The Monks’ Black Monk Time, re-issued in 2009. The group started as a fairly typical garage quintet, playing Chuck Berry covers at G.I. bars in Hamburg and the environs. But under the influence of their artsy-fartsy new managers, former advertising students, the group swerved from catchy rock’n’roll to much weirder stuff – a lurching sound that now seems like the seeds of punk. The band members – all American ex-military – shaved tonsures onto their heads, hung nooses around their necks. Their hypnotic groove presages the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the Doors – and in a way it foretells the feeling of Berlin today, bedraggled and triumphant, dozens of neighbourhoods each marching to a different beat.
Weaves - Tick (2015)
I keep submitting to this track, lying down on the highway of song and getting run over. Its veering guitars are like black and yellow convertibles, fabulous hornets, leaving tire treads across my day. Singer Jasmyn Burke (formerly of RatTail) exults in the noisy summer of it all – she shrieks like Corin Tucker or Jack White, throws her wailing radio into one of Toronto’s ravines. Weaves are like a sugar-highing Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a melting lemon-drop. They’ll shout CN and TV towers into the sun.