My initial inspiration for this mix was the album that contains track #15, the 2012 album “A Forest” by German electronic producer Christian Löffler. His music is influenced by his surroundings in the north of Germany, by the Baltic Sea, an area he describes as “windswept yet picturesque” with “rugged beauty and wonder”.
I set out to capture some of that feeling in this mix. One deliberate strategy was to play music by artists from northern places. An accidental outcome was many tracks with strings. I will tell you about the northern places and the strings as I go along.
The first track comes from another German, Michael Rother. He’s a giant of progressive rock and electronic music because of his 70s groups Neu! and Harmonia as well as his many solo albums. This is from the 1979 solo album “Katzenmusik”.
We stay in the 70s for some Philadelphia soul by Jean Carn, with a string arrangement by Bobby Martin, a regular member of the Philadelphia International team.
Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez plays an extended improvisation accompanied by an orchestra led by Claus Ogerman. Ogerman was a prolific arranger from the 1950s through the 2000s. He collaborated with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans, George Benson, Diana Krall, and many others. He died in 2016.
Yes, I picked a song by a-ha, and not just because they’re from Oslo. You might think, especially if you’re American, that a-ha are 80s one-hit-wonders (the hit being “Take on me”). Oh, but I beg to differ. The song I chose is from 2002, so you can see that they kept making music after the 80s; their most recent album is from 2015. From the beginning, they’ve had a way with complex and often melancholy electronic pop-rock.
Eivør is a singer and songwriter from the Faroe Islands, about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. She sometimes sings in Faroese, as on this track from her 2015 album “Slør”.
Over their first three albums, the Minneapolis band Poliça developed an original sound with two drummers, bass, electronics, and vocals. For their fourth album, they expanded their sonic horizons even further by collaborating with Stargaze, a German contemporary classical ensemble with strings, woodwinds, and brass.
Icelandic electronic duo Kiasmos didn’t have to look very far for a string arrangement for this track from 2014; one of the duo, Ólafur Arnalds, spends much of his time writing film and contemporary classical music. His cousin, singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds, appeared in my last winter mix in 2018.
Blues singer Bobby Bland, sometimes known as Bobby “Blue” Bland, probably offended some of his purist fans when he made a series of albums in the 70s with the California producer Steve Barri, best known for his work with pop artists like The Turtles and The Grass Roots. The string arranger for the albums, Michael Omartian, has pop credits like Rod Stewart, Whitney Houston, and Christopher Cross. Purists might not have been happy, but I think the albums are fantastic. This song comes from the 1977 album “Reflections in Blue”.
When I got the idea to emphasize northern artists, I knew I needed a track from the album “Orkney Symphony” by The Magnetic North. The whole album is about the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland; group member Erland Cooper was born and raised there. Group member Hannah Peel provides the string arrangement.
The “northerners” I haven’t mentioned yet are CFCF, from Montréal; Jaakko Eino Kalevi, from Helsinki; and Magnet, from Bergen, Norway. The only string arranger I haven’t mentioned is Don Sebesky, who arranged the Hubert Laws track and much of the other music released on the CTI label in the 1970s.
Finally, for those of you still wondering where the name Between Two Islands comes from, it’s a Pet Shop Boys b-side. Their album “Hotspot” was released just days before I made the mix. I’m glad that one of the tracks is a perfect fit, with a positive take on the nature of darkness: “Only the dark can show you the stars”.
Listen to this mix at Mixcloud.
1. Michael Rother – Katzenmusik 5
2. Jean Carn – Don’t you know love when you see it
3. Bat For Lashes – Kids in the dark
4. Danilio Perez with Claus Ogerman – The purple condor
5. Mojave 3 – Who do you love
6. Mr. Scruff – Midnight feast
7. a-ha – Time and again
8. CFCF – Fleurs laissés dans un taxi
9. Eivør – Mjørkaflókar
10. Poliça and Stargaze – Fake like
11. Kiasmos – Held
12. Jaakko Eino Kalevi with Suad Khalifa – Double talk
13. Bobby Bland – It ain’t the real thing
14. Magnet – Chasing dreams
15. Christian Löffler – Pale skin
16. The Magnetic North – Betty Corrigall
17. Hubert Laws – No more
18. Pet Shop Boys – Only the dark