Three years ago I wrote about the kind of music I like to stick on when I’m writing. A good bit of music can be inspirational and atmospheric, helping you to sink into a creative state of mind. And if you’re writing in public, it can also help to block out the sounds of wailing infants and tradesmen ordering lattes.
I still listen to the music I lauded in my last blog post but, in the three years since I wrote my first list, I’ve added a few more albums to my arsenal. It’s good to have a few options for writing music as I find that as you get too familiar with something, you start engaging with it more and waiting for your favourite bits. And when you’re engaging too much with the music, you aren’t engaging enough with your writing.
So here’s a few more ideas to help channel your thoughts and block out the family argument at the next door table.
10: Sunn O))) – Kannon (2005)
At a Glance: Kannon 1
Sunn O))) are the world’s most popular drone metal band. Much as I love drone’s similarly plodding, heavy cousin doom metal, I wouldn’t really listen to drone for leisure. But blocking out the sound of what’s going on around you while you’re trying to write? Sunn O))) are noisy enough for that, and Kannon is the album I favour – half for its lack of prominent vocals, half for its cool album cover.
9: Javier Navarrete – Byzantium (2013)
At a Glance: Sonata in C Major, Opus 2, No. 3 – Adagio
This wouldn’t be a Liamsdesk list without a soundtrack to a decadent vampire film on it. Byzantium an opulent, original tale from the same director as Interview with the Vampire, and the soundtrack matches the film’s mood with elegant piano and occasional guitar crunch. Sometimes the ups and downs are too distracting for me, but this OST can be very conducive to stories in the gothic and ghostly vein.
8: Jan Harbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble – Officium (1994)
At a Glance: Parce mihi domine
Once, there was a time when this unlikely mix of monastic Gregorian chant and jazz sax would have featured higher on this list. I first heard a piece from it whilst scanning the car radio and landing on Classic FM, and I found it soothing and otherworldly. But when my wife heard it she called it whale music and now it feels too New Age-y for me.
7: Massive Attack – Collected (2006)
At a Glance: Angel
A compilation I’m afraid, but based on this best-of I’ll probably explore more of Massive Attack. Wikipedia tells me the band are trip hop, so I guess that’s what you call slow music with electronic beats, fluid ebbs and flows and catchy vocals. If you don’t know Teardrop you’ll probably recognise it when you hear it, and the rest of the album is just as strong. It’s slow and gauzy enough to encourage writing whilst remaining interesting enough to stay in your peripherals.
6: Björk – Greatest Hits (2002)
At a Glance: Play Dead
Another compilation, sorry. Much as Björk’s music is weird, I do like all the textures and rhythms she covers, and her greatest hits seemed the best way of seeing what she was a about. Because it’s still new to me, and its atmospheric, I’m finding it useful to write to, but I think it’ll ultimately go the way of Opeth’s Damnation, and I’ll become too familiar with the melodies for it to be good background music. But for now, its very conducive to writing this bjlög post.
5: Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)
At a Glance: Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times
Emperor are one of the old guard of black metal. As a genre, black metal often relies on a wall of sound assault, all tremolo-picked guitar and blastbeats. Emperor were one of the first bands to match their metal with synthesized strings, giving things a very windswept, elemental feel. Voices are croaked so there’s no intelligible vocals to distract from your writing, and the music barrels on at a pretty steady level of intensity, so you don’t get surprised out of your zone by sudden changes.
4: Ulver – Shadows of the Sun (2007)
At a Glance: Vigil
Ulver have a very eclectic oeuvre, spanning raw black metal, folk, synthpop and gothic rock. Shadows of the Sun is mostly ambient and experimental, and it’s a gorgeous listen. Its atmospheres sound like open plains, temple chambers and dusky forests. I try not to listen to this too much as, for the minute, I always find something new to enjoy in it. Its quiet and moody enough to get me in a chilled, creative state of mind.
3: Ex Eye – Ex Eye (2016)
At a Glance: Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil
I’m not sure what this is musically but Google yields a few suggested tags: black metal, jazz, post-metal. Whatever it is, it’s pretty free-form, with all the triple-timed guitar and double-kick drumming I like in very heavy metal, led by a saxophone as the lead instrument. It’s pretty exciting, and sprawling enough that you can immerse in it and let the storm wash over you.
2: Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land (1982)
At a Glance: The Lost Day
I’m a newcomer to Brian Eno – this record was recommended by Folk Horror Revival’s Field Studies collection. The music is very subtle, very low key, and ranges from vaguely wistful and desolate to full on spooky in places – those ghoulish vocals in Shadow! Not the best music for competing with noise, but great for casting a grey shadow over you whilst you write.
1: Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (2017)
At a Glance: Mirror Reaper
Mirror Reaper is one song. And at 83 minutes, it’s one long song. Bell Witch play doom metal with such an emphasis on texture that it can come across as ambient – punctuated, naturally, with huge slabs of monolithic riffing which move with all the ponderousness and power of tectonic plates. The band comprise only a bassist and drummer, though they introduce a tasteful Hammond organ which keeps things shimmery and funereal.
It’s bleak, and the rumble of its growled vocals (though there’s some angelic clean singing in the third act) mean it’s not for everyone. But I think it’s an absolute achievement, and it’s just about my favourite thing to write to – heavy and ear-filling, atmospheric, emotional. And that cover! There’s got to be a story in that alone.