In Defense of Instrumental Music – THE CAROLINIAN
Dozens of instrumental songs reached No. 1 on the American charts in the 20th century, but only one achieved the same feat in the 21st: Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” (which barely ranks as an instrumental). Even overplayed techno hits like Darude’s “Sandstorm” and Crazy Frog’s remix of “Axel F” didn’t make the cut. Instrumental music is still being created every day, so it’s a bit confusing to understand why this style has become increasingly unpopular with mainstream audiences.
Despite the abundance of such “Lo-Fi Study and Chill Hip Hop Beats” channels on Youtube, music listeners tend to gravitate towards any music devoid of vocals. The common mindset seems to be that vocals are needed to capture attention and drive the song. But, as the lyrics become simplistic or absurd, the less valid this excuse becomes. Shitty lyrics can dilute even the most gorgeous melody, so if anything, it’s counterintuitive to include them.
Great musicians know this, which is why some of the greatest albums of all time include instrumental songs: “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, “Kid A” by Radiohead and “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd, to recite nobody else but them. some. Even Ozzy Osbourne played a few songs on “Master of Reality” and let Tommy Iommi play a few folk songs on guitar.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s some terrible – and I mean terrible – instrumental music out there. After all, few things in life are more painful than watching a Kenny G album. But here are some modern instrumental albums worth noting:
The first is Four Tet’s 2003 album, “Rounds”. This 10-track album is often labeled as one of the most defining folktronica records of all time, due to its blend of jazz, hip-hop, folk and electronica influences. Four Tet, real name Kieran Hebden, created the album on his home computer by merging samples from around 200 to 300 records. The result is both organic and synthetic, taking melodies from acoustic instruments and turning them into glitchy beats. A recommended track is “As Serious As Your Life”, which is an example of this, starting with a catchy guitar riff that gets more and more distorted as the song progresses. Other recommended tracks include “My Angel Rocks Back And Forth” and “She Moves She”.
Up next is Ratatat’s second album, “Classics”. Ratatat had combined hip-hop, indie rock and electronic music since their debut LP, but it was the album that really perfected their signature psychedelic sound. Produced by Mike Stroud and Evan Mast, this album is widely known for its two singles “Loud Pipes” and “Wildcat”. However, the penultimate song “Nostrand” is one of the hidden gems of this album. Starting slow and mysteriously, the song builds to an epic, guitar-heavy climax after two minutes that last to the end. Other notable tracks include “Lex”, “Tropicana”, and “Tacobel Canon”.
Third, the “replica” of Oneohtrix Point Never. Although OPN is known for their heavy use of synthesizers, their 2011 release marks a departure from their typical sound. “Replica” is made up of samples from vintage TV commercials along with the occasional synthesizer and piano. Although the album contains occasional vocal samples, they are so incomprehensible that they can only be classified as instrumental. The result is an offbeat, yet calming, ambient album that rivals some of Brian Eno and Aphex Twin’s best work. The titular track and “Sleep Dealer” remain among OPN’s finest works to date, even with its recent collaborations with Iggy Pop and David Byrne.
Last, but not least, is Khruangbin’s 2018 album, “Con Todo El Mundo”. The Thai-funk-inspired trio from Houston, Texas have released non-instrumental music in the past, but their latest album excludes all melodic vocals except the faintest oohs and aahs.
The album’s best song, “Maria Tambien,” might include a faint chant of the word “Maria,” but that’s beside the point. This album shines despite the lyrics with its mix of world music, breakbeat drums and their excellent guitarist, Mark Speer. Overall, the album could serve as a movie soundtrack, capturing atmospheres and moods seconds after each song begins. Other tracks worth listening to are “Shades of Man” and “A Hymn”.
Obviously, there are many other instrumental records worth mentioning. Steve Reich’s ‘Music For 18 Musicians’, Thelonious Monk’s ‘Solo Monk’, The Meter’s self-titled LP, and nearly everything John Coltrane and Miles Davis have ever done are masterpieces in their own right. But, the fact that there are still great instrumental records coming out in the 2000s proves that wordless music still has a place in society, even if the average listener doesn’t believe it.
Categories: A&E, Arts, Arts & Entertainment