Gildan's Guide to Good Music
The world of music is a vast ocean of crap - join me on a voyage to the tiny isolated islands of excellence.
As the tagline not so subtly suggests, it's really easy to find terrible music - you have but to turn on your radio, and lo, bad music abounds. The good stuff though, well that's rarely quite so easy to find, and while some popular music actually deserves the accolades it receives, most excellent music languishes in comparative obscurity. And that's where I come in!
If it's thought provoking, epic, eccentric, or exceptional (or possibly all of the above), I take it upon myself to write about it in the hope that at least one of the comparative handful of people who actually read my rambling and
rampantly egotistical definitely quite humble reviews will find it useful - or if not useful, at least momentarily entertaining; I take what I can get really.
After a conspicuous absence from the "reviewing circuit" that can be entirely attributed to me faffing about for the better part of two months, I have returned once more to regale you with my enthusiastic proclamations and lavish praise on music I deem "good" -
tremble before me and despair! I mean commence rejoicing of course, I don't even know where that despair bit came from. As I intimated at the end of my last segment, this time around I'll be talking about something a bit... different.
Agua de Annique
Musical Genre: Alternative Rock, Pop Rock
Running Time: 52 minutes
# of Tracks: 13
Particularly noteworthy songs: The Blower's Daughter, Beautiful One, To Catch a Thief
Anneke van Giersbergen is, as I've remarked in the past, hardly a household name in my neck of the woods - I'm fairly confident that accosting random acquaintances to find out if they've ever heard of her would yield me a harvest of blank looks all around. Her name is one that I have a great deal of fondness for however, for a variety of reasons which I will now proceed to ramble about for a while, if that's all right with you. Or even if it's not, it's not like you can stop me, now can you? Mwah ha ha ha!!
Where was I? Right, reasons I love Anneke van Giersbergen! Well first and foremost, there's her long association with Dutch Ambient Metal band The Gathering, where she was the lead vocalist from 1994-2007, a tenure that produced 6 excellent albums that I'm somewhat ashamed to say I've never listened to as albums; judging by the various tracks I've heard from them over the years though I can safely conclude that I would/will enjoy them in that context if/when I get around to it. Then there's her collaboration with Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project on the albums Into the Electric Castle and 01011001, which were both bloody fantastic; it's worth noting that being associated in any way with Arjen Lucassen can only make me like you more, heh.
The single biggest reason I hold her in such high regard though can be traced back to something that I've talked about previously in this guide: The Devin Townsend Project album Addicted. It was the name recognition she held in my mind courtesy of her work with The Gathering and Ayreon that got me listening to Devin Townsend; if it weren't for her, I might never have discovered just how freaking awesome Townsend is (a chilling thought to say the least!), so I am understandably quite grateful that circumstances conspired in the order that they did to produce that outcome.
So with that in mind, what then is Agua de Annique? So glad that I hallucinated you asking! Agua de Annique is Anneke's current solo project, which she left The Gathering to pursue. Surprisingly enough, given her musical background and past history of collaborations, it isn't in any way shape or form a Metal band. Nope, Agua de Annique is an Alternative Rock band specializing in music that is both contemplative and upbeat in equal measures (shocking!). If it weren't for that key element it possesses, namely that nobody here has bloody heard of it, it would fall pretty much exactly under my personal "music I might happen to like but would certainly never write a Guide to Good Music article about" mental file that I relegate any stand out examples of mainstream music into.
Pure Air is the band's second album (following their first release Air), and as much as I would like to tapdance around just what makes me talking about this particular album so unusual (yes, there's an even bigger reason beyond "it's not Metal!"), so I can drag out the surprise of the eventual reveal, I decided that would be kind of annoying. So instead I'm just going to spell it out right now:
Pure Air is an acoustic cover album.
Yes indeed, I am talking about an album that consists entirely of acoustic covers - feel free to boggle for a while.
All right, now that you're all done with that, allow me to tell you why it's wonderful and totally worth listening to. Pure Air is a mixture of old and new, well known and obscure, and what might seem to be random selections often have an underlying reason to them. 4 of the 13 tracks are acoustic reworkings of songs from Air, and 8 out of the 13 tracks feature either a guest vocalist singing with Anneke, or in the case of the track "Valley of the Queens", a guest musician: Arjen Lucassen (yay!), which makes perfect sense when you realize that "Valley of the Queens" was one of the songs that Anneke originally sang on the Ayreon album Into the Electric Castle.
There are similar stories behind the inclusion of other songs on the album - Niels Geusebroek from Silkstone peforms on two tracks, one of which is appropriately enough a Silkstone cover, Sharon den Adel from Within Temptation lends her voice to a cover of "Somewhere", a song that Anneke has performed with her live as a duet on multiple occasions (recorded for posterity on the live albums Black Symphony and An Acoustic Night at the Theatre respectively), and John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) performs a duet with Anneke on a cover of the Wetton/Downes song "To Catch a Thief"; in the course of researching this piece I learned that the original version was also a duet between Anneke and Wetton, who was a guest vocalist on that particular album, so it makes perfect sense that they would collaborate again on this rendition.
The rest of the tracks don't appear to have any deeper story to them beyond "they sound nice when performed as an acoustic cover", but I'm certainly not going to complain about that when they feature guest vocalists like Danny Cavanagh from Anathema (love his voice): this is an album full of contemplative, serene, and haunting performances; if it weren't for the cover of the Alanis Morissette song "Ironic" (much maligned by internet pundits because nothing described in the lyrics is actually ironic), I wouldn't hesitate to call it perfect. With that song on the track list though I have to bump it down to merely almost perfect (and Anneke's version is better than the original - the song itself is still stupid though). I don't know about you, but I can live with almost perfect.
Due to YouTube being spectacularly unhelpful today, I was unable to turn up anything but live performances of several of the tracks that I wanted to embed here, so I've settled for my standout favorite track on the album "To Catch a Thief" and "Somewhere", since those were the ones that I could find.
I can only hope that you derive an equal measure of the pure undiluted joy I experience when listening to every track on this album that is not "Ironic" (so stupid!), and that you've enjoyed my completely characteristic rambling on on a rather uncharacteristic subject - if not, well there's always next time I suppose!
Or right now, if my embedded subliminal message does the trick You saw nothing, nothing I say! ...Ahem, right, this is the part where I traditionally suggest you keep reading my Guide to Good Music articles or the bombs will go off and it will be all your fault, so if you could just pretend that I've done something roughly along those lines while I track down whichever of my personalities is inserting these ridiculous falsehoods into my fine upstanding music column, before confronting it atop an ominous obsidian spire embedded in the caldera of an active volcano in a metaphorical battle to the death, that would be great! Really frees up my afternoon that way.
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