Sing us a song

There seems to be plenty more guitarists than piano players in the world. Which makes sense because although I’ve played neither, I’ve heard the piano is a good deal more difficult to play. But all that work pays off I think. Nothing sounds better than a simple piano melody.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to hear good strumming and plucking of the guitar too but it really touches something deep to hear the keys of a piano delicately, or sometimes ferociously, tapped.

Some well-known artists have showed just how beautiful the piano can sound. Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan, and Regina Spektor are only a minute example.
But there’s a fair few more out there.

Menomena might not be known for their piano playing, per se. They’re an indie group who experiment with electric beats, guitar hooks, even their vocals vary from track to track because all three members share this role. However amongst their experimental sound piano riffs often standout, proving they’re not just in it for fun (though there’s that too). They know how to pick up on the strength of a simple piano line.

Menomena – Rose [buy]

This is easily my favourite Menomena song. I’m not sure what it’s about but the piano riff is beautiful. Especially with the complementary singing.

The Cinematic Orchestra have hit their stride just only this year really. The first I heard of them was on a compilation of Radiohead covers songs, called Exit Music. The name of this band says it all. The instruments involved include saxaphone, drums, bass, guitar, trumpet and piano. Usually they go for a Jazz Fusion sound, which isn’t really my kind of music. But this beautiful tune, which has lately been one of the most popular songs on the blogosphere, caught my attention.

The Cinematic Orchestra – To Build a Home [buy]

And although I’d heard one or two of his songs on tv series Grey’s Anatomy it also forced me to recognise the brilliance of Patrick Watson (who contributed to “To Build a Home”).

This guy is a born pianist. The song below shows how skilled he really is. I’m no professional (far from it and way down the list of amateurs) but I figure you must be particularly well trained to play the piano the way he does for this song. The vocals and the guitar, all other elements to the song seem to follow on from the piano line.

Patrick Watson – Drifters [buy]

Windmill is Matthew Thomas Dillon, who is fairly new to the scene and from the sound he certainly seems to stem from the world of subpop. He sings much the way Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) does. A slight unhinging in his voice that might make you cringe if the vulnerability in the voice wasn’t so compelling. This has radio friendly pop appeal and though I think it’ll be a slow burner I can see great reception of this guy.

Windmill – Tilting Trains [buy]

Another indie pop group, the Annuals have slowly grown on me. I heard “Brother” and I liked the subtle way the song’s tune just snuck up on me. I’d been listening to it for a while, not noticing who it was; it was background music because unlike most pop it didn’t leap out at me. But later I found myself humming the song and wondering who it was before my ipod found it for me on random.
Then when I was in New York late last year I found their album on sale (because the cover was slightly damaged) and I bought it. I didn’t really listen to it for ages but again over time it has subverted my initial reaction to their music. And I’ve noticed other bloggers have been saying the same, pulling the Annuals album “Be He Me” out of their collection and listening to it and realising these guys have quietly sat themselves down next to the likes of Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene.
Piano doesn’t feature much on their album but in this song, “Father,” the piano just elevates it that little bit extra.

The Annuals – Father [buy]

Going solo Emily Haines, of Broken Social Scene, has released her own works. People who listen to Aimee Mann might be familiar with the direction Haines is coming from. Her voice tilters towards sounding languid and depressed but instead of leading her songs with her voice she seems to rely on her instruments more. When she does this with the piano it lifts her game really well and allows her to pull off a concerned, maybe even a bit sarcastic, tone, without sounding boring.
If Aimee Mann could take a page from this woman’s book she’d be once more writing songs as good as the singles she did for the Magnolia soundtrack.
For now I’m happy to play Haines when the mood strikes.

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton – Our Hell [buy]

Another beautiful songstress, Sia (Furler) has gone from an overproduced r ‘n b sound to a more refined sultry sunny sunday afternoon melancholic mood. Born in Adelaide and now living in the UK this woman’s voice and soft touch has helped her find her way to working with Zero 7.
However no song quite sets her apart from everyone else as “Breathe Me.” A lot of people finally recognised this gorgeous and sad song when it was played in full in the closing scene of series Six Feet Under. Not much is done with piano here but the melody never sounds repetitive.

Sia – Breathe Me [buy]

And I’ll leave you with a well respected artist, Antony Hegarty, who leads Antony and Johnsons. His voice is quite strange and elusive. Not quite male, not quite female. But this just allows him a great vocal range so it doesn’t turn me off his music in the least. And he knows how to utilise the instruments around him.
This piano-heavy, guitar accompanied song shows what he can do with ease.

Antony and the Johnsons – The Lake [buy]

I really love Menomena’s music videos. Check some of them out via youtube:

Rotten Hell

Cough Coughing

Wet and Rusting

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