My Favorite New-To-Me Instrumental Albums Of 2013

Let the end-of-year lists begin! I usually listen to podcasts while working, but I started digging more into the world of instrumental records and scores this year than any other for a little wordless aural pleasure. Here are my six new go-to records when I’m in an instrumental mood.

The Enter The Dragon Score by Lalo Schifrin (1973)

I don’t think there’s much in the way of dissension when it comes to the idea that Enter The Dragon is a brilliant film. But, when watching this year, I also realized it’s got an awesome score by Lalo Schifrin. While making a purchase on Amazon earlier this year, I needed something to get up to free shipping and came across this score for a few bucks. Since then, I’ve been listening to this mellow, action-y, Asian themed music that allows my mind to wander and focus on either work or writing projects. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for more of Schifrin’s work because he was so damn good.

The Budos Band by The Budos Band (2005)

Around the time that I got Enter The Dragon, I tweeted out something along the lines of “Are there any bands that sound like they recorded the background music in Dirty Harry (also by Schifrin) or 70s cop shows?” My pal Justin Aclin responded with The Budos Band and a love affair was born. There’s a certain quality I don’t have the musical vocabulary to nail down that makes this 2005 record sound like it was made back in the 70s by a bunch of guys in huge sunglasses smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It’s basically like Justin jumped in my brain, figured out exactly what I was looking for and then gave it to me. I love this record.

Enter The 37th Chamber by El Michels Affair (2009)

At some point in the year, I came across Truth & Soul records and one of their bands El Michels Affair. They’ve got this record called Enter The 37th Chamber which is actually a series of instrumental Wu-Tang Clan covers. It’s like a more bass and drum heavy, hip hop-infused version of Schifrin’s Dragon soundtrack, which is something I very much enjoy.

Vertigo Score by Bernard Hermann (1958)

The Vertigo score was one of the many cheapo Amazon MP3 records I picked up this year. I haven’t listened to it a ton of times because it really does get under my skin with it’s beautiful, epic-ness but it really did the trick the few times I was looking for that exact feeling. I had a similar, but more intense experience with Hans Zimmer’s Inception score and really haven’t listened to it since that first time. Vertigo is by for the most orchestral record in my collection.

Cannonball’s Bossa Nova by Cannonball Adderley (1962) 

Cannonball Adderley is one my favorite jazzmen around. His track “Autumn Leaves” off of Somethin’ Else is one of my all time favorite songs. So, when I saw Cannonball’s Bossa Nova pop up on Amazon MP3 I just had to add it to my collection. Bossa Nova moves a lot more than some of the cooler jazz stuff of his I have, but it’s got great swing and makes for some nice, uptempo tunes to get through the day. This record makes me want to go on vacation REAL bad.

Downtown Rockers by Tom Tom Club (2012) 

After reading Please Kill Me, I was curious about any and all bands with connections to that punk/New Wave NYC scene. So, when I saw a Tom Tom Club record for a few bucks and read that the band consisted of Talking Head members, I was in. Turns out, though, that Downtown Rockers is a newer EP with five vocal-and-music tracks, one remix and then those first five tracks without vocals. I like the versions with words, but the instrumentals are just solid, guitar/drum/bass/electronic tracks with a few organs and other layers thrown on top that make for quality voiceless offerings. So, just imagine the above video but without all that singing and you have an idea of what I mean.

80s Odyssey: Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads

As I mentioned last week in my rambling post about my history with being a big-time fan of music, I wrote 80s music off almost entirely in my formative years with the exception of my favorite bands who happened to release their first albums in the latter part of that decade like Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Well, clearly that was a shortsighted approach to the world of music and, as a result, there’s a lot of music from the 80s that I mostly missed out on, so I’m trying to make up for that now with 80s Odyssey. There’s a lot to explore from New Wave to Hair Metal and, of course, the early days of hip hop, but I seem to be drawn towards the more pop and somewhat experimental bands of the time. I’ve picked up a few Genesis records with both Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on vocals, Collins’ No Jacket Required, a Police record or two and a few others, but the one that I can’t stop listening to is Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which I think I got at a flea market this summer. For the record, yeah, I know Talking Heads started out in the mid 70s, but I’m considering them an 80s band anyway.

I say “I think” because I bought roughly a metric butt-ton of used CDs this summer for no more than $3 apiece and honestly lost track of what I’d gotten. I’d put a stack of CDs in my car to drop off at our storage unit, but before I did, I needed something to listen to and stumbled across Stop Making Sense, popped it in and have been listening to it ever sense. I didn’t realize when I bought the CD that it’s the disc that goes along with the Brian Demme-directed concert video of the same name, I was just excited that it had so many songs I recognized like “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down The House” and “Take Me To The Water.” Now, this isn’t my first foray into the world of Talking Heads. I actually bought the second disc of their two disc greatest hits set called Sand in the Vaseline, but I didn’t listen to it much and didn’t really give it much of a chance.

One of my preconceived notions about New Wave and a lot of 80s music in general is that’s it’s too computerized and soulless. Obviously, that’s not the case for everything, but it’s something that still rattles around in my brain. What surprised me about this record is that, even while using synthesized drums and other production elements on stage, there’s still a soul to the drums and bass lines, which reminded me that anything and everything can be used by excellent musicians to make really interesting music. Speaking of interesting, it’s the perfect work to describe Byrne’s approach to vocals. He kind of sounds like that kid in school who always used a funny voice, no matter what, but while that kid came off as annoying, Byrne really adds character to the folks he’s singing about.

I was also surprised at how poppy the record sounds. Even knowing the singles, I went in expecting a more serious record for some reason. I guess I’ve always thought of Byrne as ultra serious (I have no idea why, it’s just a preconceived notion I had), but after listening to the record, I got a better sense of his humor and unconventional look at life. So, the real question is, where do I go from here? What other Talking Heads records are required listening (my buddy Jesse said not to go beyond this point)?