MJ Cole Selects His Top 10 Neo-Classical Tunes
I was born into classical music. My musical vocabulary started to form when I first started playing instruments at a very early age. I later discovered dance music. It was new and undefined, immediate and fast-paced, and impossible to pin down.
In contrast, the classical music I’d grown up on stayed still. It felt like there was no room for growth. I was wrong. As my career has progressed, I’ve become increasingly interested in sounds that hark back to the classical era, but which are new, exciting, and groundbreaking. The music I’m releasing this year joins the dots between classical and club, and this selection is a culmination of my influences — a “vibe bank” of sounds, textures, feelings, and colours featuring artists like Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, and Hans Zimmer. All of these have artists have been influences on my new project which is coming out this year.
Nils Frahm – My Friend the Forest
Nils is a don. This track is raw, unadulterated solo piano at its best. Full of character, piano noise, rustles, and finger taps. This is a living breathing instrument. Sensitively played, it paints a beautiful picture. I’m in love with the ending — what a capitulation.
Michael Price – Sweet Joy
I’m not usually a fan of classical singing, but this piece is exquisite. It’s beautifully emotive. The strings and voice soar above, bouncing from cloud to cloud. It’s music for the skies, for the soul. The song is inspired by the joy of bringing a new life into the world — Michael’s daughter. Wonderful.
Olafur Arnalds – Saman
Fantastically intimate and sincere. This piece caught my ear on returning from Decca with a lump of vinyl. It was the soundtrack to my Christmas last year. I now play it myself. It contains a simplicity and flow that makes it sound as though it’s always been there and could be no other way. 10ths all the way.
Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto – The Revenant Theme (Live)
This one comes from the soundtrack to the film The Revenant. The live version with electronics that I’ve selected shows us Sakamoto’s mastery of texture and space. The strings in this piece invoke human emotion and depths, which would be impossible with electronics along. There’s such majesty, poise, colour, and feeling throughout it. Highly inspiring.
Hans Zimmer – Sorrow
A small slice of atmospheric magic from Hans Zimmer, this tune is taken from the Gladiator soundtrack. It creeps in from a solitary drone and haunting eastern vocal. The strings swell and crescendo. I love the space this music creates — ethereal and open, yet dark and brooding. It’s an excellent blend of electronics and real-world instruments. Hans is the don when it comes to scoring.
Nils Frahm – Our Own Roof
There’s sadness in this music, but it’s more based in the past than the future. This is the scene in the film Victoria where the group return from the heist to the nightclub they started out in. Imagine this being played against the backdrop of a sweaty nightclub. It’s immensely powerful. A Tarantino moment. Love the sub-bass in this. Inspired me to do the same in “A Visit to Lolita” for my forthcoming Madrugada album.
Luke Howard – Hold Me Through
The chiming piano and drones in this piece define the space which is populated by electric guitar notes. I love the swarming effect of the arpeggiated synths, which open and close with added urgency and meter. Howard’s track is a single painting, a snapshot of a mood and space. It is excellently done.
Aphex Twin – Avril 14th
Aphex Twin is such a talented human. His skills extend to solo piano amongst everything else. It’s a rickety piano, but you feel its character. There’s a masterful sense of melody in this track. It contains a happiness and a sense of optimism that beams through and bathes the soul. The most beautiful music is often the simplest. I can feel the French countryside in this.
Hania Rani – Glass
This track reminds me of Philip Glass. Simple piano figures used sparingly. I love the rhythms created by the fingers on keys and the piano hammers. Sensational progressions. Minor to major. Fingernails. An expert display of skill.
Brian Eno – Reflection
What are these sounds? Take the attack away, and suddenly their audio identity disappears. The music takes on a mysterious character. It’s the stuff of dreams and makes me think of outer space. What’s out there? There’s an eeriness to this, but it’s so warm and comforting. A soft orange globe, floating in nothingness.