Underworld’s second album, Second Toughest In The Infants, has just been re-released as a super deluxe four-disc box set, and I’m pretty sure it would gain a place on my Music to write by playlist. The original version was released in 1996; compared with its predecessor dubnobasswithmyheadman, it took me a while to get this album. Now, it makes me think of brutalist architecture: abstract, uncompromising and starkly beautiful. And it’s ideal listening when you need to concentrate fully and write fast. The vocals are sparse and fragmented enough not to hijack your train of thought, and the first track ‘Juanita / Kiteless’ is filled with a building, nervous energy. The skittering, snapping snare and tight beats kick in straight away, grab you by the collar and say: enough procrastinating. Get on with it now.
So – what are you waiting for?
Holy Songs was a Christmas present, and it’s made its way straight onto the Music to write by playlist. You can probably imagine roughly how it sounds from the ‘things we like’ section on the NWTS website – a list that includes spring reverb, dub, John Betjeman, tape loops, Kurt Schwitters, Musik aus der DDR and The BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Obviously, it’s going to be brilliant. It’s the sort of music you hear when you lean your head against the window of a moving car or train, all drone and loose, circular melodies. There are vocals buried in there somewhere, but the words are so indistinct they’re no distraction. It’s perfect writing music. The only problem is it’s not on Spotify – instead I’ve added the only NWTS track I could find – but you can stream or buy it from Bandcamp.
Also worth checking out, if you can find it: Addressing the Haggis, an excellent lo-fi collection of Burns songs from 2013, featuring my favourite ever version of ‘Charlie Is My Darling’. Music to drink whisky by!
Apparently mild ambient noise can encourage creativity. This rings true for me: swapping my study or the quiet floor of the library for a coffee-shop often lifts me into a writing zone. I’ve always thought it’s something to do with forgetting your self; sometimes silence is too self-conscious.
Rainy Day Cafe is a great alternative to spending a fortune on Americanos, and less likely to result in caffeine jitters. And music can work too – but it has to be the right music, which for me means no words, or words that are deeply buried in the music, or words in a foreign language. I’ve started a playlist of my favourite music to write by, and the idea is to add to it till I have a whole day of inspiration. So to start off, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (any of their soundtrack compositions work for me, but White Lunar brings together some of their best stuff, and is a great place to start listening); then, developing the Warren Ellis theme, a Dirty Three track from Whatever You Love, You Are.