It’s been seven long years since we last heard from Canadian chamber folk three-piece Musk Ox. If you’re unfamiliar, their 2014 opus Woodfall has since become a critically acclaimed classic in the genre, sitting in the Top 40 of all time under the Rate Your Music dark folk charts. After all this time, we finally have a follow up with Inheritance, which saw release this summer. The record is deeply melancholic, atmospheric, and technically intricate. We reached out to the members of Musk Ox to pick their brains about the music that inspired such soundscapes, and more deeply, informed their passion with music and their respective instruments. Get a glimpse of The Anatomy Of Musk Ox below.
Nathanael Larochette (classical guitar)
Nest – Woodsmoke (2003)
Known in part for his early collaboration with Pacific Northwest metal legends Agalloch, Nest remains one of the most unique and captivating dark/nature folk projects. I still remember being immediately transported by the album artwork the first time I saw it and when I managed to track down a copy of the album I was completely absorbed. People often struggle to discern the folk influences in Musk Ox due to our classical instrumentation but to me folk has more to do with the spirit and atmosphere of the music. After nearly two decades Woodsmoke remains a masterclass in both.
Dusan Bogdanovic – Mysterious Habitats (1995)
When I first started learning classical guitar I met someone who was studying the instrument in university who he gave me the following advice: “Learn something very easy, then learn something incredibly difficult.”. When my guitar teacher gave me the music for this album’s title track, I kept this advice in mind as I slowly wrapped my hands around a piece I struggled to believe I was capable of learning. After playing this composition now for 15 years, I’m still blown away by its mesmerizing blend of technique, melody and intricate polyrhythms. The influence that Dusan Bogdanovic and this particular piece have had on my playing is immense, so I highly recommend this album to metal fans interested in the proggier side of classical guitar.
Raphael Weinroth-Browne (cello)
David Darling – Cello (1992)
This enigmatic and elusive offering from the late great American cellist David Darling, simply titled Cello, is possibly the album I’ve listened to the most in my life, and it left a profound impact on the way I approach the cello as a creative artist and composer. Having already been familiar with some of Darling’s other work (such as the similar and also excellent album Darkwood) I impulsively picked up Cello at an obscure record shop here in Ottawa named Sounds Unlikely. The record is framed by the recurring movements “Darkwood I – III”, which feature only a solemn and lonely melody with no accompaniment, and another triptych, also spread across the album, consisting of the tracks “No Place Nowhere”, “Two Or Three Things (for Jean-Luc Godard)”, and “In November”, all of which paint a landscape of bleak gloom with their densely layered chords.
“Fables” and “Indiana Indian” seem to instill a sense of childlike wonder and awe; tracks such as “Lament” and “Choral” evoke indescribable sorrow, and “Psalm” and “The Bell” speak the language of hopelessness and despair itself. Throughout, Cello exudes a starkness and austerity that is beautifully haunting, and for me it has never lost its staying power, even after hundreds of listens. This is perhaps due to its oblique and mysterious nature – a vision shrouded in impenetrable darkness. This is the album that inspired me to create layered cello arrangements, both on my own records and on sessions for clients. My solo album Worlds Within owes a great deal to Cello, both in its atmospheric quality and elemental landscape, but also its form, with recurring pieces containing subtle variations. I’m not sure I would be the musician I am today without this album.
L’Ham de Foc – Cor de Porc (2005)
This album was my introduction to the incomparable Valencian group L’Ham de Foc. I first heard their music on a campus radio program (incidentally hosted by Tony Daye who also ran the record store where I bought Cello). While I had been exposed to a lot of Mediterranean music before hearing L’Ham de Foc, their music was really a game changer for me. Cor de Porc, their third release, is an absolutely enchanting listen, replete with virtuosic performances and crystal clear production. Before entering the studio, the duo of singer Mara Aranda and multi-instrumentalist Efrén López spent six months in Thessaloniki to study the music of the Ottoman Empire that is still alive and being played on the oud in Turkey, Greece and Armenia. The vast range of influences and the vividness of detail on this album make it a true delight for the ears.
The opening track, “Voldrien”, sets the stage for the album, beginning with a delicate, intricate saz introduction before launching into a dramatic and heavy groove. The intensity of the riff and its jagged syncopations give it an undeniably metal feel, even though it is fully acoustic and very much tied to Turkish and Greek traditions. Interestingly, I discovered this album around the same time that Tool’s 10,000 Days came out, and to me this introduction has a great deal in common with the song “Vicarious”. Similarly, the second track, “Per la boca”, kicks in with a high energy,
rolling 5/8 pattern; the graile (an oboe-like instrument from Languedoc, France) carries the melody during the louder instrumental passages while delicate verses are punctuated with tabla. After an improvisatory opening, the epic “Encara” launches into a rapid rhythmic cycle with an extended tombak solo section, while tracks such as “Historia curta d’un vent” and “Angels de menta” are transcendent in their sheer beauty. Throughout the record, the combination of saz and frame drums feels distinctly heavy and aggressive – it definitely hits hard. As someone passionate about both progressive metal and non-Western traditional musics (particularly from the Mediterranean and Middle East), I instantly felt an affinity for the language of Cor de Porc.
Cor de Porc showcases Efrén López’s incredible versatility on a vast array of instruments, such as the saz, hurdy gurdy, oud, Afghan rubab, and qanun to name but a few, and after discovering L’Ham de Foc’s other two excellent albums, I have since ardently followed his solo work and extensive collaborations with Stelios Petrakis, and as part of the experimental-progressive trio E.A.R. and his latest trio 3,14. Mara Aranda’s voice has the precision of a laser as well as a seductive, exotic flair. The duo are joined by an all-star cast of musicians in an album that remains as enthralling now as it was when I first heard it at the age of 14.
There is something absolutely timeless and otherworldly about Cor de Porc which I’ve always reveled in – it is truly a feast of exquisite sounds, woven into memorable compositions and finely-tuned arrangements with a level of detail that matches the arabesques that adorn its album cover. This record holds a special place in my heart as it led me to discover both the singularly brilliant L’Ham de Foc catalogue and Efrén López’s subsequent (and equally transportive) releases over the past 15 years.
Evan Runge (violin)
311 – Music (1993)
I discovered 311 in my late teens during a particularly happy and fulfilling time of my life. What made these few years so thrilling and exhilarating was the connection I felt with the group of friends I had made and how the music I discovered through them at our weekly house parties enhanced these amazing feelings. The album Music by 311 was one of my best friend’s favourite bands. Until this day when I think of 311 I think of him and of us head banging and having the time of our lives. What I like most about this album is how upbeat and funky it is. The lead singers, Nick Hexum and “P-Nut” compliment one another so well, each having such distinct and contrasting tones and bringing so much energy to the songs that you can’t help but feel the excitement in that moment. The songs on the album have such interesting groovy riffs which defines their unique style, a hodge-podge of hip hop and heavy rock. I was also a big fan of their subsequent albums Grassroots and Transistor.
Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow (1997)
I discovered this album when I was eighteen years old and it is an album that I would listen to on a daily basis for months. At that time of my life music was like a drug to me and when I put on a good song my energy would be so high that I was euphoric. That would happen every time I would play So Much for the Afterglow. Whenever I would hear the first notes of the band members humming acapella, my mind would start to get in a euphoric state and when the band went heavy my whole body and mind would be vibrating with intense energy. Hearing this music amplified the awesomeness that was happening in my life. Every song on the album has a catchy chorus that keeps you engaged and wanting more. I was enraptured by Art Alexakis’ voice which complimented so eloquently with the band. This album is a representation of how music is an expression of energy that can make you feel as if you are on top of the world. Having this music in my life, I really did feel like the luckiest man alive.
Musk Ox’s new album Inheritance was released independently July 9th. Give the record a listen via the Bandcamp player below.