Earlier this week, Melbourne artist Yi-Lynn dropped her brand new single, Pixelate, and the baroque pop vibes are a dramatic change from the acoustic folk sounds of her last album. We asked her to share 5 songs that'll get us into the baroque pop world.
While the genre might seem a little obscure, baroque pop is actually everywhere, and has been since the 1960s, when people starting combining the best of classical orchestration with baroque composition techniques in the pop-song format. Most of Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? Baroque pop. That one Maroon 5 song? Actually just a re-write of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major, originally written somewhere between 1680 and the early 1700s (I'll take that musicology degree now, thanks). Like any genre, baroque pop can be used to describe songs that demonstrate the heights of human artistic achievement, and some of the steamiest musical garbage of all time. Here are five of my favourite baroque pop songs (none of them garbage).
THE BEACH BOYS - LET'S GO AWAY FOR AWHILE
It's pretty tough to talk about baroque pop without going to Pet Sounds, Brian Wilson's masterpiece which is often cited as the foundation of the genre. Every bit of the record is exquisite, even when stripped of its lush instrumentation (try listening to Peter Smith's cover of God Only Knows without crying, I dare you). But my favourite track is Let's Go Away For Awhile, two and a half minutes of instrumental paradise.
JOANNA NEWSOM - GO LONG
I've ruined myself for every musical listicle to come, because Joanna Newsom's Go Long is not only my favourite baroque pop song, it's my favourite song of all time. Most people would reach for Newsom's Ys, featuring incredible orchestration by Van Dyke Parks, as the cornerstone of her baroque pop ouvre. But with Go Long, Newsom pulls the best of baroque-style counterpoint right out of her harp, no orchestra required. When people describe Newsom's music as "twee", "elven" or "whimsical" it makes me want to throw a brick through their window, because she is the sharpest pop composer of our time (and I would gladly allow her to disembowel me).
MOONDOG - MARIMBA MONDO 2
Like all genres, baroque pop is totally made up and subjective. It'd probably be a bit much to claim Moondog as a pop musician in the same genre as Ariana Grande, but he nonetheless was a musical hero of the modern age (much like Ariana), writing some of the best 20th century counterpoint this side of Steve Reich (who has cited him as an influence). Plus, he wandered the streets of New York for 30 years wearing a cloak and a viking's helmet. My personal favourite of his is Marimba Mondo 2 from the anthology The German Years 1977–1999.
SERPENTWITHFEET - FOUR ETHERS - Four Ethers
Four Ethers begins with a pounding war drum and ominous horns, and somehow manages to build from there into a full heart attack of swooping strings and soaring vocals. serpentwithfeet smashes together classical orchestration with pop composition and RnB vocals, pushing each to their limit to create a song that's both terrifying and gorgeous. A world away from the Beach Boys.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT - GREEK SONG
It's hard to take the dandy out of baroque music, what with it borrowing so heavily from the era of powdered wigs, stockings and lace sleeves. And why would you want to? Rufus Wainwright is at his andiest in Greek Song, a song dripping in pearls and poetry. It has a kind of 'romantic-Orient-as-seen-by-the-Europeans' vibe which should annoy me, but I find myself utterly charmed.
Listen to Yi-Lynn's new single on Spotify!