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Tom Tobben

Posts: 1,163
Reply with quote  #1 

Back from the 1950s through mid-1970s, pop and rock instrumentals were staples on popular radio, and some as well on alternative rock stations.  Since then, we still hear occasional popular or rock instrumentals, but they are certainly less common in contemporary popular and rock music. (As some of you know from our battles in past years, I'm a big fan of good instrumental songs.)

Thus, for this week's battle we will explore instrumental songs by popular artists that have been recorded and released in the past several years (since 2013), in order to sample some of the best recent instrumentals that have been released and to determine which recent instrumental songs we like best.

As others have found in recent months for our BOTBs, more songs by more artists are being blocked on public access sites like YouTube, so I wasn't able to use a couple songs that I had hoped to use in this week's battle. But, I have zeroed in on four good instrumentals that I believe all of our participants should be able to view and hear.

1) First, from Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods' 2013 album, Easton Island, is this tasty surf rock song, "Sir Surfalot". It is noteworthy that all songs on this contemporary album by this noted member of the Cars are instrumentals and are heavily influenced by the sounds of old exotica, tiki lounge music, and surf instrumentals. One of the four official members of the Tiki Gods is Nick Walusko of Brian's band and formerly of the Wondermints. Nick also co-wrote or wrote a number of songs on the Easton Island album. Likewise, a number of other members of Brian's band were additional instrumentalists on the album -- Darian Sahanaja, Mike D'Amico, Probyn Gregory, and Paul Mertens, so this song also has a strong Brian Wilson and Wondermints connection:

2) Next, Johann Johannsson  is a popular composer and pianist/keyboard player from Iceland. He has released a number of his own albums over the past 15 years, but he has also become well-known for the films he has scored during the past five years, such as The Theory of Everything (2014), Sicario (2015), and Arrival (2016), plus the upcoming movies Bladerunner 2049 and Mother!

In 2016, Johannsson released another fine new album of his own, Orphee, which was inspired by the ancient Roman poet Ovid's interpretation of the classic Orpheus myth. Perhaps best known from that album is this week's second battle contestant, "Flight from the City", a lovely, subdued piano-led instrumental:

3) Third, from Brian Wilson's excellent 2015 album, No Pier Pressure, is Brian's lovely instrumental, "Half Moon Bay", featuring longtime jazz trumpeter Mark Isham. The song's title is taken from the title of an album of the same name by jazz pianist Bill Evans, recorded in 1973 and released in 1998. But this week's battle song is a delightful Brian Wilson / Joe Thomas original from the No Pier Pressure album:

4) Our final contestant comes from Santana's excellent 2016 album, Santana IV, which features five of the original/early members of the Santana band (Carlos Santana, Neil Schon, Gregg Rolie, Michael Shrieve, and Michael Carabello). As with so many previous Carlos/Santana albums dating back to their very first album in 1969 and their landmark appearance at Woodstock that same year, there are a handful of fine instrumentals on this album. For this week's battle, we will feature Carlos Santana's lovely melodic instrumental "Suenos" (which means "dreams" in English) from the Santana IV album. Because we had trouble finding a single song clip that worked in our participating countries, I have included below several different videos of this same identical song that work in our different participating countries, so that at least one will hopefully work for all of you:

If none of these work in your particular country and if you are not able to find a version on the internet that does work, please let Darren or me know and we'll try to find one that does work for you.  

In summary, and for your cut-and-paste convenience, our four contestants this week are

"Sir Surfalot", Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods

"Flight from the City", Johann Johannsson

"Half Moon Bay", Brian Wilson

"Suenos", Santana


In addition to your votes and comments, please add some of your favorite popular instrumentals from recent years (let's say from the past decade, 2007-present) to give us all a better sense of the good popular instrumental music that continues to be made by today's contemporary artists.

Cindy Hood

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Posts: 1,522
Reply with quote  #2 
It's a rainy Monday morning here in NC.  It's so quiet that all you can hear is the light pitter patter of the rain.  What a perfect backdrop to 3 of these fine songs!

GOLD:  Santana for Suenos.  This one is like finding buried treasure.  Just exquisitely gorgeous!  I'm really going to have to dig into Santana's music seriously.  

SILVER:  Brian Wilson for Half Moon Bay.  Not far behind my gold choice, this one has a similar vibe and is very beautiful.

BRONZE:  Johann Johansson for Flight From the City.  Very tranquil and beautiful.  The first three have set the mood for this quiet rainy day.

TIN/PEWTER:  Tiki Gods for Sir Surfalot.  And there's this one that snapped me out of my moment of zen.  Still good though.

My final answer.

Tom, thanks for these very unique songs in this week's battle.  Well done.

"They're not gonna catch us. We're on a mission from God".
Peter Simpson

Posts: 837
Reply with quote  #3 
An easy gold for me - Jóhann Jóhannsson. I've been a huge fan since I discovered his music in a record store in Reykjavik on a visit there in 2004. Last week, I actually got to meet him at a concert in Manchester. In fact, we discussed this piece a little. I told him I'd been trying to figure out how to play it and could he please release some more sheet music. He said that that was something they wanted to do. Very friendly and modest guy and meeting him was as big a thrill for me as meeting Brian Wilson. Anyway - I love this track and the whole album it comes from. Worth investigating, as is his performance on KEXP in Seattle (where I also saw him in concert later the same day earlier this year).

(If you like Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream, check out his "Arrival" soundtrack too).

Silver goes to Brian. This was one of my favourite tracks on No Pier Pressure. I love the sound Mark Isham makes. I have one of his Windham Hill albums "Vapor Drawings". 

Then it gets tough, but I think Bronze to the Tiki Gods, which was new to me
Tin to Santana, which is fine, but similar to what we've heard before.

Good one Tom.

Larry Franz

Posts: 555
Reply with quote  #4 
I've got the same reaction as last week: No love and no active dislike.

Gold -- Brian Wilson -- I left it in my abbreviated No Pier Pressure/That's Why God Made the Radio playlist. A pleasant interlude. 

Silver -- Santana -- Well done, but Latin-flavored music isn't my thing.

Bronze -- Jóhann Jóhannsson -- I'd happily play this again, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression and could easily fade out three minutes sooner or later.

Pewter -- Tiki Gods -- A pretty good surf instrumental.

A surf instrumental from t. bedford's instrumental week last month:

La Luz, "T.V. Dream" (just under the wire: from 2013)

Tom Tobben

Posts: 1,163
Reply with quote  #5 
Well, a light first day, but thanks to Cindy, Pete, and Larry for getting this week's votes and comments off to a start.

Cindy, I'm glad you enjoyed these songs so much and that most of them fit the mood of the day for you. And, if the Tiki Gods' song was too up-tempo for your mood, I was actually hoping to use another song from that album, titled "Sydney's Samba", but we couldn't find a video of it that played everywhere internationally. So, here for you and anyone else here who can play it, is "Sydney's Samba", also from the Tiki God's Easton Island album:

And here's another laid-back song, "Jill's Theme", from the same album:

And another, "Raratonga":

Also, if you liked Santana's "Suenos" so much (which I do too),  there are also several other instrumentals (mostly up-tempo) on the recent Santana IV album. And if you go back to earlier Santana albums, in addition to all the good vocal hits, there are plenty of good instrumentals, both dreamy like "Suenos" (e.g., Samba Pa Ti, Bella, Europa, El Farol, Flor de Luna (Moonflower), Song of the Wind, Treat) and plenty more up-tempo Latin, African, or rock flavored instrumentals (e.g., Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Incident at Neshabur, Jugando, Se Acabo, Toussaint L-overture, Waves Within). Here's another nice one, but more up-tempo, from the Santana IV album, "You and I":

Pete, thanks for the additional information about Johann Johannsson and his music, including the long video segment and interview about his music. As you suggested, I sampled some of the music from his Arrival movie soundtrack, and it is certainly atmospheric and well-connected with the changing moods of the film. I thought his score for the main theme of The Theory of Everything was brilliant and fit in so well with the mood of the movie. Here's one example, titled "Forces of Attraction", for others to hear:

sorry if none of these instrumental songs particularly appealed to you. Thanks also for reminding us of the recent La Luz instrumental from t's battle a few weeks ago. It's too bad that more bands and artists don't focus on creating new instrumentals these days, unlike the earlier years of rock and roll, R&B, country/bluegrass, pop, and adult contemporary music. 

Looking forward to everyone else's votes, comments, and other instrumentals from recent years that you have enjoyed.


Larry Franz

Posts: 555
Reply with quote  #6 

Tom -- They all appeal to me, but not in the sense of wanting them as significant others. It seems like instrumental rock needs to be extra special to make a big impression, on me anyway. For instance, the first Spotify playlist I made of favorite songs three years ago has 210 entries. Only three of them are totally instrumental. (Although I'd have included "Albatross" if I'd thought of it.) Two more would be considered instrumental although words are spoken. Maybe because rock mostly includes singing, there's less to love (something missing) if it's only instruments?

This Will Destroy You, "Dustism" (2014)

Lower Case Noises, "The Last Stage of Consumption" (2017)

Lee Marshall

Posts: 2,378
Reply with quote  #7 
Okee Dokee then...  Here we go...

"Half Moon Bay", Brian Wilson.  There was a time when Brian and instrumentals were an ongoing part of, seemingly, every new album all the way back to Surfin Safari.  Really ODD for a band best know for its vocal performances and the arrangements which made them soar to do it but it worked.  THIS song was a most welcome part of the excellent NPP l.p.  It helped to make the album FULL.

"Sir Surfalot", Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods.  Reminds me of Los Strait Jackets.  Fun.  Well done.  Edges Carlos by a nostril hair...but only by that hair.

"Suenos", Santana.  This one is almost good enough for gold let alone bronze.  Carlos knows how to capture a mood and bring it to life with his fingers.  I just wasn't in THAT mood today.

"Flight from the City", Johann Johannsson.  I guess I'm either impatient or marginally in a LARGE hurry but this one just never ever really seemed to kick into gear.  It's still sitting back there just this side of the starting line.  Where?  At the Farthest Nearaway Place.


Posts: 2,996
Reply with quote  #8 
Gold - Brian - I find myself gravitating more and more to this song when I play tracks from NPP.  

Silver - Santana - Great guitar player.  I really should explore his back catalog a bit more

Bronze - Elliott Easton - One of my favorite Cars

Tin - JJ 
Lee Marshall

Posts: 2,378
Reply with quote  #9 
Here's some stuff...

This band was 1/2 Canadian.  Produced by the Doors 'guy' Paul Rothchild.

That other California band who knew how to write great songs and sing 'em.

I mentioned these guys earlier..Thanks to Brifan/Kevin for the introduction to... ... ...

Larry Franz

Posts: 555
Reply with quote  #10 
More contemporary stuff:

Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, "Independence Day" (the Elliott Smith song) from their unimaginatively-titled album Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau (2017)

Chip Wickham, "Pushed Too Far" (2016)


Posts: 1,194
Reply with quote  #11 
GOLD Santana - Perhaps coincidental but I'm hearing "Autumn Leaves meets James Bond" (and with a name like that, she probably did.  I think I've only watched one movie all the way through - Golden Eye).

SILVER Johannsson.  Repetitively haunting or vice versa.  Whatever, I love it...not as much as the top one obviously.


TIN Isham/Wilson

Great 'chilling out' music, which I probably need.

That's probably the first time BW-related songs have got my lowest placings.  Still good, but beaten by two I'd never heard before.

Second half mainly

Goosebumps at 2:35-2:37

I very likely posted both suggestions on a previous instrumental battle
John B

Posts: 2,174
Reply with quote  #12 
This is the rare contest, where my votes match Kds'.

1. 'Half Moon Bay'.

(wonder which parts are credited to Joe?  could it be, they copyrighted a version with lyrics, such as
'Half Moon Bay, it's fully sustainable and locally sourced, I'd say.'   Something like that?

The place is very special, and I will take my Mom there next weekend I think.  (she is visiting from Texas).  Last
weekend, it was Monterey (we did scuba suits in 58F water), this weekend, Surf City.  Nah, I'm kidding.  'Surf City' if real, is not Santa Cruz (although the 100 year-old seaside amusement park is GREAT), but Huntington Beach.  I admit it.

2. Carlos Santana

Suenos', which I believe means "tired'.  This should be a movie song. Wonder if he has a song called "Flojos".? 

3. 'Tiki Gods' Sir Surfalot  (although points down, cause the video makes no sense)

4. 'Jake Johanson'  (great comedian), no wait, I meant Johann Johannsson, ' "Flight From the City".  What the heck is going on in that video?  an exorcism?
Darren J. Ray

Posts: 3,431
Reply with quote  #13 

Challenging week Tom. I listened to each track many times each day.

Gold - Sir Surfalot (Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods - 2013)
Doesn’t overstay its welcome. A surf sound akin to ‘Voyage Around the Moon’ by The Saturn 5 (link below, which some of you won’t be able to view), which was recorded August 4, 1963 at the Platterland Studio in Los Angeles for Play-Tone Records, and would’ve gotten my Gold.

Silver - Flight from the City (Jóhann Jóhannsson - 2016)
Sounds like an ad for sanitary napkins. Looks like one, too. And I heard it again when I sat through the entire near 50 minute clip that Pete posted. Jóhann’s cool. The gushing, coying, pony-tailed dee-jay, not so. Six and a half minutes all around the same motif is fine. It’s also a cure for insomnia. But, hey, we all need to sleep. I like it.

Bronze - Seuños (Santana - 2016)
Wasn’t sure where to place this. It has its place. Just, its place is not in my record collection. It starts off like a new James Bond theme, and then the melody kicks in, appropriating the openings to ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ and ‘The Stranger’. Pity. It’s a nice, hybrid tune. ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘Besame Mucho’ are somewhere in there, too.

Participant - Half Moon Bay (Brian Wilson featuring Mark Isham - 2015)
The name says Brian Wilson, but I don’t hear him. Non-threatening. Non-anything. Features a trumpet. 

bonnie bella

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Posts: 2,043
Reply with quote  #14 
Hi Tom.

An interesting week.  How do we avoid techno?  


Clowns divorce: custardy battle.     Simon Munnery

Tom Tobben

Posts: 1,163
Reply with quote  #15 
Back for a midweek check-in...Thanks to Lee, kds, DAN, John B., and Darren for your votes and related comments. And thanks also to Larry, Lee, DAN, Darren, and bonnie for the additional contemporary instrumental songs/artists and related commentary. 

Larry, thanks for all those new/recent instrumentals by lesser-known artists. I had a hard time relating to "This Will Destroy You" (post-rock, hmmm?) while the Lowercase Noises piece was a more subdued mood piece and was OK. I liked your last two the best -- "Independence Day" and Chip Wickham's laid back "Pushed Too Far". Both were pretty subdued but certainly pleasant.

Lee, thanks for your votes, comments, and instrumental videos. It's interesting that Brian's "Half Moon Bay" seems to be a bit of a polarizer so far. Will be interesting to see how Brian's latest instrumental piece fares this week. Besides your two oldies instrumentals ("Apricot Brandy" and "Buzzsaw" (well, mostly instrumental anyway, but fun), I especially got a kick out of Los Straitjackets' "Space Mosquito".

What a hoot these guys are! I'd never heard them before, so I checked them out on Google and Amazon and found they've recorded a number of albums over the past couple decades and have a variety of songs on YouTube. I checked out a number of them, and they were all fun (including their recent song "Jet Set" from their 2012 album of the same name, and their slightly risque live version of "Sleep Walk" featuring dancer Angi Pontani). I may have to order their latest album to check them out further! Thanks for bringing them to us this week (and thanks to former longtime blueboarder and past BOTB participant Kevin/Brifan for making you aware of them -- I hope he resurfaces here again sometime in the future).

kds, thanks for your votes. Nice to see you're a fan of "Half Moon Bay". It really is a lovely piece. There's a lot of back catalogue from Santana, but there are some lovely, distinctive slow songs and rocked-up selections to be found. I enjoy his hybrid blend of pop, rock, Latino, and African music styles, sometimes separate and sometimes blended together on songs or albums.  

DAN, thanks for your votes. Yes, Santana's "Suenos" is a lovely piece, isn't it? You're right -- that intro section especially, certainly does have a certain James Bond feel to it. Thanks for your added recent instrumentals. I especially liked Fleet Foxes' "The Cascades". I'm a big fan of their music -- just wish I'd get to hear more from them before too long. 

John B., apparently Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, must be a lovely place. That setting was also the inspiration for the Bill Evans jazz album that was recorded all those years ago.  Santana's music "flojos"? (tired, weak, lazy?) -- Never thought of it that way, even though some songs sound fairly similar over the years. 

Darren, that "Voyage Around the Moon" by The Saturn 5, from the Tom Hanks movie, That Thing You Do, certainly does have a similar feel as the Tiki Gods' "Sir Surfalot". Didn't recall that one from the movie, but it's been a number of years since I last watched it. I see that you're also one who's not too fond of Brian's selection this week -- another one of his occasional instrumental mood pieces.

Perhaps you don't like Brian's "Half Moon Bay", but for those who do, there's a lovely live version of it, featuring Mark Isham on trumpet/coronet, on the recent Brian Wilson & Friends CD/DVD from a year or two ago, which I couldn't find on YouTube to share here. For people who like the No Pier Pressure album, this combined CD/DVD is nice. Besides songs from NPP, it also features concert performances of some other Beach Boys favorites, and includes Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and Ricky Fataar on a couple songs. They even perform a version of Blondie and Ricky's "Hold On, Dear Brother", from the Carl & The Passions album. 

bonnie, interesting music from It Takes Two to Tango. The "Jazz It Up" song reminded me a bit of some of Herbie Hancock's past stuff.  I couldn't find anything about them on the internet. Where they from? 

Another instrumental song that I had really hoped to use this week was "Caledonia Swing", from Van Morrison's most recent album from late 2016, Keep Me Singing. It's a fun jazzy sax (bonnie, too bad this came out after your memorable "sax" battle a year or two ago), organ, violin/fiddle, and horns-driven song with a catchy musical hook that gets passed around from instrument to instrument. For those in countries that are able to see/hear this tasty song's video clip, here it is:

Some of you will also recall Paul McCartney's past experimental projects recorded under the moniker The Fireman. From his 2008 The Fireman album, Electronic Arguments, here's his almost entirely instrumental song titled "Universal Here, Everlasting Now":

Looking forward to everyone's additional votes, comments, and recent instrumental songs/videos from the past decade during the remainder of this week's battle.
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