Sometimes it only takes one song to make an impact. That’s exactly what Michael Aston did as Knightstown when we first heard his beautiful, fragile First Cry. He’s since followed that up with another winner, and he’s the sort of act we’re mad keen to understand the process behind. So, of course, we asked him. Below you’ll find the tracks that inspire him from past and present, along with a handy Spotify guest mix playlist at the end. What a guy.
Resonance – HOME
I was introduced to this track by a couple of producer mates in Brighton during a studio session a while ago. The artist HOME is prolific and has a real melodic gift I think, quite apart from his expertise as a sound engineer. I personally got hooked on this track through a wonderful and little-known Youtube channel called ‘Electronic Gems’. The chord sequence is unique (it’s either in F minor or Ab Major I can’t decide) – and almost every chord has extra notes in it beyond the basic triad. Like a lot of HOME’s music ‘Resonance’ is structurally simple – a looped chord progression with motifs layered on top. Having grown up with a lot of content-packed classical stuff where everything is so driven by melodic and harmonic development, this track has been important in helping me broaden my horizons and listen to music in a different way. ‘Resonance’ is very repetitive, it has one theme running through it – and I’ve been completely hypnotised by it.
Bread – Laura Mvula
This song has been a real springboard for me in the writing of some of the downtempo material on my upcoming ‘Knightstown’ record. Laura Mvula is one of my favourite artists around at the moment, and I really feel her music will stand the test of time. This song is from her Mercury-nominated second album ‘The Dreaming Room’ – an awesome record I think, boasting her expert craftsmanship, exploration and memorable melodies. ‘Bread’ one of the slower tracks and it’s gorgeous. The balance of sound is beautiful, all the elements blend so well together, but you can pick each part out of the texture and it savour them individually. The subdued choir in the background to the choruses makes the track extra special. And the Baroque-like middle section in the flattened mediant major (F major) is so unexpected and so rich. I just love it.
Plastic 100°C – Sampha
Sampha won the Mercury Prize this year and he absolutely deserved it I think, his debut album ‘Process’ is a wonder. This first track off it remains my favourite – a modern polyphonic masterclass with a subtle and sorrowful harmonic progression looping restlessly underneath it (G#minor7+6, Bmajor7#4, C#7). I love the lyrics too.
One Second of Love – Nite Jewel
As well as being an infectiously retro headbanger, this song by Nite Jewel is a real one-off when it comes to harmony. The song is in the lively key of F#major but from the very start all the vocals and chords clash with a really unsettling D natural drone in the bass, which acts like an ink blot in water throughout the song. This crazy tonal clash gives it such a sinister edge. At the end of sections when everything else cuts out your ear is reminded how weird and creepy it is. Amazing song, never heard anything like it. And so catchy.
Surf’s Up – Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is one of my all-time musical heroes in pop, and Surf’s Up is one of his most astonishing songs. I remember hearing it for the first time on a friend’s headphones on a minibus coming back from a camping trip in France over a decade ago. The unexpected polyphonic explosion at the end is a minute of music that still reverberates around my soul!
Nothing More – C Duncan
Chris Duncan (C Duncan) is a great friend of mine – and he’s a genius. I got know his music inside-out when I was his keyboardist/backing vocalist 2016-2017. This is the opening track from his second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ and it’s quite sublime.
Adventure – Disasterpiece
This is the best-known track from Disasterpiece’s soundtrack to the video-game ‘FEZ’ – which I have never actually played. I in fact discovered this track as my wake-up alarm tone on my phone. I couldn’t understand why I was getting so hooked on an alarm tone… Disasterpiece is a gifted Bitcrusher composer whose retro-soundworlds have fuelled some of my own electronic ideas.
Mache Dich Meine Herze Rein – J.S. Bach
I thought I had to put this one on the playlist because honestly, hearing a performance of this aria for the first time was possibly the most profound musical experience of my life so far. I just remember going to that performance of the St Matthew Passion and being totally transported from start to finish. This aria comes near the end of the oratorio and it quite literally made my toes curl with joy – the music gave me hope and made me want to become a better person.
First Cry – Knightstown
One of the earliest songs I wrote for the Knightstown project, released as my first single on FatCat Records in August 2017. It was initially just a really simple slow track for solo vocals/keyboard and no beat. I had composed it in Glasgow and then recorded it quickly in Tom’s London studio, and then we just left it on the back-burner for ages. Much later Tom had the idea of putting an electronic beat against the hymn-like vocal melody and turning the chant-like song into a dark ambient dance track. This curveball decision ended up influencing the development of other tracks on the album. It’s a sad song which was composed during a happy time – I remember recording the demo in my new Glasgow flat while my flatmate was away, looking out the window on to balmy sunny evening, and feeling pretty good!
Clear Blue Sky – Knightstown
Another track composed really early on in the process. I remember coming up with the chorus for this song while walking through Pollock Park in Glasgow. The verses actually came much later on, during a studio session with Tom, my cousin and producer for the Knightstown record. We also discovered quite late on in the process that the verse and chorus melodies could be layered on top of each other, creating a cool, semi-intended polyphonic section at the end of the track.