The Year Goes Down
A January Album Lights a Dark Winter

Dudley Simpson died on Saturday at the age of 95.

I’m sure most of you reading this right now have no idea who I’m talking about, but the music of Dudley Simpson has been imprinted on my life since I was six years old. As the resident composer for Doctor Who throughout the ‘70s, Simpson created the music that accompanied pretty much all of my favorite Tom Baker stories.

Music has always been a gateway to my soul, and it’s usually what I remember first about any film or television show. I know this has always been the case, because I vividly remember watching The Brain of Morbius and The Deadly Assassin and The Robots of Death and the whole Key to Time season when I was young, and I can still remember the music that goes along with those stories. Simpson’s orchestral scores were oddly reassuring at times, brighter than the stories they accompanied, but they still scared me as a kid. Tom Baker-era Doctor Who to me is splashy horns and lumbering percussion and, of course, that incredible walking-around-Paris theme from City of Death.

Of course, he did a lot more than just score Doctor Who in his long life. His list of television credits is enormous. But I hope he forgives me for remembering him most fondly for helping to open the door of imagination for a wide-eyed kid entranced by his work on his favorite goofy sci-fi show. Thanks, Dudley, for everything. Rest in peace.

* * * * *

I’m coming around to the sad realization that the new U2 album is going to suck.

We’ve heard three songs now, and of them, only “The Blackout” moves with any conviction. “You’re the Best Thing About Me” is embarrassing, and it sounds like they just went with Bono’s first draft of the lyrics, too: “The best thing to ever happen a boy” isn’t even English. And now they’ve given us “Get Out of Your Own Way,” a sappy, repetitive bore-fest that proves that they can’t even take their own advice.

This is disheartening, since I loved (LOVED) Songs of Innocence. Its counterpart, Songs of Experience, was one of the few records I was holding out hope for in the waning months of this year, but it sounds like it’s going to be dismal. That leaves the new Dear Hunter EP, All Is as All Should Be, as the main bright light for the rest of the year, and because it’s an EP, it’s ineligible for my top 10 list. I feel like I could write up that list right now and nothing coming out over the next seven weeks will change it.

That’s not to say that music hasn’t been or won’t be coming out regularly. It sure will. My big score this week was the first album by Lost Horizons, the new project of Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde. It features vocals by the likes of Karen Peris (of the Innocence Mission), Marissa Nadler and Tim Smith (of Midlake), and it’s sweet and pretty and full of atmosphere and I just don’t have much to say about it. I also bought the new Blitzen Trapper and the new Lunatic Soul, but haven’t found time or ambition to listen to them.

‘Tis the season for live albums and box sets, too, and I’ll certainly be talking about a few of them next week, including the anniversary reissue of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People. For new records in November, though, we have Quicksand and the Corrs and Four Tet and, um… Thankfully Bjork just announced her new one, Utoipa, for Nov. 24 or it would be a vast wasteland. (I welcome your suggestions for upcoming records I’ve missed. And don’t say Barenaked Ladies, because everything I’ve heard from that one has been miserable.)

Luckily, I do have something that has been capturing my musical attention this week. It’s new, as in it came out this year, but it’s not new in that it hit in January and I completely missed it. I don’t know how, but it fell through the cracks for me. I absolutely love Brian Transeau, better known as BT, and yet somehow he gave us a 92-minute record of glorious ambience and I completely spaced on it.

I have it now, though, and it’s magnificent. Transeau has charted a unique path through the world of electronic music, moving from the danceable trance of his first releases to an intricate, skittering hybrid of EDM and pop on the still-great Emotional Technology. From there he’s jumped from the soundscapes of This Binary Universe to the quiet atmospheres of If the Stars Are Eternal Then So Are You and I to the explosive guitar-driven pop of These Hopeful Machines to the all-out dance party of A Song Across Wires. Each album feels extraordinarily involved – each one clearly took years of work hunched over a console, editing sounds and sections – and yet each feels deeply emotional at the same time.

That certainly applies to his untitled new monstrosity. I say untitled – it officially has no title, but many streaming services don’t allow untitled albums, so he’s given it the unofficial designation _. That’s right, the underscore symbol. The lack of title adds to the air of mystery around this thing, which apparently shipped in a limited edition box with a USB stick containing all nine songs with nine corresponding videos. I will never get this box, and that’s OK. I’ve downloaded the album (yes, I paid for air) and that’s enough.

It’s more than enough, actually, because _ is massive. It’s a lot to absorb on first (or even tenth) listen. This is an instrumental electronic album, one more concerned with setting moods and feelings than entrancing with melodies. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to This Binary Universe – long soundscapes give way to stuttering beats that feel like taking off in fog and floating over technicolor vistas below. It has an interesting structure – four short songs, three multi-part suites and two long pieces – but it all works as a whole, and leaves you feeling like you’ve been somewhere special.

The three suites are the centerpiece of this record, and each flows so seamlessly that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re not subdivided at all. They’re intricate, clockwork things, particularly “Omega,” the final one – it shifts restlessly for its first five minutes, then settles into a gorgeous and subtle groove. “Artifacture” develops its individual pieces more thoroughly, but again gives us the most complete bit last, a morphing synthetic cloud that drifts up and up. The final two tracks make up the last half-hour of the album, and they are among the most beautiful 3-D ambient music BT has made. “Chromatophore” ends with whole minutes of rain sounds, and “Five Hundred and Eighty Two” is based on tightly controlled feedback that feels otherworldly. It’s so easy to get lost in this.

I’m not sure how I missed _ when it first came out, but I’m overjoyed to have it now. I’ll take anything from BT, but my favorite things in his catalog are these deeply felt instrumental records, and _ may well be the best one. I won’t be able to adequately describe the experience of listening to it, but I recommend it highly. Once again he has spun magic, bottled it and delivered it as music.

Next week, probably some of those box sets and live records I’ve been picking up lately. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at

See you in line Tuesday morning.