5 Selects: Romantic Piano composer Gia Margaret

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Randall Roberts
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Essential albums from Chicago-based from singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Gia Margaret.

“Instrumental music it can be kind of endless. Sometimes you wonder if what you made is music at all,” the pianist Gia Margaret recently told writer James Rettig, adding that she “didn’t want to subject anyone to two hours of me hammering on the piano.”

Margaret doesn’t once hammer on Romantic Piano, her sublime new album for Jagjaguwar. Thirteen pieces that range in length from 30 seconds to nearly four minutes, the record explores the peaceful, melodic side of the instrument, drawing on cited inspirations including Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Erik Satie and Masakatsu Takagi’s Marginalia series. It comes out Friday.

Margaret occasionally sings on Romantic Piano, and when she does it should feel like an intrusion; instead, she eases in on “City Song” to offer a gorgeous vocal ballad, then, like Homer retreating into shrubbery, disappears.

An album seemingly designed for both a midnight rendezvous and the breakfast in bed that follows, Romantic Piano will work its way into your heart like a caress –– and seal the deal with a little bit of tongue. Below, Gia Margaret recommends five essential albums.

Jon Brion – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack

This record changed my brain chemistry when I was 17. It was my introduction to Jon Brion, and something I come back to often. It hasn’t lost its luster even after all this time. It’s sparkly, dark, complex, simple, light and hyper-specific in its very Jon Brion way. (He has such a gift of cramming every single emotion into a short piece of music.)

Luiz Bonfa – Introspection

This is something I’ve come across in the past few years (so it feels a bit recent) but I can already tell it is inspiring the way I play and produce guitar. I think I found it at the right time. I love the almost direct input sound of the guitar and the way it’s recorded with a chorus effect. It feels the perfect amount of ahead of its time, and a bit dated in the way that it sounds. (Introspection came out in 1972.) It’s refreshing and innovative and like a cool breeze. I can’t compare it to much else. A perfect record to play on a summer evening or a lounge in the park.




His Name is Alive – All Mirrors In The House [Home recordings 1979-1986, Vol. 1]

My friend sent me this record in the later stages of making my first instrumental record. It is spacious and unusual and one of the first ambient records I really got into. I felt connected to the sweeping soundscapes, loops and its overall warmth. It feels like an intimate glimpse into the world of a home-recorder. Something I can obviously connect to. There are certain things you can’t capture in a studio and this record is a wonderful example of why. I recommend this for a morning when you wake up a bit too early. It’s easy and immersive and you’ll drift off into a comforting unconscious state.




A Winged Victory For the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

I stumbled across this music in a record shop in 2014 and listened to it constantly that year (and return to it often ever since). It is definitely a slow-burn: orchestral, gorgeous, dramatic and dark. The string arrangements are some of my favorites of any music I have heard. I also love the piano pieces and the way the instrument is recorded, which definitely informed how I would one day record piano, with mechanical noise and all. I actually met Dustin O’Halloran at a friend’s pool gathering a few years later. It was sort of odd to sit in a pool with one of my heroes making small talk and I don’t think I properly expressed how much this record meant to me in that moment. So if you see this Dustin, now you know? This record was one of the first that made me contemplate exploring my own instrumental work.

Key track: “Minuet for a Cheap Piano”




Joanna Brouk – Hearing Music

I listened to this a lot while making Romantic Piano. It is simple, elegant and unusual. I was initially drawn to the cover and the album title, and I have to admit that it was the inspiration for the album cover/title of my own record. And because of it I bought myself a flute. I love how all-over-the-place it is. Amazing when an artist can explore very different directions. If you like flutes, gongs, drones and meditation music: this record is for you! 2 hours and 6 minutes of bliss.

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