Everybody’s Pain is Magnificent
New Amsterdam Records
Grey McMurray and Caleb Burhans have been performing together as itsnotyouitsme since 2003. In the past five years, they have released three recordings. Their latest, Everybody’s Pain is Magnificent is a sprawling double album set of material. It celebrates the gradual developing soundscapes and lushly ambient sonics that are signatures the group’s sound. Unlike many ill-fated double albums, which run out of steam or seem padded, EPiM requires the extra time to develop its sweeping musical architectures and allow the listener to luxuriate, bathed in the music’s honeyed harmonies and finely spun textures. It’s been in heavy rotation in these parts this Fall. If you haven’t heard it, you are missing out on one of 2011′s most rewarding ambient treasures.
Below, the band shares a ‘wintry’-sounding video of a recent live performance.
Björk’s latest release is more than just a studio album. For her Biophilia project, the artist has embraced both 21st century technology and espoused an aesthetic that reconnects music-making with the natural world. In the latter quest she’s in good – and venerable – company: Hildegard von Bingen promulgated a similar agenda through her own writings and musical works back in the 12th Century! Of course, Björk’s vantage point is decidedly more secularly ecumenical than Hildegard’s. But the notion of embracing the life force, being aware of (wo)man’s interaction with the environment and the cosmos, and the joy in eliciting the listener’s participation in the creation of music, are all affinities that resonate between them. Indeed, it’s in this participatory spirit that Björk has also released the album as a set of apps, encouraging listeners to dig in to some of the concepts behind the record’s creation and to explore some of the music in a more hands-on fashion. Those who prefer a less tech-fancy product can get a deluxe boxed set, limited edition vinyl, or one of several CD/digital formats.
All of these organizing principals and methods of distribution create high hopes: are the expectations and aesthetic pronouncements that surround Biophilia outsized when compared to its actual songs? No, the music remains central to the album’s design. It is ambitious in spirit and carefully crafted. Björk incorporates some of the classical music signatures she has incorporated on previous efforts – brass ensemble, vocal choirs, strings, etc. Beats and electronics are liberally added as well. Throughout, there’s a particular emphasis on plucked and percussive timbres – harps and dulcimers create a delicately clangorous soundscape that serves as a frequent through line on Biophilia.
This is still nominally a pop album, and as such the song designation is retained. But Björk is really creating compositions which stretch the boundaries of the song form, filled with digressions, changes in texture, demeanor, and even style. While the tendency towards the atmospheric has been abundantly present in her work (at least) since 2001′s Vespertine,Biophilia embraces a wide swath of sonic profiles. Some are quirky and endearing, like the organ-driven “Hollow.” Others are more beat-driven, like the astonishingly variated “Crystalline.” Electronica presents itself here n a glitchy fashion rather than embracing a standard dancehall-ready beat template. And then there is “Dark Matter,” a thoughtful, deliciously dissonant piece of chamber music: a piece that will likely prove polarizing: enervating to Björk’s detractors and riveting to kindred spirits.
The one constant amidst all of this musical diversity is Björk’s voice, which remains a singular, expressive, and powerful instrument, capable of great dynamic range and innumerable timbral adjustments. And while Biophilia demands much from its listeners, even by the standards set by the increasingly adventurous approach found in each successive Björk release, it’s likely that her voice alone is sufficient enough a beacon to light the pathway for listeners. Those who persist will find many sonic revelations and cherished musical moments therein.
Here is a video of a recent live performance of album cut “Thunderbolt.”
Here’s a video taster course for the Biophilia app suite
It’s hard to believe, but one of the primary forces that fostered the “Indie Classical” phenomenon of the aughts is celebrating its tenth birthday. The Brassland imprint, which curates artists such as the National, Clogs, Doveman, and Nico Muhly, is celebrating their anniversary by sharing music: a different free download of a song from their catalog every weekday throughout November.
Thanks to the kind folks at Brassland, below we share a stream of tomorrow’s pick: Nico Muhly’s “Skip Town,” a bonus cut from his Mothertongue CD.
Be sure to visit the label’s “song a day” giveaway site or their Facebook page to collect all the goodies (schedule below).
Michael Gordon’s musical reflection on 9/11, The Sad Park, is an interesting variant on another piece written for the Kronos Quartet to commemorate the terror attacks: Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. Gordon’s source material is culled from spoken word recordings made by the teacher of his son’s Pre-K class: responses to the attacks as seen through the eyes of innocents.
But whereas Reich used taped voices of first responders and spoken-word reflections of its aftermath as recognizable, harrowing, landmarks, Gordon eschews using source recordings in an overtly referential, or even recognizable manner. Instead, with the assistance of composer Luke Dubois, they are digitally sculpted into ghostly apparitions; distorted to blur the excerpts’ message in favor of allowing their impact to operate on an emotive and sonic, rather than textual, level. Surrounded by quartet writing in the post-minimal ostinato manner, as well as sustained, siren-like lines that form a kind of keening, mournful refrain, The Sad Parkis an unsettling threnody.
It’s interesting to note that in NPR’s 9/6 blog post about The Sad Park, the responses in the comments section diverge widely. Some feel that it is an affecting piece, while others pillory its use of children’s responses as exploitative. I guess one can engender controversy without inflammatory cover art.
Hurricane Irene approaches. We’ve got two extra guests this weekend: my Mom and Humphrey, her labrador retriever. They were evacuated from Long Island and are spending the weekend with us.
Waiting out a storm can be angst-producing and, eventually, boredom provoking – particularly without music.
So, File Under ? readers (the comments section is open and so are email, Twitter, Facebook, and G+), send us your “hurricane” listening lists – either in old-fashioned typewritten format or via the usual suspects (Spotify, Last.fm, etc.). The guidelines are wide open. It can be a themed list or simply musical “comfort food.”
Stay safe everyone!
“Winner” – my entirely subjective favorite gets a prize. Hey, why should Irene have all the fun?
Everyone’s favorite online contemporary classical station, Q2 (part of the WNYC family), needs your help. They would like for Q2 listeners to take a surveyto help them gather information that will shape the station’s future programming.
Want more vocal music? Less crossover? Or more programs featuring Olivia Giovetti? Q2 wants to hear all about it!