Archive for August, 2009

Nico Muhly Is A Rather Brilliant Man, And Here’s An Interview To Prove It

Nico Muhly
A straight rip from the forthcoming TD, with a tiny preface: Nico Muhly’s music is in the same school of inspiration that Steve Reich’s back catalogue graduated from, and it’s well on the way to achieving first class honours. Check out any of his thoroughly beautiful bits/bobs wherever you can find them.

It’s the journalistic requisite to list off the Talmud-length CV of Nico Muhly when introducing him to friends, readers, and innocent bystanders. Take your pick: his eclectic, venerable albums Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue, the shiver-inducing soundtrack to The Reader, arrangements for Bjork, Antony and the Johnsons and Grizzly Bear, a blog chockful of New Yorker-worthy articles, his status as the most exciting American composer in decades, the possessor of a fine clump of hair. Muhly plays his first Dublin show at the out-going Spiegeltent at this year’s Fringe, our tip as the festival’s crowning achievement.

I’m Youtube skimming like a true lazy journalist… You were just on my screen talking about the concept of portable music as a New Year’s resolution. How’s that working out?

It’s been pretty great, actually. I’m writing a lot of music for my friend Nadia Sirota, who will join me in Dublin — a bunch of shorter, easy-to-travel with pieces. Now, of course, as I say this, I’m writing an opera, which is the least portable thing ever. So it’s about balance for the New Year!

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is sitting in front of me now declaring “The musical concept of the composer is nearly dead”. This seems quite bold. Where do you stand on this?

Well, first of all, I am mystified as to how you have a copy of a magazine from Pittsburgh in Ireland.

Me too.

That sounds like one of those indefensible statements that people “involved in culture” love to utter. Surely that sentence could have been written by depressed journalists in 1890, 1920, 1950, etc?  Anytime you read a sentence about classical music with the formula “_______ is dead” it’s almost always written by some kind of revolutionary or reactionary or crazy person.  My response to this — and really to most meta-figurations about music — is to put my fingers in my ears and apply myself to the business of continuing to write good music.

In your recent blog post about minimalism you mentioned the near-rock credentials of minimalist and post-minimalist composers – How people attend Phillip Glass shows like rock concerts. As a figure with a foot firmly in the contemporary rock/indie world do you see any convergence between the indie universe and the avant-garde, minimalist, classical world? You can hear a definite similarity in aesthetic and approach between what, say, Animal Collective are doing and what Steve Reich and Terry Riley initiated. Even if it has taken 40 years to filter down.

I see a convergence, but I don’t think it’s new. I think people in their 40’s and 50’s and even 60’s were listening to, you know, Bob Dylan and Steve Reich happily together way back when. But, I think the reason for this now is that classical music exists in a the same commercial space as other, non-classical musics, experimental or not. The iTunes store is the best example of this — you can laterally transfer from, say, my music to the new Grizzly Bear album without having to physically haul your body into a closed room devoted to classical music in the store.

I was talking to a friend last night about musical comfort zones, and the importance of forcing yourself to listen outside of the familiar – you’re liable to learn a whole lot more listening to very bad ragga that you’ve never heard before than slightly different permutations of what you’re used to. Do you think you confine yourself to a comfort zone? Do you take influence from outside of what would be considered experimental or avant-garde music?

How interesting — this is a good question. Now. My comfort zone is actually very different from experimental and avant garde music. My comfort zone is 16th and 17th century English choral music, and classical American minimalism, which is to say, Philip Glass Music in 12 Parts or Reich Music for 18 Musicians. So that’s my sort of emotional ground zero.  But my listening is voracious and very wide-ranging.  Just while I’m writing this to you, I listened to some tidbits from “Nixon in China” and a bunch of Trina (she’s a ferocious hip hop artist from the south).

You’ve talked before about how your work doesn’t revolve around a core ideology – It’s strange that the criticism of current youth culture is its sort of irreligiosity and what might be dubbed as shallowness, but your music is almost cut from that same cloth and is praised for it. Do you think a sort of cultural atheism is the way forward for art and music?

Ha, interesting.  Like I said before, I don’t worry about it too much — I would say that inasmuch as my work is shallow and concerned with surfaces and sort of making connections electrically, it also bears a sacred trace that comes from choral music. So I don’t know. Hard question.

I’m thinking of visiting Iceland next year. The country seems to have had an impact on you (Syllables, Bjork)… What’s the big attraction for you?

Oh it’s the best!  I just love it.  It’s beautiful, musical, severe, cold — it just resonates with me enormously. Everyone should absolutely visit it.

What are you planning for the Dublin show? Have you been in the city before?

I’m not sure what I’m planning! I’m going to do a bunch of energetic solo pieces, that’s for sure, and most likely “Wonders” from Mothertongue…  I have never been to Ireland, and am hugely excited.

I’m still skimming… A Youtube commenter wants to know: “Is there ANYTHING you can’t do?”

I don’t know how to tie a bow tie.


The Underground Wires DNA Test: Dublin Duck Dispensary


Playing the Jeremy Kyle to children with disputable dynastic claims, the Underground Wires DNA Test is an examination of the consanguinity of some of our favourite upcoming artists. We want to know if they gleam their lyrical leanings from a third cousin, or which grandad thought them how to play piano. Asking artists to embrace their heritage rather than hide it (after all, everybody has a dodgy uncle they’d rather their mates didn’t know about) we aim not to reduce a contemporary artist’s work to mere influence, but rejoice in their confraternity like Gary Barlow told us all to in ‘Never Forget’. The Test Results are downloadable in Mediafire mixtape form for closer inspection.

Bobby Duck Dispensary sent me his DNA Test ready-packed about six months ago, but having neglected the blog like everything else in my life (see also: hygiene, resolutions, children) it’s been stewing in my Gmail like the puy in a spicy lentil soup. Thankfully, it’s still certified fresh, and possibly more important than ever. Firstly, DDD’s last full-scale release (well… as full-scale as homemade mini-CDs in limited edition get), the joyous Yykes Basket just got a not-typically-cynical review in The Wire mag. Secondly, a drunken Dublin Duck Dispensary spokesman recently revealed the band might never play in their current guise in Dublin again. Get them while they’re still hot, salty, and hopping. Like microwave popcorn.

My own affection for DDD stretches back to days before I realized my social circle made a neat Venn Diagram with Bobby’s. In fact, we were acquainted about half a year before his identity was revealed. There were no gigs. There were no goals. There were music. And lots of it. DDD’s earlier output was marked by off-beat drums and shambling guitars, with a surf-pop sensibility trying to climb the peaks of home-recorded wavelengths. DDD’s later output (the near-sublime Luanqibazao, the heart-bound Yykes Basket) nearly got the drums in time, and developed the Dispensary aesthetic (which found itself in Fader-fashion thanks to Wavves, Crystal Stilts, and the rest of the American fuzztone egg basket) into more expansive territories. The best part? It’s nearly all free. Check the Duckspace, or Rack and Ruin for some easily-downloadable shots of sugar.

1. Brainiac – Indian Poker [Part 3]

Impoverished and grubby noise, this is like Brainiac poured petrol on and set fire to a tramp’s filthy baby toenail and then hooked it up to Roald Dahl’s sound machine (instead of a tree) The first 33 seconds are some of the most exciting seconds in music and the final 19 seconds (the drums!) are some of the most bewilderingly joyous. This song makes me feel a bit like a Satanist Viking during the last minute of his longboat voyage to Valhalla. What more could you want from a choon?

2. The Gerbils – Crayon Box

I’m letting The Gerbils represent the very very verrrrrrry obvious influence which the Elephant 6 collective have had upon my carbon emissions. OK OK… I admit it! All I want is to be a part of Elephant 6! There! Happy now?!?! PUT ME IN GEORGIA FIFTEEN YEARS AGO! Actually, no don’t.

3. Robert Barry Andrews – The Famous Five Theme Tune

“The three greatest things on earth are friendship, togetherness and ginger ale.” That’s from The Bible. This isn’t just what a TV show theme tune should be… this is what ALL songs should strive to be. This little jingle nearly makes me feel like weeping. I get the feeling it was written by a big Beatles’ fan, but it’s better than anything those fellows ever did. It makes me feel nostalgic for a time and place I never lived, and proud of something I never did. I recently realised that my song ‘Electric Picnic’ is lyrically a bit like this. Just listen to this instead.

4. The Polyphonic Spree – Some of the Parts

I like that this song is completely non-sequitur and features handclaps. Cos I like doing that shit too! This is a weird song by the weirdest band on earth. It’s a great song by the greatest band on earth. It’s a song song by the songiest band on earth. It’s a song by a band on earth. You get the idea.

5. Rollerskate Skinny – Speed To My Side

This is the best Irish song ever written, so it’s an obvious – if entirely unwieldy – influence. The way it wallows and swells and sinks and swims is awestriking shit. It’s experimentation without sacrifice, with bursts of noise positioned so that its melodic joy peaks perfectly. Rollerskate Skinny were an early, Irish Animal Collective. Fair play, ladz.

6. Jan and Dean – Surf City

I know nothing of surfing except that it’s a H20-based activity which has been ruined by Quiksilver, Billabong and bleach-headed bozos. That makes me an ignorant snob. I’m probably even wrong. Ah, but how Jan and Dean still take me back to the good ol’ days of the curl! A time when we didn’t have to lock our doors at night. A time when we didn’t even have doors TO lock. I first heard (and became addicted to) ‘Surf City’ last November. At the next DDD band practice, I had a fit of the giggles during each song we played, as I bizarrely realised that everything I’d ever written had been subconsciously based on this one golden oldie which I’d never even heard.

7. Jacques Brel – Le Moribond

I like the pep and romance and atmosphere of French pop. This song is heartbreaking. There’s so much soul and urgency in the delivery… it’s pretty theatrical. Even if you don’t know a word of French, you’re probably still feeling all the right emotions when you listen to it. Listen to this, then listen to Westlife’s version… it’s a helpful reminder of the fine line between high art and putrid shit.

8. The Sherman Bros – Doll on a Music Box

So sweet, to rot yr teeth. So weird, to curl yr beard. Counterpoint. Brownie points. Every song in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is absolutely amazing and all dem melodies done gone and been stuck in my head for over 15 years now… Except for the fast forward fast shitty (shitty bang bang) one which Truly sings on her own in the garden after the first date.

9. Daniel Johnston – Walking The Cow

When Daniel Dale was making his first/best albums, he didn’t have a way of duplicating his tapes, so he had to record each copy separately. That’s dedication, maaaaaan. That’s sincerity, maaaaaan! That’s a sweet sign of someone just doing this stuff pour la buzz. I always wonder what Mr. Johnston thought/thinks about his music; as good songs badly recorded, or as genius “lo-fi” pioneering nuggets? I wonder if he knows how good he is? His lyrics are particularly inspiring. He doesn’t throw a veil over his feelings to prevent peeps going “this dude’s a wacko!”. I think D.J. probably made me ok with the idea of my music exposing me as a fucking fruit to my friends. I used to have a Laurie too, but then it turned out good.

10. 1910 Fruitgum Company – A, B, C, I Love You

If one of today’s pop groups were to release a single with lyrics as nonsensical and cliché as “A: I love you/B: you’re beautiful to see, I couldn’t live without your love”, I might spit blood. I probably wouldn’t, but the song wouldn’t be anywhere near as beautifully unpretentious or grinning as this. And you can bet your last stick of bubblegum the band wouldn’t be called something like ‘The 1910 Fruitgum Company’ either. Wonderful playground melodies, glissando fairground synthlines and a near-creepiness to the dead-set stalkeresque breakdown: “A, B, C, I love you. A, B, C, I LOVE YOU!”. You can’t say no, babycakes.

11. The Revs- Good Times

The Revs were the first rock band I ever saw. They were the reason I bought a guitar. I saw them live like 40 times.

12. Tripping Daisy – Field Day Jitters

This is my favourite song of ALL ETERNITY. It’s also the first song on my favourite album of ALL ETERNITY. It makes my insides tumble and ignite. The drums blow my mind. There are so many movements to it. It’s always building, but it’s also constantly climaxing. It’s the perfect composition. I wanna dance to this on my deathbed.

Grab the DNA Test in MP3 form:

Have a read of while you’re listening

Polychromatic Death Plus: Health – Get Color reviewed


LA noisefuckers Health’s sophomore release mirrors The Horrors’ recent collection, Primary Colours, in more than name. As with those Shoreditch gothabees, Health’s debut underwhelmed as a regurgitation of influences (Liars, Liars, Liars (This Heat, This Heat, This Heat)) trashed out with blind exuberance, and they became a band better known for their live renderings of their half-finished pencil sketches (and their omniscient fashion-friendly merchandise).

Get Colour, as the title suggests, tie-dies this once plain white tee into a polychromatic attack on the synapses. High-range sonics and the drumming work of a tweaked-out orangutan clash over a battleground of simple vocal melodies and textures to create a work of violent glory. The experiential highs of the decimated Death+ and opener In Heat typify the band’s recording studio progress, while Die Slow represents the quartet’s first successful stab at the art of the single. Despite moving towards conventional song structure the band have retained their noise credentials, pushing the limits of wiry, Wire-y post-punk out far enough to encompass the ear-splitting electronics of Wolf Eyes and death thrashes of Lightning Bolt.

Health’s feat is more impressive than Faris Rotter and his band of coffinhouse hipgoths in that their self-improvement comes not with an entire identity overhaul, but the retention of their original tics. Get Colour might well be the most blinding rainbow you stare into all year. Four t-shirts out of five.


August 2009
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