Three musical things that are making my world a better place:
- Beck Sea Change (Mobile Fidelity CD)
I’ve long been an admirer of and cheerleader for Beck’s Sea Change, a languorous downer of a record. More inviting to me than its slow pace, though, are Beck’s inventive uses of texture to evoke an otherworldly soundscape where, for instance, a slight tambourine shake rising out of a swelling string wave can create a moment of heartbreaking drama. I’ve previously written (on a website that no longer exists) that the orchestral arrangements on this album remind me of Paul Buckmaster’s work on the early Elton John albums such as Madman Across the Water. This new Mobile Fidelity mastering of the album retains that sonic allusion and reveals other small details I’d not heard in countless spinnings of the record. Additionally, a great emphasis seems to have been placed on the staging of instruments, and the balance between the foreground and background sounds is perfect. The MoFi price may seem prohibitive at nearly thirty bucks, but this version of Sea Change will be difficult to improve upon. I recommend listening to it in a well-staged audio room or on headphones. This edition of the album includes a bonus track – “Ship in the Bottle” – that was not on the original album, but is from the Sea Change sessions.
“Paper Tiger” (2002) by Beck, from Sea Change
- Hem Twelfth Night (CD or download)
This is a “cast recording” of the Public Theater’s 2009 staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in Central Park. The members of Hem created the musical settings for the play, recorded them, and the music – what you hear on this album – was played throughout the performance, both as incidental instrumentals and as settings for the Bard’s text. There are, according to some press reports, tracks on this CD that didn’t make the cut for the stage version, but were added here to flesh out the vision of the composers. Wise move, guys.
If you are a follower of Hem-the-group, you will immediately notice the graceful, folk-like esthetic that permeates all of their prior work. What you will not hear, quite sadly, is the lovely voice of Sally Ellyson, the band’s primary vocalist; the vocals on this recording are handled instead, quite ably, by the cast of the New York production (Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald, Raul Esparza and David Pittu). What might have been a crippling minus (Sally’s absence) turns out to be a happy plus, as that ‘Hem esthetic’ reveals itself to be quite readily adaptable outside of the band format. I’ve always thought that Hem’s chief composer Dan Messé has a distinctly cinematic and theatrical flair – this recording is further proof of it.
“Come Away Death” (2009) by Hem, from Twelfth Night
Vocals by David Pittu, Raul Esparza and Anne Hathaway
Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown.
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!
- The Wooden Birds Magnolia (CD or download)
The Wooden Birds were the opening band for Great Lake Swimmers when they played Birmingham last month. Unfortunately for me, I arrived at the Workplay date during the break between acts. I wandered over to the merch table, as I am apt to do at any concert, and examined the Birds’ wares, engaging the fellow manning the “store” (as it were) in conversation. “How was the opening band?” I asked him. “They were pretty good,” he said. Then, after an altogether too-brief pause, he added, “They were actually on fire tonight. It’ll probably be one of those great legendary best-ever sets that goes down in history as redefining music.” He grinned, and I got the joke. He was in the band.
That gentle amiability permeates the Wooden Birds’ Magnolia – which I purchased that night from frontman Andrew Kenny. Their musical signature is a crisp, live-sounding blend of acoustic instrumentation that seems more sinewy on record than I’d thought the quartet would provide, a stripped-down version of the indie-pop stylings of The Shins and Band of Horses.
“The Other One” (2009) by The Wooden Birds, from Magnolia