This Week in the Mercury


Monday, November 3, 2008

Nico Muhly is Fucking Brilliant

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Mon, Nov 3, 2008 at 5:24 PM

1Nico-Muhly-mothertongue.jpg

CD's come in the mail (note to PR people: not enough these days... I know the economy sucks but you've got to spend money to make money... so get in touch, eh?). Most of the yellow padded envelopes that arrive are filled with garbage, but every so often something brilliant shows up that I'd never have found.

(And for the matter of digital releases, I will say I find the physical copies easier to digest--it's easier to let them play out as I go about my business, rather than trapped in the world of computer headphones. I will also say that album covers and liner notes help immensely in sorting through the torrent of music.)

Anyway, thanks to the good ol' US Postal Service I received a stunning album from Nico Muhly--one I probably never would've found otherwise.

Muhly is a classical composer and a young one. He's 27, from New York, flush with degrees and a compositional voice all his own. Muhly is modern and old, beautiful and brooding, eccentric, and--to use I word I rarely do--brilliant.

Over his short career Muhly has embarked on a number of projects but produced relatively few recordings--two albums and a part of a film soundtrack. Mothertounge, Muhly's most recent, is staggering; classical instrumentation surrounds electronic flourishes, found sounds and chirping voices. The album is comprised of three disparate compositions, each congruent, unique and split into sub-sections.

On opener "Mothertongue," a four-part piece, Muhly is entranced by voice as words and numbers are layered and fired off at light-speed by mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer. It is frightening and energetic, paraniod and spiced with moments of occasional clarity and sunshine.

"Wonders" at times recalls The Books, only led by ridiculously dense, radical compositional hand. It's second movement, "The Devil Appear'd In The Shape Of A Man" begins almost as bedroom indie rock (sung, however, with god-given talent and deft precision) before inducing mind-bending scales, horns, harpsichord and a dizzying swirl.

Finally, with banjos and Sam Amidon's vocal rasp, "The Only Tune" harkens back to the era of field recordings and dusty Americana--again, warped through Muhly's twisted prism. Pt. 2 becomes perhaps at once the most traditional and modern piece of music I've heard in some time. After melting down "The Only Tune" blooms, reaching up to the air and sunshine on a dewy spring morning (think Sufjan Stevens).

Throughout Mothertongue Muhly maintains a frightening ability to blend and shift chords. A pecking, staccato sense of foreboding schizophrenia is suddenly and slyly covered by a blanket of warm gold. And back again. Muhly warps feeling with expert ease.

Although I'm going to, please know I'm loath to share excerpts from Mothertongue as the multi-part pieces should absolutely be listened to in their entirety for full emotional impact.

Really, you should just go out, get this album, turn the lights low, lie on the floor, maybe smoke some pot, turn this fucker up LOUD, and listen intently, front to back.

"Mothertongue Pt 3 - Hress:






"The Only Tune Pt 3 - The Only Tune":






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