The first time I listened to The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, I had no idea what was going on.
OK, that’s not entirely accurate. I knew who Brooklyn Rider was, and knew I liked the quartet’s last few releases, especially Seven Steps. And I knew the title of the album was “The Brooklyn Rider Almanac,” but that’s it. When I loaded the album on my iPod and went for a long run, I was stepping into a world free of context.
This doesn’t happen often. I usually end up reading about albums before I listen to them. If unfettered listening is like walking through fresh snow that just finished falling in your yard, the fact that I love reading about music almost as much as I love listening to it means that there’s usually a crowd of opinionated people eager to make snow angels before I do. It’s rare that I can dive in first.
It’s especially rewarding to be the trailblazer when instrumental music is involved. Lyrics and voices allow context to flood in — which language is being used, the emotions the singer conveys, the stories that are being told. But with a string quartet, you really do get to invent things as you listen, things like the composer’s nationality, their inspiration and goals for the piece. Even the form is up for grabs, if you didn’t check to see how many mp3s there were and which ones were grouped together.
I loved my freewheeling stroll through The Brooklyn Rider Almanac. Given the diversity in both style — everything from long, sentimental notes to choppy math-mindedness — and technique — clapping and even some vocals — it really felt like anything could happen. And it was all filtered through the quartet’s signature approach to production, which is both big and crisp, with enough reverb to make passages more momentous but enough energy to make the whole exercise feel immediate and personal. The album had already earned two thumbs up by the time I made it back to my house and learned how ironic that stroll had been.
A few days ago, one of my favorite music writers, Jeremy Larson, posted the following thought to Tumblr:
His short post — the screenshot above comprises the whole enchilada — hit me in two waves.
(Click here for Part 1 – Songs, here for Part 2 – Collaborations, here for Part 3 – Late Breakers, and here for Part 4: RVA Long Plays.)
Before I get started with my fifth and final list, I want to take this opportunity to say thanks to all you awesome people who visited You Hear That, left a comment, wrote a guest post, or shared a recommendation over the course of the past year. This here blog means a great deal to me, and whether we know each other in real life or in 1’s and 0’s, I’m tremendously thankful for all the support and feedback you’ve provided, and I’d hug every single one of you if it were physically possible and/or in keeping with your particular feelings about boundaries and personal space and stuff.
It’s getting a little misty up in here, so let’s get on with the matter at hand — the 5 albums that rocked my socks off in 2012.
A few weeks ago, when the time came to start working on my 2012 Top-Whatever post, I started think about how much effort went into last year’s Top-10 albums post, and how the silly thing ended up being more than a thousand words, and, with no small amount of lazi/restless-ness, I decided I didn’t really feel like doing that again this year.
So what did I choose to do instead? Something even more time-consuming of course! Taking inspiration from the squirrel in that creepy White Stripes song, I’ve decided to split my year-end post up into 5 parts, each one a Top-5 unto itself (with a bonus, Christmasy Top-5 tomorrow). First up? My favorite 5 songs of 2012, in the order in which I’d put them if I was assembling a mini-mixtape.
A couple months back, I wrote about an epiphany I had that opened the door to a world that had previously seemed hopelessly walled-off. The epiphany went a little sumpin’ like this:
“…having a guy dressed as Beethoven in the balcony can’t exactly change the fact that the real guy died in 1827, but it does call attention to the fact that 4 people with instruments and some sheet music can bring a part of the German composer’s magnificently wired brain back to life, if only for the length of time it takes to play one of his works…”
Though I was talking about how Brooklyn Rider makes classical music accessible, the part about music providing an external, accessible image of a person’s consciousness is fascinating to me. And while every lyricist engages in this process by putting their thoughts to words, hearing Fiona Apple’s new song “Every Single Night” helped me realize that she’s in a class of her own in this respect.
Last week turned out to be a cover song celebration, with one post about a monster collection of repurposed Bob Dylan tunes and another about Punch Brothers’ out-of-this-world takes on Radiohead. And while I didn’t really set out to double down on the covers, I couldn’t be happier that theme emerged, because it got me thinking differently about Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that has just released a new recording entitled Seven Steps.
Before going any further, I am obligated by the International Code of Music Blogging Ethics to point out that classical music is usually “not my cup of tea.” But it’s not “not my cup of tea” in the same way that, say, olives are “not my cup of tea.” Olives I hate with a passion. The word “tapenade” is an iron-clad deal-breaker when scanning the menu at fancy restaurants. Classical music, on the other hand, is something that I have a great deal of interest in learning about, but I have a long way to go, both in terms of appreciation and understanding.
So how did Brooklyn Rider manage to make connection with their 2011 effort, Brooklyn Rider Plays Philip Glass? I think Glass’ minimalist style deserves some of the credit. As with any learning endeavor, repetition is helpful, and the repetitive structures in Glass’ music engage without feeling overwhelming, despite the fact that a great deal of complexity is hidden within those patterns. But I think the lion’s share of the credit belongs to the group’s 4 musicians, who themselves are refreshingly relatable.