Sunday, June 27, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – Mozart, Mosshart, and Mr. November

Not much in the way of new stuff.  I tend to mull over albums for months at a time (when I’m listening to whole albums that is), and it seems Rob’s the same way.  Pankin never fails to surprise with his latest listening habits.

I’m still turning to LCD Soundsystem’s new This Is Happening every time I need something to listen to.  Rob simply cannot get over The National.  Pankin, the odd man out, is jamming to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – specifically, his Requiem.

I love how well-rounded we are.

PankinThe Requiem in Popular Culture

Mozart's Requiem is one of my favorite pieces of music. Ever since I first heard it, I was drawn to the haunting melody of the Introitus, the driving fugal structure of the Kyrie, and the relentless urgency of the Confutatis. There's no Requiem in Popular Culture section of its Wikipedia page, but if there were, you might see that the Dies Irae was used in this scene from X2, and that Kubrick made use of the Rex Tremendae section in a minor scene in Eyes Wide Shut.

I'm not a religious guy by any means, and so far listening to the Requiem hasn't inspired me to go out and learn all the intricacies of the Catholic mass. It hasn't even inspired me to research into all the myths and theories about who's actually responsible for its composition. As of now, I'm still too fascinated by the music itself to do any real analysis involving reading.

I have, however, done some analysis involving listening. I got my hands on two different recordings of the Requiem, and compared them to each other, movement to movement. The one I grew up with was conducted by Herbert Von Karajan, who emphasizes changes in dynamics and big, full orchestrations. It's as if he's making a strong case for later Mozart as the transition from the Classical to the Romantic period in music, rather than early Beethoven. Claudio Abbado's version is much lighter and more rhythmically consistent, likely more in keeping with the musical style of the time in which the piece was composed. The jury's still out on which one I like better, but it's really a question for the musicologists out there.

CraigRob Covered This Already

A month or two ago, Rob included The Dead Weather in his Spring album round-up.  Of frontwoman Allison Mosshart, he wrote: “I’ve never been simultaneously attracted to and terrified by anyone quite like Allison Mosshart.”  I agree with him completely.

The Dead Weather possess a frightening sound: ghostly backing vocals, Mosshart’s scratchy crooning, subterranean blues guitar.  I don’t know what the hell is going on most of the time, and I don’t really want to.  I just let their dirty, dusky sound wash over me in songs like “No Horse.”  (Well, “wash” probably isn’t the right word. How about “grime” over me?  That’s a verb, right?)

And my open love affair with LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening continues.  The track getting the most play right now is “Home.”  So many beautiful things are happening here.  The wistful vocal harmonies echo back to the opening track on the album “Dance Yrself Clean.”  The bass and percussion demonstrate James Murphy’s ability to make ennui danceable. 

Two lyrics jump out at me every time.  “Night has such a local ring/And love and rock are fickle things/And you know it” kills me each listen with the love and rock line.  Murphy then declares with heartbreaking humanity to the song’s anonymous object: “You’re afraid of what you need/If you weren’t, I don’t know what we’d talk about.”  Way to get me right in the gut, Murph.

RobA National Alligator

I'll stop listening to The National soon - I swear. But until "soon," I'm listening to Alligator, the 2005 album that put the Brooklyn band on the map. Fans of Boxer and High Violet might be surprised by Alligator's unburnished messiness. The chorus of fist-pumper "Mr. November" has frontman Matt Berninger shouting "I'm Mr. November, I won't fuck us over / I won't fuck us over, I'm Mr. November" while drummer Bryan Devendorf slams out sixteenth-notes on the snare. Berninger also gets screamy on "Abel," adding a little scratch to his baritone as he howls "My mind's not right, my mind's not right." 

High Violet, released last month, put The National on the larger cultural map, and with good reason: everyone can enjoy the consummate craftsmanship and artistic fussing-over that makeViolet one of the year's best. But it's nice to see the band a little younger on Alligator - a little more unhinged, a little more desperate, a little more experimental. Gator's tracks don't always connect, but when they do...well, listen to "Daughters of the Soho Riots."