Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with special guests Bluebrain

TVD’s thrilled to present a preview of the next Story/Stereo event being held this Friday night (10/2) at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda. “Story/Stereo is a modest cultural experiment in cross-media collaboration,” co-curator Chad Clark of Beauty Pill told us two weeks back when the series unfolded with Roofwalkers, who were the evening's first musical guest and who were featured in this blog’s special week-long event heralding the initial Story/Stereo outing.

The Writer's Center selected some excellent emerging poets, essayists, and novelists to read from recent works, and Chad and fellow curator Matt Byars from The Caribbean selected some excellent, interesting DC bands to play a set.

This week’s special guests are Bluebrain and Chad’s sent us his thoughts on the brothers Holladay:

"Bluebrain's music is electric, serrated, often abstract, always texture-fixated. Upon first listening, you will detect a decidedly futurist bent. However, under the veneer of hallucinogenic, technological treatments, there is storytelling and communication. Each song is a vista unto itself and they often highlight this with a video component to their performances. The word "multimedia" is a little banal, but it applies here.

The band is a duo of brothers Ryan and Hays Holladay. Bluebrain was borne in 2008 from the ashes of their respected and recently disbanded group, The Epochs. The Epochs were a clever, mischievous, and inventive pop band who I became acquainted with through my studio work. They were clients who impressed me enough to invite them to open for Beauty Pill, where upon they proceeded to blow us away and, frankly, embarrass us as headliners. Bluebrain's aesthetic extends outward from The Epochs, but has a distinctly different feel and perhaps a darker, more erotic persona.

We are honored to have them."


Bluebrain is with us for the rest of the week and thumbing through their own record collection. Ryan’s found a gem to get us started:

Scott Walker - 4
Generally speaking, the way I listen to music is that I cycle through the records I love, changing it up every week or so. I'll get on, say, a Modeselektor kick or something will make me want to listen to all my Stones records and I'll be gushing about it to everyone until the phase passes. I add new music to the rotation but it does get a bit tiring looking for new things to love, in my opinion, without recharging your batteries with music you know gets you every time. With that in mind, I am sharing with you Scott Walker's '4' for no other reason than I've been listening to it non-stop as of late. Last weekend I saw a documentary called '30 Century Man', which chronicles his rise to popdom with the Walker Brothers trio through his retreat into obscurity to the recording of his most recent, critically acclaimed record, 'The Drift'. 

I first heard of Scott Walker when a friend of mine in college, with whom I discovered most music and kept virtually no secrets about what it was each of us were listening to, asked me the question "Which Scott Walker album is your favorite?" To which I replied, "Who's Scott Walker?" He looked at me with equal parts disbelief and excitement. "You're about to dive into a new world, my friend." He was right. That's what's gratifying about discovering artists from the past, you can go through an entire catalogue without the tedium of waiting for the artist to do something new. I got all four of his numbered records and listened through chronologically. I didn't quite understand it. Here's the thing: when you're introduced to a new artist or collection of music, generally after one listen you can sort of tell what branch of the music history tree this sprouted from, and it helps make sense of what exactly you are listening to. This guy seemed to have come from something I had no interest in exploring. If you're reading this and have never heard Scott Walker, you might be thinking his music is a difficult listen; experimental, abstract, abrasive. It is none of these things. What makes it jarring at first listen is that it's closest relatives musically seem to be artists that missed the cool boat so long ago they haven't got a chance of becoming hip today. Someone described him to me as sounding like "Tom Jones if Tom Jones were a genius". While this is a bit of a stretch, you wouldn't be wrong to think this man was marketed by his label as a crooner, as something of a Neil Diamond before there was Neil Diamond. And to some extent this is true. Part of what led to his slow decline in popularity after the Walker Brothers was the inability to sell him correctly to any audience. I don't think anyone knew what to make of him and, today, I think many new listeners don't either. 

There's a good chance that anyone reading this blog is already quite familiar with his work, but perhaps one person will happen upon this and be compelled to give it a shot. I urge you to get past those elements of his work that may cause you to make a premature judgement. You may have heard people sing like he does and, most likely, they've used the style to sing terrible lounge music or some derivative, but soon you will not only get past these associations, you will love his voice. It really is one of the most expressive I've heard and, fortunately, his lyrics paint such incredible pictures and tell such eleborate stories that you'll be happy to have such a strong baritone as the narrator. 

It wasn't until '4' that I really understood this music, though. There is no doubt in my mind this is his masterpiece. In some ways I wish I'd started with this one as I think I'd more quickly understand the earlier LP's. It's an album that starts off on the ground level and steadily rises in intensity to the point where, by the end, you feel as if this may be the last thing he ever records. (For a while it was. The record bombed and he went into hiding for a many years.) And while it is not without its missteps (certainly there are lyrical mistakes, but when you are as bold with words as he is there's bound to be cringe-worthy moments) this record is, I believe, one of the most overlooked albums of pretty much any era. The string arrangements and song structures are in a league unto themselves. But unlike many great records, you probably won't come upon this playing at a bar then stop dead in your tracks to ask someone what you're hearing. More likely it will go in one ear and out the other as background music, possibly mistaken as something you've heard before. No, Scott Walker probably won't come to you. With this artist, he's not gonna come halfway; you'll have to meet this music where it's at. 

Scott Walker - On Your Own Again (Mp3)
Scott Walker - Duchess (Mp3)

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