New Music Friday Vol. 10

New York chamber music meets English folk. Oh, and that famous Icelander.


The Staves & yMusic - The Way Is Read

Go now, and listen! I love this new album.

The Staves’ debut album Dead & Born & Grown is hauntingly beautiful in its folk simplicity. Their crystal-clear voices share a timber and blend that can only be achieved by siblings, and this trio of English sisters use that quality to their harmonic advantage and my delight. I was immediately captured by their 2012 debut and its beautiful acoustic folksiness. 

As an arranger, I’m in a constant battle with myself against over-complicating things. I usually lose. There is a fine line between the thrill of complexity and the counter-productive result of mud created by unnecessary additions.

The Staves' second album was produced by Justin Vernon, and I feel it suffers from nonessential extras.

In the case of this second album, I’m not sure what I’m resisting. Is it the arrangements themselves or the additional pop touches to a group I enjoyed because of their throwback-folk vibe? It weighs in as enjoyable music by my normal scale (read: I like it), but the additional elements detract from the simple beauty of what enraptured me about the group’s debut. Also, it’s lousy with Justin Vernon’s signature insistent pedal-tone drone, which I liked in 2009 when it felt exotic and fresh but is now growing stale and unoriginal.

That’s not a very glowing review, but it’s still good music. I just naturally hope for the best from people who have previously wowed me.

And now we reach the paradox. The Staves’ latest project, a collaboration with New York-based classical instrumental sextet yMusic is stunningly complex and compelling. Far more complex than the Justin Vernon project, and far better. Successfully fusing modern classical music with folksy vocals should be an impossible task. Here, it is a task thoughtfully conquered.

It’s the difference between pop music trying to fill in all the spaces and carefully crafted classical compositions that aren’t afraid to balance virtuosity with simplicity. I’ve listened to the album in full once, and I can’t wait to peel back the layers. It’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely for me.

Björk - Utopia

Okay. Here goes nothing.

The world loves Björk. I don’t. That’s the nice way of putting it. I have purposefully avoided all Björk recordings since the ‘90s.

This being the day after Thanksgiving, there are very few new releases of note, and I’ve committed to writing a little something about new music each week. Also, I think it’s important to challenge your own preconceived notions about things every once in a while. Find things you don’t like or don’t understand, and see if you can discover what attracts others...or at the very least, clarify and define what you don't like about it. Therefore, I’m putting Björk on my listening list this week.

I know, off the bat, that Björk is highly creative to the point of fully-blown eccentricity. That has its ups and downs, but I can definitely get behind creativity and pushing boundaries. I have zero frame of reference, though. I have no idea how this album falls amongst her dozen or so studio albums. But what I have heard has some interesting soundscapes, which I am relatively certain is to be expected. So, I guess I’ll have a listen…

The video below is simultaneously innocent, happy, weird as well and makes me uncomfortable. I think this will not be easy.

Agree with any of this? Think I’m crazy? Let me know why.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Brian Hinman1 Comment