The Rambler :: blog

Friday, March 31, 2006

CD review: Corey Dargel: Less Famous than You 

As my wife can confirm, I'm a sucker for gay love songs. The Pet Shop Boys, Jimmy Somerville, Shakespeare's Sonnets, it doesn't matter, they break my heart like nothing else.

So it's a treat to be able to review Corey Dargel's debut album, Less Famous than You, and I can tell you it doesn't disappoint. If you've already checked out the MP3s posted at Dargel's site Automatic Heartbreak you'll be familiar with his style - disarming vocals that wrestle with a complex, jittery keyboard clatter. Dargel trained at the Oberlin Conservatory, and his songs exhibit a craftmanship that probably reflects this, as well as a studied balance between the heart's instincts and the head's ironic assault on pop conventions. The effect could fail and sound both studious and twee. That it doesn't is due to three crucial elements - lyrics, melody and Dargel's voice.

It's the lyrics that first win you over. As Less Famous than You amply demonstrates, Dargel has a stand up's eye for life's mundane details, and these fill every line of this collection of love songs for 'famous (or semi-famous) people' (we never learn their names, but some of them are perfectly guessable). The juxtaposition of laconic humour and effusive sentiment is the most characteristic aspect of the album, and it works because like all the best jokes and ballads the delivery is never less than sincere. Singing about Chicago ('not as gay as they say') in 'Gay cowboys', Dargel includes the choice lines

The gay-affirmative Starbucks
Has lost its charm
The boyztown boys are all stuck up
Walking arm in arm
None of them can mount without using stirrups
And none grew up on a farm

Not that we know how
To milk a cow
But you grew up in Colorado
And I grew up in Texas
And every boy in Chicago
Drives a Saab or a Lexus
'I don't remember', a nostalgic record of the mind's ageing closes with the lines
I used to love karaoke
I used to go out dancing
but these days I don't dance
and I can't sing

I can't remember the words
and when I do they come out wrong
In a characteristic touch, the individual lines of accompaniment all go slightly askew at this point.

so if you know the next verse
it would help if you could sing along
If only. Dargel is a generous melodist, so much so that you won't catch all the tunes the first time around. In fact, you'll have job singing along even after the fifth or sixth listen to many of the songs on this album, because the music is so endlessly inventive that it never quite stays within your grasp. The effect is of an anti-singalong, the sort of thing Morrissey used to be adept at, in which by avoiding big choruses, simple melodies and straightforward rhythms the songs can never become victims to the congregation mentality of a crowd with its lighters in the air. Instead of providing a space for external group identification, the songs demand internalisation and individual attention.

The icing on this private cake is Dargel's voice. It has a close-mic'd, intimate sheen like someone whispering in your ear. You can't help but become involved in these songs, because they are being sung so directly to you, a snatched sharing of secrets in the noise of a crowded bar. The combined effect of words, music and voice is completely convincing, so that when you reach, at the very end of the record, two of the album's darkest and most elusive songs, 'Like a ghost', about a paranoid, sickly hypochondriac ('I've heard you cry from heartburn / I watched you conceal / everything I loved the most about you') and 'Every word means so much to me', about a poet's obsessive fan ('there's an archive named after you in Outlook ... please get in touch with me'), you're sold.

Less Famous than You is out on 1st May on Use your teeth; Corey Dargel plays London's Luminaire Club on 10th May, alongside Final Fantasy, Grizzly Bear and Simon Bookish. (See Eat your own ears for details.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Links for the week 

Selling classical on the web, according to the Guardian, the Scotsman (points for mentioning contemporary music) and the New York Times.

Apple getting hit on two fronts at the moment - The Beatles and the French.

Blog I've only just come to, at the end of its run: John Cageblog, blogged reviews of every single recorded work by JC. No seriously, this is almost up there with the famous Alan W. Pollack's Notes on... series of Beatles analyses as a superb work of web-based obsessive compulsiveness. Bookmark it!

Blog I've only just come to, but seems to be very much in full swing: Planet Hugill, by the London-based composer and singer Robert Hugill. Check out his breakdown of the new Covent Garden season.

Nonpop podcasts! Put together by Scott Unrein these started up at the beginning of March and are broadcast on a bi-weekly basis. Just over half an hour long they each contain three or four pieces of nonpop from the likes of Chas Smith, John Cage and the KLF. The all-important RSS feed is here.

Oh, and you want a laugh, don't you? Of course you do!

Monday, March 27, 2006

New Music on a Shoestring - April 

Loads going on this month.

1st - As part of the Royal Academy's weekend exploration of Improvisation and Synaesthesia, organist Dame Gillian Weir presents an illustrated recital. Messiaen may crop up. Free admission, no tickets required. See the RAM events diary for more info [scroll down]

2nd - One of many celebrations for Richard Rodney Bennett's 70th birthday, this 5pm concert, also at the RAM (free, no tickets), includes chamber works by RRB, as well as Debussy and a new piece, Notes for a time past by Graham Williams. See the RAM events diary for more info [scroll down]

4th - The next installment of the Philharmonia's occasional Music of Today series includes three pieces by Derek Bermel. Free as always, more details.

6th - Gabriel Prokofiev - featured previously on these pages - presents his characteristically eclectic Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra at the Blackheath Halls, SE3, with the Trinity College Contemporary Music Group and DJ Yoda 'pon decks. Tickets £5/£3, more details.

9th April - John White is another composer who turns 70 this year. Wiltons Music Hall is the venue for the celebrations, an all-day, three-concert, all-star extravaganza drawn from White's immense output of 150+ piano sonatas. By my count, 46 (46!) of them will be performed during the day, 18 of them (including numbers 146-152) as world premieres. The roster of pianists assembled for this marathon is equally impressive: Dave Smith, Jonathan Powell, Christopher Hobbs, Kathron Sturrock, John Tilbury, Mary Dullea, Niel Immelman, and finally White himself. The three concerts, which start at 3pm, 5pm and 7.30pm, are £5/£3 each, or £12/£6 for a day pass for the lot. We call that value, people.

13th - Sleeps in Oysters, Modern Art Cafe, Oxford. As the blurb says: "Imagine a pop song, then re-imagine it stretched, mangled, quirkified and stuck back together with all the imagination of the best electronica you've heard and buckets of childish charm - oh, and toy ukeleles and glockenspiels!" More details; see also Oxford Contemporary Music. Tickets are £3/£2

-- Later the same evening, Unsuk Chin's Piano Concerto is being recorded for broadcast by the BBC SO (Andrew Zolinksy on piano) at Maida Vale. Tickets are free, but need to be booked. More details.

22nd - The Yehudi Menuhin School hosts a 90th anniversary concert for their founder; music includes Malcolm Singer's Opening Rites, Peter Maxwell Davies's The Fall of Leafe and A Voyage to Fair Isle, and Stephen Goss's Frozen Music. Free admission, ticket required, call 08700 842020 to book.

24th - Deptford Town Hall, 5pm, a concert of Beethoven, Bartok and Schubert chamber music also features two works by Per Norgard - Duo for guitar and cello, and Quaerendo Invenietis. Free admission.

25th - Deptford Town Hall again, 6pm, pianist and Russian music scholar Tanya Ursova gives a recital-talk on the music of Nikolai Kapustin, in the presence of the composer. Free, more details here if you scroll down the page.

27th - Modern Art Cafe, Oxford, hosts singers Jeremy Askew and Rebecca Avis and laptop musician Robin Whitnell for some voice and electronica fun. As with Sleeps in Oysters above, tickets are £3/£2; more details are here.

-- If you're in London rather than Oxford, however, you can catch Timothy Orpen playing clarinet music by Howells, Denisov and Milhaud. More details.

-- And if that's not enough for one day, the BBC SO are making another recording, free admission by ticket only as before, of Beethoven, Brahms, and Rihm's Ernster Gesang. More details. Rihm is no doubt delighted to discover that in some parts of the BBC at least he is still regarded as an "exciting young composer".

30th - As part of the regular New Music Morning series at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, M.E.M.E. (Mechanical and Electronic Musical Experience) from Anglia Ruskin University present "a surround performance and diffusion of electroacoustic music and electronica". Admission is free; New Music Morning concerts start, perversely, at 12pm.

That'll do you; all for less than a pair of tickets to Yet Another Symphony.

Performers, composers, promoters - please get in touch with details of any events you think should be included in my (semi-) regular 'New Music on a Shoestring' posts. I only cover UK concerts, and to qualify as 'Shoestring' tickets must be available at £5 or less. Email: tim.johnson77 AT btopenworld.com

Friday, March 24, 2006

Questions for WordPress users 

I'm getting a bit bored with Blogger these days. I notice that WordPress seems to be the way the free blogging market is going at the moment, and I've liked the look and feel of every WordPress blog I've seen over almost every Blogger blog I've seen. So I'm contemplating a switch. Anyone reading this who knows about WordPress, particularly if you've made the switch at some point from Blogger yourself, it would be hugely appreciated if you could answer the following questions for me:

1) What are the actual benefits of WP?

2) How easy/possible is it to transfer your Blogger archives onto your WordPress account?

3) How flexible is the free WP account?

4) What are the disadvantages/niggles?

Cheers, thx.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Links for the week 

So, the whole world has gone Goth - even Resonance are in on it this week.

Also, beatboxing.

P2P = good link for the week.

Sampling still illegal, got to be stopped, one track at a time link for the week.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill 

>>>>Heads up for all UK readers<<<

I learnt about this over the weekend, and it scared me. This is a Bill currently going through Parliament (it passed its second reading with nary a whisper; a third reading is to be scheduled) that would dramatically reduce parliamentary discussion over future laws, and give individual ministers the power to alter any law passed by Parliament. Taxation and crimes with a penalty greater than two years imprisonment are exempt, but everything else - from the recent smoking ban to the Acts of Parliament that define the House of Lords - could theoretically be altered, introduced, or abolished simply on the proposal of single ministers. The Bill is designed to reduce red tape to make life easier for business, but in a classic piece of hapless/sinister Labour authorship it has been written so sloppily as to all UK (apart from the exceptions already mentioned), including itself. The government insist that they won't use the new powers for any nefarious purposes - although they refuse to actually write such a clause into the bill - but even if you're one of the handful of people left who can still trust this government not to abuse its power, can you trust the next one, and the next one after that? With the regulatory burden of Parliamentary debate gone major changes to the law can be made without giving Parliament the opportunity to fully examine and debate them. To name some current examples, I know where we'd be on ID cards by now if this new Bill was in place, and trial by jury.

Please read some of the pieces linked below, and consider writing to your MP. This is too important to be ignored.

Newpaper comment pieces:

Daniel Finkelstein

Marcel Berlins

David Howarth MP

David Pannick, QC

Henry Porter

Philip Johnston

Campaign sites:

Campaign Against the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

Save Parliament

Murky.org, LRRB sub-category (many more blogs linked through here).

ENO new season 

Is it just me, or does anyone else reckon that all the soap-operatic turmoil at ENO has resulted in their liveliest new season for some time?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Links for the week 

Ivan Hewett marks Michael Finnissy' birthday;

Assistant Blog has this iTunes-related scoop: "The French Parliament is on its way to passing a law that would force Apple's iTunes to open its online music store and enable consumers to download songs onto devices other than the iPod." Is this true? Allez les Bleus!

I've already pencilled in Dubstep Allstars vol.03 as my album of the year, and it's not even out until next week. Blackdown has the mouthwatering sleevenotes.

And Alex Ross links to a load of nice minimally stuff.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Glyndebourne Hip H'Opera 

So, my first thought on hearing about Glyndebourne's plans to stage a 'Hip H'Opera' version of Cosi fan tutte was
'Hip H'Opera'??? Yikes!

My second was in response to this quote from the director Clare Whistler, on her decision to chose Cosi as the meeting point between hip hop and opera:
Because they're entirely different worlds, and I thought the one thing that could make it fusion is that it's a story about love.
Doesn't sound terribly street to me, especially when the operatic repertoire is stacked to the ceiling with pimps, ho's, hustlers, and, of course, bling. I mean, try harder, people!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Links for the week 

The more observant among you will have noticed that it's been kind of quiet around here this week.

Still, here's a piece on hiphop at the Smithsonian.

A nice post, with plenty of links to follow through, on the perennial question from Marc Geelhoed.

And Voltage links to a YouTube clip of Delia Derbyshire at work. If you can face the 180MB download, there's a video of the whole programme (a documentary on the BBC radiophonic workshop) here. Lots more YouTube gold panned here.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Chadwick Jenkins: Variations on a Theme 

PopMatters isn't a site I visit all that often, so I was unaware that since November last year they have run a regular classical music column, Variations on a Theme, written by Chadwick Jenkins. The first article was the perhaps obligatory manifesto on Why Classical Matters, particularly 'why it matters to regular PopMatters readers'. While I don't agree with Jenkins' historicist approach in this article, it's a tool that he uses for all the right reasons (there are plenty of wrong ones) and he makes a good case.

But what pulled Jenkins' column onto my radar was a link from Avant Music News. It's the first installment in a 'sub-column' called The Sounds of Now, in which the writer pitches contemporary music, one composer at a time, an idea I can only applaud. Jenkins is clearly a man who appreciates a challenge; his first article in this series is on Brian Ferneyhough, on whom he writes with all the necessary conviction. If you're not convinced yourself you should probably try here.

Future columns are promised on Meredith Monk and Tristan Murail; I'm looking forward to them.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Links for the week 

birches | flickr | 24th February, 2006

Middle class American teen buys the new Coldplay single - all hail the new global musical revolution!

Britten's score to a setting of Auden's Roman Wall Blues, thought lost, has been found.

Free Albums Galore out to get more props in the world than it does; postings of free - and legal - album downloads every day. At the moment, they (and I) encourage you to Tales from the Australian Rock Underground, 1963-8, and not one, but four classic operas hosted by Stanford University for the betterment of all mankind.

This link has been knocking around for more than a week already, but here's an interesting interview with the Blissblogger himself, Simon Reynolds.

Here's an article on a company, Seven Things, or 7hings, hoping to make money ($5 million, if the quoted projections are to be believed!) out of podcasting experimental music.

And Jon Dale has some very fine, exclusive New York experimentalist barbershop cartoons. See them and you'll know what I mean.


Thanks to a reference in my referrals, I've just come across the excellent London-based contemporary culture newsletter Kultureflash. I'm so out of the loop it's just not true - KF has been around for four years now, and for most of those I've been in a futile search for exactly such a thing. All Thames-based lifeforms should head on over and subscribe at once. Unless, that is, you're cooler than me and already do.

Honestly, sometimes I think that I'd be lost without Sitemeter.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hungarian stereotypes Watch: Eötvös edition 

In a review yesterday of a concert of Péter Eötvös's music, Geoff Brown asks the eternal question
Is it being born in Transylvania that makes Peter Eötvös’s music so odd? Not that you’d wish to ward off this composer-conductor with garlic.

Golijov-Watch, UK edition 

Following up on my survey of British press reaction to Osvaldo Golijov's first major concert in the UK, here's a summary of what the British papers have been saying about his Pasión, performed at the Barbican last week.

The Times ran this preview, by Warwick Thompson, whose hyperbole ("Whether baying for Christ’s blood or lamenting his passing, whether punching the air in anger or swaying gently, [the Schola Cantorum's] superb technique is matched by a dramatic commitment that will knock you sideways. Prepare yourself for a very passionate Pasión indeed") was not reflected in Richard Morrison's subsequent review, in which he gave the work three stars:
Where the piece fell down was in the basic quality of the inspiration. On this evidence Golijov is a deft organiser of dance-hall pastiche on an elevated, histrionic scale, but no great originator. The shadow of Steve Reich’s minimalism hangs over the figuration. And a lot of solos, both for voices and brass, leave no trace on the memory. In fairness, though, I should report that Pasión was greeted by cheers. Clearly, others find Golijov’s brand of samba spirituality more convincing than I do.
David Murray in the Financial Times was no more convinced: he liked it OK; which is to say that he only liked it OK:
Golijov's modest idiom, middlebrow and unadventurous, has its own appealing character. Not only does it go down easily, but it also sounds consistent and honestly felt, as well as expertly scored on all its various scales. Those who want higher things can safely ignore it; those who want just a bit of variety, and not too much more, should be disarmed by the occasional Golijov curve-ball amid these insistently cheerful goings- on. Maria Guinand conducted them all with keen commitment. I wouldn't go again, but I enjoyed it.
Andrew Clements in the Guardian was not as generous:
If a European composer had perpetrated such an act of musical miscegenation, one suspects, they would have been derided for their presumption. Yet even this piece might have been more justifiable had it gained from this plurality of styles.
Overall - two and two-thirds stars. 'Must try harder' is the message from London.

Update: Anna Picard's review for the Independent appeared over the weekend, but the picture for Goliljov remains the same - too much faithful curatorship, not enough composing.

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