of Maine

Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
August 25, 2008, 8:53 am
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Nico Muhly is 27 years old, and is already a sought-after and increasingly hip modern classical musician. His day job, as of February at least, is as a sort of technical assistant in Phillip Glass’s studio. A recent New Yorker profile portrays him much like one would a modern teenager: he chats on the web while he composes, finds inspiration in Youtube videos and more arcane tchotchkes. He comes off as a voracious and almost indiscriminate consumer of information, a habit he has a bad habit of contextualizing. (He seems more genial in this much shorter interview, so perhaps it was a framing issue.)

His new album, Mothertongue, is in a way a pretty literal take on what seems to be his personality. It’s comprised of three very different suites. The first, the four-track “Mothertongue,” is dominated by a glittering widescreen composition and a soprano vocalist reciting a rapid-fire series of numbers and words that overlap and collide at random. It’s overwhelming in a strange way, easy to dismiss but you’d rather try and dig a little deeper (where you find little but more chaos). Three-part “Wonders” is all bloated horns, classical organ, and a new, more sober voice reciting (I think) an old travel narrative. For the wayward indie fan, it’s “The Only Tune” suite that will suck you in, if you can make it that far. Sam Amidon sings the story of a girl drowning after her sister pushes her into a river, and a man who drags her out of the water and turns her body into a fiddle. A gruesome story given the ache of tragedy, the story is the most explicit rendering of the album’s theme of journeying. “Mothertongue” is a wandering through chaos, “Wonders” through the past, and “The Only Tune” through our bodies and into something else. (Amidon practically births the suite, beginning the story over and over again, adding one word at a time to great effect.)

Ultimately, it’s satisfying that Mothertongue begins with its most “difficult” song and ends with its most pleasant. It’s harder to look at Muhly’s compositions as overstuffed or pretentious when they come to such an evocative, lovely end.

I’ll hopefully have more to say about Muhly soon. Apparently his website offers loads of mp3s of his other works, and there are a couple of other indie/modern classical albums I’ve been meaning to spend more time with (Kingdom Shore’s …and all the dogs to shark and Max Richter’s 24 Postcards in Full Color), so be on the lookout.


2 Comments so far
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ok, i really need to get my hands on this now.

Comment by Bryan

[…] at length about Amidon’s album here, and written more about a song he sang on another album here, but long story short: his latest album, All is Well – a set of revinvented traditional folk songs […]

Pingback by Sam Amidon and Nat Baldwin in Portland « of Maine

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