Author: James Nitis

css.php

Other Truths – Do Make Say Think

Do Make Say Think is a Canadian band formed in the mid-nineties that is often classified as “post-rock” (nearly as imprecise a term as “post-modern”). The band’s cult following, however, recognizes their music for its unique blend of experimental rock and jazz fusion.  Their extensive discography, which includes seven LPs and two EPs, showcases a multitude of different styles and influences; from classical to acoustic folk, sporadic jamming to tight, disciplined orchestral arrangements, and drone-like minimalism to magnificent atmospheres and ambient electronica.

I would like to focus on their sixth album and a personal favorite, Other Truths. The album, released in 2009, is comprised of a meager four tracks (although lengthy when compared to the music of their contemporaries ) and runs a little over forty minutes.  Each track is titled after a word in the band’s name; which they originally co-opted from a row of motivational posters in an Elementary School.  Produced by Do Make Say Think themselves and recorded in a member’s basement, Other Truths is, in my humble opinion, the band in its most distilled form.

“Do” begins with a bright, upbeat electric guitar riff that sounds as if it was lifted off an early-2000s pop-punk album.  After guitar successfully establishes the song’s theme, the bass seizes the melody and plays a short solo before the rhythm loosens, the drums begin to syncopate, and a repetitive theme of descending guitar and vocal tones is layered over.  Toward the middle of the track,the theme from the beginning is reintroduced and slowly built up until it is a dense wall of distortion and sound.  Eventually, it fades and disappears into a contemplative mix of synths and church-like bells; a hypnotizing reinvention of the guitar theme.  The tempo slows and the sound diminishes until nearly nothing is left, leaving the listener (or at least, this listener) with a paradoxical and almost hallucinatory feeling of euphoria and emptiness.

“Make” starts off with sparse and repetitive electric guitar mingling with a jazz/swing drum pattern.  With the addition of a few unusual-sounding instruments (and at least one violin), the track slowly builds and crescendos.  There is a gentle change into tribal-sounding drumming and a powerfully narrative guitar part before the introduction of echoing, darkly religious-sounding chants (there are lyrics available online; I personally do not hear all of them in the track).  As the song progresses, it seems as if it will continue to descend into darkness. But a triumphant and almost defiant trumpet cuts through the darkness and the track takes another turn.  To me, the tension between the distorted guitars, screeching violin, and the optimistic horns creates a beautiful drama that evokes a battle between good and evil.  Perhaps the darkness wins, because the track’s apparent resolution comes amidst loud, distorted, and frenzied guitars. However, the piece continues with warm horns playing an ambiguous outro.

Make

With its jazz drum beat, slide guitar, and distinctly-flavored chords, “Say” is the track in which Do Make Say Think’s jazz influence can be most clearly heard.  Although without words, the track seems to follow a verse-chorus structure; the verse a simple, repetitive piano melody, augmented by a trailing guitar part and a prominent trumpet arpeggio, and the chorus an exuberant unison between guitar and trumpet.  The softer, minor-key bridge features the guitar, but does not last long, and gives way to a return of the chorus.  Following this last chorus, the rhythm slows into a folksy/blues outro in triple meter, with muted horns conversing with fuzzed vocals.  Finally, everything gently comes to a rest; a peaceful end to an overall comforting track.  To me, “Say” is the most hopeful piece of the album; brimming with certainty and optimism.

Say

If there is a track on Other Truths that truly suits its name, it is “Think.” Introspective and spacious, “Think” really does make the listener do just that.  Twanging, reverberating guitars exercise thoughtful restraint in a cyclical pattern, and soft vocal “oohs” float above a lightly brushed drum beat.  Steady, stable, and never really going anywhere, “Think” is the perfect portrait of a lonely soul wandering through the unknown.

Think

In its entirety, Other Truths is a beautiful journey for the listener; it is powerful but never excessive, sentimental yet never self-indulgent, and most importantly, it is resonant with the emotional whirlwind that is life.

Yo La Tengo & Ensemble at The Town Hall

While scouring through the links posted on our blog, I found a concert that greatly appealed to me.  On the website for (Le) Poisson Rouge (a Greenwich Village space created with the desire to fuse popular and art culture; and where I have enjoyed many an indie rock show), I read about a collaboration with Midtown venue, “The Town Hall,” to present iconic indie band, “Yo La Tengo,” alongside an ensemble of improvising musicians.  The concert, entitled “And Then Yo La Tengo Turned Itself Inside Out” (a play on an album name) is part of a new series of shows at The Town Hall called “Improvisations.”  Their website describes the series as such: “Improv masters and adventurous performers from multiple disciplines – music, theater, spoken word and more – ply their craft in explorations of this unique artistic language.”

Arriving at the theater early on March 23rd, I had some time to explore.  The walls were lined with framed programs going back nearly a century; and featuring performers/composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Phillip Glass.  What an honor for Yo La Tengo to be playing at such a historic venue.  That being said, the band has an impressive history of its own.  From establishing itself as one of the first indie rock bands over thirty years ago, to revolutionizing the genre with its seamless blending of avant-garde elements, the husband-wife duo’s experimental nature and quirky wit is reflected in how conceived their ironic name.  For those interested in the story, it may be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yo_La_Tengo#Formation_and_early_history.2C_1984.E2.80.9385

Since it would be impractical to discuss every song on the extensive set list, I would like to focus on a few highlights that showcase the diverse nature of the show.  Yo La Tengo’s set began with ten-minute long jam, “Let’s Be Still.” While the instrumentation and harmony varied between the studio and live version, the effect was the same.  Flute, saxophone, and trumpet were gradually layered on top of a rhythm section grounded by a piano chord progression and two drummers.  The focus was not the subdued vocals, but rather the timbre and atmosphere.  I found the slow development into a cacophony of sound evocative of the modernist movement in art music.  A look at the studio version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOnKWcL_vzA

An especially elegant blend of art and pop was showcased on two well-known Yo La Tengo tracks; the dreamlike love songs “On Our Way to Fall” and “Black Flowers.” In both, the performance sounded drastically different from the album versions.  “On Our Way to Fall” saw xylophone, harmonica, and saxophone creating the accompaniment to lead singer Ira Kaplan’s soft vocals.  The most exciting element of the song, however, was the ensemble’s trumpet player and clarinetist soloing during every break in the vocals.  And during the performance of “Black Flowers,” saxophone, trumpet, French horn, and trombone replaced the violins that provided the backbone for the album version.

The ensemble’s prominent role was evident on instrumental song, “Green Arrow.”  Like much of Yo La Tengo’s work, Green Arrow is a piece that prioritizes atmosphere/mood; which I interpret as drifting between melancholy and nostalgia.  While the ensemble respected the repetitive format of the original track, each instrumentalist added in his own flavor.  This flexibility led to a much fuller sound than the more minimalist studio version.  I couldn’t help but think of the pieces we do in class while observing the improvising performers watch and communicate with each other.  [Unfortunately, I was unable to add a video due to size restrictions, but an audio clip is attached below.]

In conclusion, Yo La Tengo’s performance at The Town Hall was not only a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but it perfect achieved (Le) Poisson Rouge’s mission statement: to collide art and popular culture and create something entirely new.

Tigue

Tigue is a Brooklyn-based trio with a unique sound that combines contemporary classical music with art-rock.  Their most recent album, “Peaks” was described by New York Music Daily as an “imaginative, distinctive, hypnotic yet kinetic blend of indie classical, minimalism, post-rock, and drone music.” Their diverse performance at the Pregones Theatre on March 1st put several of these styles on display.  The program for the night consisted of three pieces: An Index of Possibility, commissioned from composer Robert Honstein; New Work, commissioned from composer Jason Treuting; and Quilts, composed by Tigue’s own Keyboardist/Percussionist Matt Evans.

            An Index of Possibility could be classified as an experimental percussion piece.  For the entire piece, which lasted about half an hour, all three members played only percussion instruments.  The first “movement” of the piece began with percussionist Carson Moody slowly scraping the circumference of a flower pot with what looked like a screwdriver.  After about a minute, Percussionist Amy Garapic began playing a pattern of repeating tones on a xylophone, creating a sound reminiscent of church bells.  Evans sporadically added rapid rolls on a glockenspiel.  The second segment of the piece began with Garapic loudly striking a bass drum (and almost causing a few heart attacks in the audience).  It saw the group break into a fast, steady beat, with the xylophone and glockenspiel alternating between two notes, and the loud bass drum sounding periodically.  A third segment had the group return to some of the motives created in the first.  Garapic returned to the sound of church bells, with rhythmic augmentation resulting in single notes ringing out for five seconds at a time.  Shortly thereafter was an eruption of percussion sounds, created by more traditional instruments such as glockenspiel, bongos, wood blocks; and less traditional “instruments” such as a round saw blade and a bourbon bottle.  The instruments were set up in a semi-circle and one could see and hear the beat traverse across the semi-circle and back, each instrument given a few moments of prominence.  I found most interesting how the piece blended tonal and atonal elements.  There were quite a few moments when a melody could almost be made out before it retreated back into noise.

After the conclusion of the first piece, Tigue members paused to explain and set up for their next piece, New Work.  Because of Evans’ interest in mathematics, Tigue commissioned a piece based on the number patterns from Sudoku.  Without going into depth about how it worked, Tigue members began reciting a rhyme and then a stream of numbers.  They followed by intermittently sounding their instruments; Garapic playing a bass guitar, Moody on a drumset, and Evans on a miniature, or “toy” piano (according to him).  After observing Tigue alternate between recitation of numbers and playing sounds for several minutes, I could deduce that each number had a corresponding sound.  While not exactly pleasing to my ears, it was very interesting to see and hear (in person) a formula influenced by Schoenberg’s twelve-tone.  The end of the piece was quite unique; with each member stopping to “fix”/mess with their instruments and turning three amps on, creating [intentional] heavy, overbearing feedback on the sounds of their “work.”

Tigue’s third piece was my personal favorite. “Quilts” is a minimalistic rock-like piece with a danceable rhythm.  Evans told the audience that he composed the piece so that both Garapic and Moody could “rock out” on drum sets at the same time, while he played a keyboard with one hand and a shaker with the other.  Garapic played what looked like a traditional rock drum set while Moody played one with several bells and cups.  The piece was quite repetitive, with Evans alternating between four or five chords for the duration.  Likely a result of the minimalism, I noticed my brain filling in the piece with melodic lines that weren’t actually there.  I couldn’t help but feel that the mood created by the sustained organ and syncopated drums was very reminiscent of early 2000s post-punk such as The Strokes and Interpol.

In conclusion, Tigue put on a diverse and exciting performance that highlighted several different styles and kept the attendees engaged with experimental sounds and audience interaction.  In addition to creating an interesting brand of music that allowed audience members to draw parallels to indie rock, classical, and serialism, Tigue succeeded in creating a myriad of different sounds; making it nearly impossible for audience members to not be aurally pleased at some point in the performance.

http://tiguemusic.com/bio