Bedroom Community

Press Reviews for Mothertongue

Perhaps it is a sign that I’m getting old, but these days the world seems to be full of people who are younger, better-looking, and more talented than me. This is particularly true in the case of Nico Muhly, and not only does he get to hang out with her Bjorkness, but to cap it all he is also probably a better blogger than me too.   I’m currently teaching my cat some (admittedly fairly advanced) principles of rocket science, and when she has stopped licking her arse and finishes building the damn thing, I’m strapping myself to it and firing myself into space. If anyone knows an easier way of ending it all, by all means tell me.

Muhly’s abundance of talent lights up the sky like fireworks from the start of his second album for the sparky Bedroom Community label. That opening “Mothertongue” suite fizzes into life with its display of classical and electronic elements swirling around a torrent of words – phone numbers, mnemonics, US states and their capitals. Everything is initially diffuse and overlapping haphazardly; gradually it begins to take a diffuse shape, and comes to resemble the results of Steve Reich collaborating with Gyorgy Ligeti on one of his gibberish opera pieces. Later Muhly weaves found sounds of jarringly mundane origin (someone showers and cooks breakfast) into this glorious tapestry.

How do you follow that opening? You would have to be pretty confident in your own ability to go for something which blends medieval English music with a poetic description of the Icelandic landscape, and to set this all amongst more verbal jabber, and some disconcertingly queasy brass; but that would be the “Wonders” suite. It gets even better with his outstanding and intense deconstruction of folk song: in the three-part “The Only Song”, labelmate Sam Amidon sings a haunting tale of a girl drowning her sibling. His ageless, unjudgmental banjo and voice are set amongst some less forgiving soundscapes: ominous electronic eruptions and icy winds which shatter and scatter the narrative. There is something almost hauntological about the sounds of ghostly breath and traces of childlike melody which flicker amongst the dark arrangement, as if the song was possessed by the spectre of its subject matter.

As accomplished as Muhly’s debut was, I wasn’t quite ready for him to unfurl the full length of his ambition in the way he does on Mothertongue. He reaches for the stars and damn near gets there; he certainly gets closer than I ever will given the current rate of progress with this rocket of mine.

Camp out at Bedroom Community waiting for the release date of May 26th.

Mapsadaisical (May 14th 2008)

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