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Press Reviews for Speaks Volumes

As classical composers, critics, musicians, orchestra directors and bloggers wonder what can be done to Save The Music and find new audiences, for those of us who probably are that indeterminate new audience, it’s mostly a question of vocabulary. We’re simply looking for an entry point into the genre. Not a Beginner’s Guide or a list of major works we should download or Classical Music For Dummies, but the opposite: music that we share some words with.

Speaks Volumes, an album by New York-based composer Nico Muhly, might be the answer. Muhly worked with Björk on Medulla and Drawing Restraint 9, he holds down a day job at Phillip Glass’s studio, and I once saw him accompany Antony for a version of “Hope There’s Someone” and Lou Reed for a version of “Perfect Day” in the same night. The American Symphony Orchestra premiered his orchestral work “Fits & Bursts” at Avery Fisher Hall when he was 22, and meanwhile, critic-with-a-blog Alex Ross posted an email from Muhly that explained exactly what the Neptunes did with that ultra-satisfying triangle ding in Kelis’s “Milkshake”. Muhly’s compositions have titles that sound like stolen snatches of conversation among friends (“It Goes Without Saying”, “You Could Have Asked Me”) and if you ask him, he’ll tell you why he listened to a shit-ton of Destiny’s Child when he wrote music to accompany an edition of the grammar-hound handbook Elements Of Style. In other words, the flurry of conversation that bounces around Muhly’s work feels like something we can take part in.

“Pillaging Music” from Speaks Volumes is an extreme and exuberant example of Muhly’s trademark playful, hyperactive mode. At first it alternates between glittering corals of arpeggios and plonky, sputtering chunks of melody; by the end he’s chopped the melodies into randy statements that roughhouse with slap-happy percussion. Muhly is in a very different mode, however, on album-closer “Keep In Touch”, in which a terribly isolated and hurt viola finds a similarly damaged duet partner in a manipulated recording of Antony cooing and hiccupping, wordlessly emoting over a palette of subtle organs and snap-clomp programming. Muhly’s range is expansive—the relationship between the emotional seriousness of his music and its boundless sense of humor is complex and rewarding.

During one conversation with the composer, I asked if he had anticipated the success Antony had in 2005, and Muhly said, “Well I would listen to his music and it was like, How could people not love this?” I replied that lots of great music never really finds its audience, but as soon as I said it, it sounded like something to say, not anything to believe. They were wasted words—something Muhly’s music has no patience for.

Will Welch

The Fader Magazine (April 2nd 2010)

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Released on 12 November 2012
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I Drink The Air Before Me
Released on 6 September 2010
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Released on 25 May 2008
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Speaks Volumes
Released on 25 November 2006
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