Nico Muhly "Mothertongue"

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Really, I love this record. Nico has a way of writing score-paper-music in a way that sounds completely improvised, with every sound imaginable colliding up against each other in accidentally beautiful and hideous ways.

He gets compared most often to minimalist composers (mostly because of certain rhythmic choices, residence in NYC, Philip Glass connection, diatonic-most-of-the-time sensibilities). But my non-Julliard-trained ears disagree. I feel as if he's achieving with intuition what Elliot Carter sought to achieve with equation.

Anyway, I knew that Pitchfork was going to hate Mothertongue and even warned Nico about it. Sure 'nuff. Wasn't expecting such an underhanded, irrelevant dissection of his magazine profiles.

Owen Pallett, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 14:07 (fifteen years ago) link

yeah that review was really terribly written - i havent heard this yet but i want to

t_g, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 14:58 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, the review was so mean-spirited, something I don't get listening to Mothertongue at all, even if archness is part of the presentation/tradition (come to think of it, 'archness' as a term really works for me here, as in "inappropriate playfulness"--I'm into how inappropriate it may be to overdub a list of all lived addresses or whatever, that the content leavens things and makes it funny, if not at first listen).

I do agree that "The Only Tune"'s a standout, but it's weird that the reviewer ripped into it but didn't mention Philip Glass' music at all, discounting the job connection--I hear way more early Glass in that first track (that huge bass sound [the bass-synth all over this is really well-produced], nevermind no-brainer stuff like the harmonized chatter, etc.) than Dntel, but, mind you, I'm not super-familiar with the latter whereas this very threadstarter punned a song title in tribute to the review-referenced Dntel song, so who am I to weigh in (hey, Owen)...

Craig D., Tuesday, 19 August 2008 15:55 (fifteen years ago) link

(I may as well ask, Owen, typing out of ignorance having only read about the guy--what's a good Elliott Carter starter piece?)

Craig D., Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:02 (fifteen years ago) link

I actually thought the review was pretty fair. I like a lot of what Muhly is doing, but the ideas have been more interesting than the execution so far.

jaymc, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:07 (fifteen years ago) link

I like Nico's music, glad I'm not alone here. I was kind of struck by the difference between the review as text and the harsh number rating. Personally, if I knew nothing about Nico Muhly and read that review, it would make me want to hear the record and decide for myself, because the details that the reviewer holds up as weak points (whale fat, buttered toast) actually sound like positives anyway.

Drew Daniel, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:12 (fifteen years ago) link

Haha, to you.

jaymc, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:14 (fifteen years ago) link

(But yeah, I get your point.)

jaymc, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:18 (fifteen years ago) link

Hi! I'm the dude who wrote the "mean-spirited" and "underhanded" Nico review. Just thought I would chime in on this discussion.

I really, really don't think the discussion of the media surrounding Muhly is irrevelant, especially to newcomers to Muhly who have never heard of him and don't know why they should care about him. I think that this probably describes the majority of the Fork readership -- which is not a diss on the readers, by the way: this is the first of his albums the site has ever reviewed, and I thought he deserved an introduction of sorts. I also think it's certainly worth mentioning just how many places have dubbed him the Next Great Hope that never otherwise deign to weigh in on the contemporary classical scene in any capacity. That hype is part of what got this record reviewed on the Fork in the first place!

As for "under-handed" -- I'm not even sure what the means. I certainly don't blame Muhly at any point in the review for some of his more fatuous media coverage, and truly, that New Yorker profile was ridiculous.

Also, Owen (like your stuff, by the way), what on earth does "feel as if he's achieving with intuition what Elliot Carter sought to achieve with equation" mean? I don't see how Muhly's and Carter's musical goals are in any way coincident, at all.

And Craig, I recommend Carter's "Triple Duo" as a starter piece. Not as imposing or monolithic as other works, and has, along with its fiendish complexity, a playful, trickster spirit that you might appreciate if you find Muhly's music to be playful.

Anyway, that's all from me. Carry on...

jayson greene, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:24 (fifteen years ago) link

Thanks for the Carter recommendation and chime-in (was hoping for a weigh-in from you personally).

Craig D., Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:34 (fifteen years ago) link

Haha, to you.

-- jaymc, Tuesday, August 19, 2008 4:14 PM (20 minutes ago) Bookmark Link

Ok, granted, but . . . surely I'm not the only person who wants to know what whale fat sounds like as a musical instrument!

Drew Daniel, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:36 (fifteen years ago) link

Much more resonant than duck fat.

Raw Patrick, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:48 (fifteen years ago) link

Hi Jayson! I didn't feel the review, in sum, was underhanded or mean-spirited. Just the dissection of the New Yorker article. A New Yorker/New York Magazine/New York Times Magazine article is like having a grandma talk about you at Thanksgiving. Accurate, enthusiastic and complimentary, but often makes the subject appear to be completely insufferable.

I feel as if the basis for the New Yorker article (and all the many others) isn't Nico's collaborative work, or his albums, but his substantial body of concert works. (His most recent violin concerto, "Out Of The Loop". is a serious contender for canonization.)

Considering that nobody I've talked to in the Toronto new music scene seems to know anything about Nico, considering the immense quality of his concert work, and considering that this level of publicity is unheard-of for a new music composer, I've been nothing but excited about the recent love affair New York journos have had for the guy.

I agree with many of the points you made in the review... I did, after all, predict a low-blow from the Fork. It's not a good Album. But, like Speaks Volumes before it, it is a compelling collection of classical works, daringly constructed for the recorded medium. (And I guarantee that I'll listen to it more frequently than The Walkmen.)

I'll think a little more about how to articulate the Carter-Muhly connection, right now it's just a notion about dialogue-between-instruments re-interpreted as dialogue-between-recorded sound.

P.S. I'm composing right now as I type this.

Owen Pallett, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:57 (fifteen years ago) link

Surprised you haven't yet worked with it, Drew.

Owen Pallett, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 16:57 (fifteen years ago) link

Hey, Owen, thanks for responding.

Like I said, I don't begrudge Nico any of his media coverage -- as a classical-loving guy, I'm delighted when anyone, anywhere, knows even one or two living composers and wants to talk about them with me. An unprecedented amount of people have heard of Nico. I also don't think that the deep silliness of the New Yorker coverage was Nico's fault, at all, and in fact, he came off in that article as he usually does -- generous to a fault, engaging, full of intriguing notions. This is what I was getting at by saying that what makes Nico special so often comes through, unfortunately, in his interviews, and not in his fairly anonymous concert music -- and trust me, I've heard a fair amount of it. The joke, with the NYer stuff, was meant to be on The New Yorker in general and Rebecca Mead in particular; I apologize if this didn't come off.

I have not heard "Out of the Loop" yet -- wasn't that going to be premiered by the Aurora String Orchestra?

I really don't think the Fork gave this one a low blow at all. I went out of my way to discuss what I see as Muhly's strengths. You say it yourself; it's not a good album -- so it's hard to find nice things to say about it. I actually find unnecessary venom in music reviews to be repellent and destructive, and am always a little dismayed when anyone deems my writing "mean-spirited."

Okay, I definitely said that I wouldn't chime in again last time and totally lied. I won't make such an empty promise again.

jayson greene, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 17:06 (fifteen years ago) link

Pitchfork review pretty correct on this 'un.

Raw Patrick, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 08:53 (fifteen years ago) link

i just want to weigh in on this thread to say:
+) i found jayson's review pretty thoughtful, even if i disagreed with its conclusion.
+) i find "the only tune" totally devastating.

sean gramophone, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 14:46 (fifteen years ago) link

Haven't heard Mothertongue yet but, from what I have heard of Muhly's music, Jayson's review rings true to me. Muhly's a nifty composer and he's got talent - but I'm not sure he's quite found the inspiration yet. (I can't think of a better way to put it - his music's skillfully done and all, but it doesn't quite click for me.) On the other hand:

You know you're in trouble when the audio sample of a burbling coffee machine or the sound of a knife scraping butter on toast exerts as great a hold on the listener's interest as everything that preceded it.

Doesn't necessarily spell trouble - that sort of reversal might mean that something pretty interesting is going on. I'd want to listen to be sure, anyway.

Tim R-J, Thursday, 21 August 2008 09:38 (fifteen years ago) link

yh i think that's what bothered me, you might as well say 'you know you're in trouble in an art gallery when the sight of duchamp's urinal exerts as greater hold on the viewer as everything that preceded it'.

just because something is common-place doesnt mean it cant be great to see/hear

t_g, Thursday, 21 August 2008 10:08 (fifteen years ago) link

The Washington Post goes 'hey there's this guy':

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 21 August 2008 18:25 (fifteen years ago) link

Talking faster than the kinetic rhythms of some of his music, he embeds pointed observations in an agar of "likes" and "you knows," not unlike the sweet fragments of sound that rise out of the many layers of his likable, involved, yet wholesome music.

Oh, those wacky kids.

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 21 August 2008 18:26 (fifteen years ago) link

I like his collab with Antony from the previous album. And there can't be a Nico Muhly thread without mentioning his gorgeous choral arrangements on Björk's "Oceania." "Sirenes" gone askew.

Turangalila, Thursday, 21 August 2008 18:50 (fifteen years ago) link

I actually thought the review's tone was pretty ok and well done, as much as the Pitchfork cynic in me would like to say otherwise. Haven't heard the new album yet, but it's funny - the review's descriptions of the songs and the way they sound on paper made me laugh. WHale fat?!? Awesome!

I do want to hear this soon. And I totally got the New Yorker joke - glad you're poking their ribs, Jayson. I can hardly stand to read their bios these days, whether they're of Wall Street giants or musicians.

skygreenleopard, Friday, 22 August 2008 09:11 (fifteen years ago) link

I sure like this Sam Amidon guy that sings on Mothertounge. He's got a great voice.

banjoboy, Friday, 22 August 2008 11:19 (fifteen years ago) link

The Beyonce arrangement he was in charge of is pretty impressive too. Almost creepy. Definitely creepy, actually.

skygreenleopard, Friday, 22 August 2008 11:27 (fifteen years ago) link

Which was that?

Raw Patrick, Friday, 22 August 2008 12:11 (fifteen years ago) link

There's a couple versions floating around on the internet of it. While he worked with Antony on his concert he arranged a cover of Crazy in Love, and it's pretty great. I'd post but I'm on the wrong computer.

skygreenleopard, Saturday, 23 August 2008 09:25 (fifteen years ago) link

three years pass...

seeing 'The Only Tune' live was pretty awe-inspiring. His new Cello Concerto was v good too, though for me (me being someone who doesn't know shit about classical music) he seems to have more of a distinctive voice in the singer-songwritery mode than he does as composer.

Slightly creeped out that he (and others including our very own Owen P, who has a helluva sharp suit, and confusingly much darker hair than I remembered) covered 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' literally an hour after I was talking about the Saint Etienne cover. Stalkers.

Boo-Yaa Too Rough International Boo-Yaa Empire (Merdeyeux), Wednesday, 21 March 2012 23:45 (twelve years ago) link

That version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart totally made me do a little cry in my seat. Absolutely lovely.

White Chocolate Cheesecake, Thursday, 22 March 2012 00:02 (twelve years ago) link

I found it fascinating how Muhly has such a distinctive voice for his concertos. The cello concerto had so many similarities to the violin concerto, but yet it was still very different. (It probably shows my lack of knowledge about contemporary composers) but are there any other who sound similar?

Second on that cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I can't remember the last time I sat through a piece of music without grinning so much, and physically hug the music. If ever. Thinking about it, that's probably a pretty odd reaction to music.

Moon Fuxx (Jill), Thursday, 22 March 2012 00:08 (twelve years ago) link

ya I should perhaps have mentioned that it was lovely alongside being personally creepy.

Boo-Yaa Too Rough International Boo-Yaa Empire (Merdeyeux), Thursday, 22 March 2012 00:14 (twelve years ago) link

Doveman always covers that Neil Young song! It's his 'thing'.

mom in the woods (Ówen P.), Thursday, 22 March 2012 02:46 (twelve years ago) link

It was a great night, hearing The Only Tune in person was amazing and I loved the spatial violins at the end, gave me Unanswered Question style chills. The only problem is that piece makes me feel really sad and It's still lingering now, so I've been wallowing in really sad music ever since, I need to cheer the hell up.

sleigh tracks (1933-1969) (MaresNest), Thursday, 22 March 2012 08:45 (twelve years ago) link

Also Owen, do Nico and Thomes practise that modern dance keyboard relay thing? It's hella impressive to watch.

sleigh tracks (1933-1969) (MaresNest), Thursday, 22 March 2012 08:48 (twelve years ago) link

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