The Rummage

Tag: South Atlantic

. issue XXIV : vi .

. artist : radio b .
. album : whole foods .
. year : 2013 .
. label : rayni day entertainment .
. grade : a .

Whole Foods

I have never understood people that claim not to enjoy music in general existence (most importantly the very few who claim to abhor and avoid music), as someone who wants to actively memorize popular top 40’s from 19’s to 20’s on 33 and 45 [CONNOR SEZS: Is it worth it?/ Let me work it/ etc chez mademoisellelliot]. Fascinating, but true, these persons without any enjoyment for any music or any tone, these individuals without a favorite let alone any listenable musician or group, do exist. Musical haters often only reveal this answer to a direct question, which is a loaded query in a short burst of digdug layering toasting the eventual hammer clicking silenced stop of blasts six or eight questions later from a variation of, “What’s your favorite artist?” to the last one which is always the incredulous non-question confirmation “So, you mean you don’t like to listen to any music–any music at all?” The less severe cases of music-aphobia extends outward to include such divided musical politics as people that only care for lyrics but never the music of any musician, orchestra, or collective, people that say they care for music but never quite enjoy lyrics of any artist or band or sextet, and of course the huge everypeople, every human being, every earthling who responds to some sounds, sonics, or singers in instant defensive motions for more so than just primal scary sound alerts [growls, howls, shrieks, creaks, rattles & hums, etc]. Hallucinogen users often suffer from an experience known as a “bad trip” which often reflects the emotional emotisphere of one’s being, only as good as you feel; wait a minute, it also sounds just like everyone I know, every human user within the interface. Everybody suffers and strives toward a high as a goal, longing to have straight A’s or the outstanding high with nary a low point, let alone a downward trending angle, any weakness or loss; life being the ultimate loss, liberty the one we all choose to accept in some loss or another, and the happiness that we are desperate to ever lose a grasp on every second of the existance we have.

While I have loved incarnations of rap throughout my entire life (okay, yeah, sticklers will call me out for my alienation and disillusionment as a twelve year old with the arrival of “gangsta rap” that invaded R&B staples of the early 1990’s as Tony, Toni, Tone, R. Kelly, Naughty By Nature and other Top 40 staples of WPGC and WKYS gave way to Snoop, Dre Ph.d, and bleeped / censored / scratched lyrics), I have always spent more time listening and relistening because there is a LOT to memorize. A joy for me is the ability for playback in my own head, liking memorization of an aural method as I do, I like to have a grasp on crawl running commentary for review and digestion.

So, as the Cheats Movement continued a showcase this year to joyous anniversary at Gallery 5, RVA HotSauce offering tithed to the community a great percentage of beautiful music. This led to my discovery of Radio B from the press release, which served to pique my perusal online which, to my delight, presented free music files to greet me. Not just free music files in blue hyperlink and nonsense numerical and letter listing, but eight full catalogue albums in user friendly, accessible, debonair designed, pattern professional gleam on a site unassociated with a bandcamp or soundcloud template. The artist’s own site gives Radio “a faith in music and artistry which spurs him on in a time where music seems to be fading away,” and that faith is great example of the evolution of mankind in a technodigital aging. Following a span of five years on the site itself and over a hundred songs (CONNOR SEZS: I’m not counting them, don’t call me about this anymore), this kind of portfolio is my favorite overview. All at once, the case for retroactive research seems at least considerate enough to have a birth and a death before digging up the truth, or interviewing the very entity itself before the loss of anyone or anything, any moment that doesn’t return.

Whole Foods, the most recent release, is my focus here. (CONNOR SEZS: Yer focused, okay. Warm that up, size that ring, wait, you’re writing down everything?) I say to you, and there are very few times I drive readers to a site, but I’m telling you, right now, go here, go here http://radiobmusic.com right now. Go to http://radiobmusic.com and download and listen to everything. The chance to view and listen to an artist in such depth is heavenly unheard of anymore in such a demand for monetary compensation for any offering. And this site offers you a beautiful interface and gorgeous waiting room interior design (meaning, I’d like to stay there all day like any good home or menu default screen), I bet it looks gorgeous on a smartphone of any platform (CONNOR SEZS: Woah. Okay. Yeah. Droid is sweet.). There are no other instructions, no easter egg to click on or mediafire foray or any other step by step instructions required of you. You get a lot of great songs, and so I give you this gift, readers, of an artist you should listen to deeply. At http://radiobmusic.com you get a lot of music to enjoy, and it is a pleasure. I love the entire album of Whole Foods (5 on 5 mixtape may supplant the top spot soon enough in my foreseeable future); the smooth production stays without a single popping skip of thesis, and the producing collaborators are many {Frequent contributor and fellow Rayni Day Entertainment cadre Nickelus F share production duties overture with Cashby, Trac-Qaeda, The Stoop Kid, NameBrand all producing tracks and Conrizzle, Fair, James River, Misterelle, Illa Scorsese, Chance Fischer, Vintage A, Tamir Rock, Noah O, Destiny Da Chef, Lil Lee, Deemize, Nike Nando & J Bizz appearing on tracks to kick out wisdom and jams}. While choosing Cypher in three incarnations to prove my point, (CONNOR SEZS: Wikipedia Says: A cipher is any collection or gathering of rappers, beatboxers, or breakers forming in a circle in order to jam musically together–the term has also in recent years come to mean the crowd which forms around the battles, consisting of spectators and onlookers. This group serves partly to encourage competition and partly to enhance the communal aspect of rap battles. The cipher is known for “making or breaking reputations in the hip hop community; if you are able to step into the cipher and tell your story, demonstrating your uniqueness, you might be more accepted.” These groups also serve as a way for messages about hip hop styles and knowledge to be spread, through word-of-mouth and encouraging trends in other battles) the entire album is something you can play from start to finish without feeling the itch to skip a track or turn a random selection to the playlisting. The battle rap style evokes a sense of improvisation and playfulness regardless of the often heavy subject matter or koan statements, which is no small feat considering the polished sheen all these songs exude.

So, do it already. Go to http://radiobmusic.com and start to love a local boy making good into great every single time, and a faith in music and artistry which spurs him on in a time where music seems to be fading away. As Radio’s site says, much better than I can, he “exemplifies the underdog mentality…. The idea is to make positives out of negatives…. Radio B hopes to inspire people through his music and motivate people to reach to the ends of the earth to reach their dreams. Coming from Richmond, a place where there is no major sports team, and local celebrities for the most part are…just that…local. There’s Deangelo and Skillz, and more recently Trey Songz from Petersburg, but the chances are slim for the aspiring artist in the Capital City…. Which makes Radio B and Rayni Day Entertainment’s underdog mentality all the more a reality…. And the world loves an underdog.”

by Perkus Tooth

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. issue XXII : v .

. artist : samson trinh and the upper east side big band .
. song : dear prudence .
. year : 2013 .
. label : n/a .
. grade : a plus .

uesbb2

There’s an old joke, (isn’t there always), single person, the opening act is listening to conversational riffs tracking to the four-piece headliners, before a show, who overture, “Must be nice not having to stretch payment around, but what kind of sound does this stick make?” The bass player says, (sometimes the lead singer, I heard it told better as this is one solid heavy metal flute, but like how IS the sound happening on this? & etc.) Another dialogues 100 dollars being a modest price point, “It will be for the fifty of us.” Or the entire joke of first trimester twentieth century modern American big band songbook, which is big bands crowded based on salary, playing first as personal recordings for radio station consumption and then eventually television soundtracks (Gleason would be more so than Goodman, who did the whole Carnegie Conservatory Route). All the other jokes I know are old setups between the bandleader and the emcee of the radio, not classic so much as setup and punchline, delivery quicksilver pun children.

Samson Trinh and the Upper East Side Big Band are not joking around. Trinh himself seems to do all the correct things as a bandleader — and especially as a leader with endless enthusiasm bursting layers of sound that not only seem commanded by him but are marching along as a tight band, a session band, a crew to be wrecked with. Having people follow you is difficult enough — establishing that trust and the follow-through — but keeping those relationships in a positive, constructive state for a decade in such a polygamous collective as a proper big band, with sections and sequential seating sourced, is the kind of awe-inspiring power that is harnessed by few human heads. These arrangements are huge production numbers with a personal touch but professional coverage. And I’m talking obvious archives of interpretation and communities of classic covers and soundtracked depth of brass and, you know, like good news. A while in the making (duh), the entire dynamic has stayed a constant, so says a ten-year anniversary. The website clearly has an administrator and the domain name doesn’t end in a free-service gated-community layout. But who’s counting? (CONNOR SEZS: We talked about Square One references already, dude. Also, I Just Adore Four is missing that announcer on the iTunes cuts, at least from three collections. What’s up with that? NOW DON’T START THAT AGAIN.)

Back to the sound, and I’m not talking the fidelity of furniture speakers and ampule watts stacks, I speak of the vibrations that come from a full public school classroom of human beings. The synapse of “Dear Prudence,” Lennon’s cooing coax to Mia Farrow’s frail fragile counterpart (is it possible) from the time at the Maharaja, where Johnny learned to not believe in Beatles, just to “believe in me,” which Adam Duritz would change to wanna be someone, to believe, to believe, to believe (yeah) talking to a Dylan creation that I hear again and again is the end of this song, where the plaintiff wail is backed by a crescendo of woodwinds, strings, percussion, brass, and voice. And it doesn’t have to beg for a playmate, because it has an entire neighborhood of cooperation and good vibes (lit-er-ally). These layers of noise all mingle and exist together, and with the ability of modern technology, are mixed and occur almost as in their natural environment, an overwhelming natural phenomena. Buddy Rich was a one time thing and that was a toddler memory of traumatic bipolar journey-a-ing, and Samson Trinh’s Upper East Side Big Band is a fantastic machine of humanity in the same regard.

The Beatles-tinged cuts of Trinh’s Abbey Road collection and the newest offering of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is fitting and fascinating. There isn’t anything you hear that sounds forced or even slightly outdated. Trinh’s band of merrymaker’s love game old songs brand new again, nurturing the classics and recreating welcome happy wash of these brassy, chic, metropolitan sensible sounds that wall of sound crumbles any listener into smitten status in less than two songs.

by Perkus Tooth

. issue XXI : vi .

. artist : the Ha-RAng!#’s .
. album : she wants pretty ep .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : demographics .

SheWantsPretty

I always considered Punk to be in soul ate the communion supper table of Dadaism: negation feasting to the point of erasure, appetite strung along a zeno arrowing caloric countdown to nothingness and therefore enlightenment, a silence cycle cutting occam. This stoicism s’roided equilibrium an eternal battle of overpowering balance only found in some constant equations relating; consider the gravity caused by the rotation of Ouroboros and the small orbiting object right above it. The negation of emotion through ultra heightened awareness and expression of said emotion is easier said than suffering seeing all of earth stuck sprouting out, in that perspective of the google globe view (glass ceiling tm’d, and paid for by the Brin Page & by the foundation of a new era of announcer WATCH YER TURNAROUND GREENSLADE). Virtue’s balance is in the present moment and nearly none other, the sage of any nostalgia or pain of taking to heart hearth, masonry marathons back to Saturn (Rainbow Moonbeams and Orange Snow).

The safety pinned difficulty killed my ability to look for xerox handbilling, so I almost didn’t find a Christian Moniker for the gang of four I followed onstage. I did follow a supreme salmon slacks who brushed me off, and her train-hopping companion of some PizzaGrease nomenclature (or was it PizzaBox, the name of that puppy leashed by a lot of dreadlocks). Later researched has revealed The Harangue as a Toronto metal band. The Ha-Rang!#’s history repeats malcolm middling sadomasochistic conceits, with a tight band and clothes: the Who patch perhaps the most fitting sight at pacing stalk turn. Whereas punk ethos trails towards noise rock of limited challenge and sound bites in full format rather than sampled beat, the fretwork and trill soar canopy that accompanied the sound and fury of this Charlottesville (CONNOR SEZS: Dude said “Kinda” as the preposition to that one) quartet was tight jockey inside lines, elasticity of action figure movements and a full sampling of tribe called quest(o-wee-o, loveloveglove) audiospiritguidebook (a bit from michael j and lloyd, I prefer thompson and glover but who’s counting).

[CONNOR SEZS: Editors note. No one remembers Square One. I can barely find youtube evidence of Mathnet. When reference choices lose the bookcase binding and get shelved, bound hard up, it’s over. You’ve won a prize, get off the show. I can only keep up reading this because you footnote my questions and I ask after you berate audience. This is flarffy undigested swallowed air; flatulence to majority of consumers and I wish you could simplify to insulate inundation of population. Remember? Pulling hair from homemade leftovers is still pulling that jello experiment microbe carnival like in home economics, and you’d eat a lot of things, prepositions eve, which flags and ends this broadcast day, dudesicle. Gawrdamn legumes of potential exponential supernatural you’ve got me doing it as you make me speak through–NOW DON’T START THAT AGAIN.]

Hi there. Face here. IN THE MORNING (CS: no, no, no. reference materials are not allowed outside the library.) The lead vocals, matched by a female synth player (yeah what was that jam cs: ([author’s] editor’s notation: I cannot ascertain the proper etymology of the sound that was made here. Although an approximation of it would be “Ah!” or “Eh!” and would require an elaborate spelling or at least a stage direction in order to be pronounced in phonetic alphabet absolution, I can tell you it is the exact noise one makes to stop some household pet in their tracks when they are being reprimanded for an error of judgment. Say you found your cat seeking bones in the upended trash can, or a dog with his wiping carpet stroll stroke.) blended. Unless that’s not a synth.

cs: (Sound “!” again)

Because the vocalist duties never assumed a lead, or even settled on one as the voice and breath allowed each character a drinking song chatter, chattel sated between songs so the set was, you know whatever, traditional. Listening again on interwebs I can almost picture the direction of the staged compass that held sway. Delorean South, Murderous North, Pretty West and Harpo East. Guitar sold south, and a northern drummer, bassist east, and lady in the west with that synth (cs: “!” “!” “!” [three of those sounds in a row] WAS IT A HAMMOND, I MEAN GET IT TOGETHER, C’MON LANK GOLD CART!).

Delorean Girls is phenobarbital cut with pheromones, pellets of time release Adderall, palettes, crushed murex marble pebbles.

While art is subjective to the individual perspective, it is always a pleasure to be able to engage and engorge with enjoyment. My experience with the Ha-RAng!#’s is of a collective with a nice collection, trophy cases shining some shindig sound I’m sold on. If you want to have a good time and encourage personal authority, I highly suggest giving them a listen. (CONNOR SEZS: Fine. I’m eating dinner. Stop Smiling is a magazine, not Stop Making Sense.)

by Perkus Tooth

. issue XX : viii .

. artist : anduin .
. album : ww pool mix .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : b .

WWPool

Richmond-based sound artist Anduin refreshes material scraps in this uncanny and resonant mix, the tension between articulated percussion and sustained ambient currents creating a uniquely insecure periphery. This is a temperate ambient stargaze, creeping through its rustic balm and tepid temperature warmed by a verdant flush, and chilled by vigilant drone and saxophone hoopla. Strings and wood wind provide harmonic fibril to enliven the listener, and are more compelling than the strictly-percussion foreground approached used elsewhere. Similarly, tape echo vocals are senselessly nostalgic; sometimes successful, especially when staccato, manipulated to seem performative (“ah hah hah”). The ambience ranges from abyssal to tinny, mechanistic to organic.

WW Pool (who?) seems to be ‘napping’ in some sort of mausoleum doted on by deciduous trees and sundry mosses, in grayscale. It’s not unapt — the listener sinks in with the effortless resignation of just someone locked in the cemetery at night, or better, marooned on an island half-crag and half-foliage. Though it conjures place expertly, remarkably and in spite of the photograph documentation, we don’t know exactly where this sounds like. Perhaps it’s the assortment of material used, Frankensteinian, to propagate the space, but there’s something untethered about WW Pool’s always evoking an uncertainly positive experience. And it is an experience. The dense resin of the space is not always full-bodied, but it always encapsulates, and without affectation, too. Not too arty and not too dark, this mix is just right.

by Brittany Tracy

. issue XX : ii .

. artist : positive no .
. album: via florum .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : sweet tunes .

Positive No

Positive No is so playful, the name inspires conundrums for me instantly. Sounding out the systems of an adult to child relationship, overdrafts and coverages fail to attract or even sustain secrecy, sensation or the dreaded and expected surprises. As it is, they are a positive.

“Pocket Park” bares a perfect pop song in the familiarity of regionalism. I adore this band since Style Weekly told me so. “Georgia Purchase Agreement” condenses “Crooked Fingers” (Archers of Loaf) and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” and “7/4.” I must admit being a sucker for Tracy Wilson’s breathy Skye Edwards command. Pure tone, backed by (I’m guessing) a male falsetto, which I must admit to being a sucker for. And to top my gourmet lollipop, I’m going to admit to loving this overcast rock, rolling grey clouds of season. There are certain chord beds I find fill seasonal surface soundtrack for, this one is suited to the winter we’re to have. I can get pretty lost in these days where the sun doesn’t shine as bright, and the cold gray makes you want to sleep in, or at least stay under cover, for another ten minutes or so. “Power of Ten” isn’t nearly as minor chorded as “Dreamland, VA,” but this shuffle jazz square is a perfect soundtrack for touring Iceland or Greenland in the summertime, when the sun shine between giant cloud formations almost all day, and there are no trees to make shadows, just sculpted stone cliff sides, or piles of lava rock.

This is indie rock you could play over any public address system to be modern and have no worries at being offensive to anyone … or causing any medical condition inflammation irritation. Wait. What do they call speaker setups in commercial venues? Sound systems? (CONNOR SEZS: OKAY ALREADY.) Via Florum is the kind of album that makes Richmond proud and accredited, from the kind of band you want to cozy up with in the winter.

by Perkus Tooth

. issue XIX : iii .

. artist : geometric shapes .
. album : dknphew concerto .
. year : 2013 .
. label : self-released .
. grade : mountain range .

DK

Playing a show with Sacred Teachers, before the recent Nile remodel, a duo’s full presence lit up that second dim building without an element producing light visually (that outletted track lighting barroom causing nice chiaroscuro). A venue is an empty space, and a show usually requires a vaulted rise to command the attention of the viewer and provide psychological safety for the performer. Any stage show for any band, not only from the sight onstage, but what’s doing with the band onstage aside from sound, is often overlooked (not to say it isn’t etched in a momentary monument, that it isn’t a experienced array). A show can extend to the specific details of date, tales of tape at times, and with lineup changes, even personality perforation: showing the ensemble of a group in circumstances of living. This public persona also serves as a rule or guideline for the group and each member, in this mission statement, binds a uniform not different than Epstein ties. The clothing, the ideology, a crisp outer crease to the inner alchemy lining of purpose; the Voltron impact, summing the body of action, lies in a different individual than the body of thought, strives for unison. Archetype populare of a rock band has a lead singer who may attempt charisma, but a reservation and control subdues the personal to the possible gnarl sludge or grunge reverberation in a more nostalgic venerable memoir: a lot of Keith crag posing fitting a Cobain restrain, no Jagger swagger speedometer which stays as archetypical pop (read: dance record capable of being used from the club scene and stapling the mobile dj karaoke requests add ons). Geometric Shapes (Robert Shropshire & Johnny Dutch), tho’, has run my gamut of identification by being two different and mesmerizing acts to watch, or listen. The Nile papered, handed out worksheets of mystery, harnessing crumpled and crushed red, yellow and orange streamers risen from a large rigged fan, in puppetry-styled magma, emitting from a waist deep cardboard volcano, contributing to the distortion they rowed to ripple through in roosts of calm and washing tone tides.

The worship aspect of Geometric Shape’s newest offering, DKnphew, is a predatory strike. “Intro” encounter shaves shapes and states of space midair, folding music over, if not detaching the articulate arm itself for a diagram instaframe without rupture or true trauma. The geometric shape here represents the grid of eternity shown in turn of the century animations (CONNOR SEZS: You’re talking about that Simpson’s Halloween episode where he goes all 3d. I know it), the endless possibilities have been drawn, or set down rather, and explored.

While “Are Hearts Pray For the Future” dirges, “People Like Dat” punctuates steel. These offerings are the poppier aspects of the release, staying within a tighter time length. While the longer pieces are able to traverse, these stick to a schedule. Innate understanding and interpretation abounds as these disparate dimensions multiverse parallel bars, swiftly swirling in wind, streamers of lava shooting from recycled rock. The metronome bends in favor of the unexplored sound natural, ambience as a genre attempts to a formatting of white noise, a chakra bowl hum pitch ended on a single harmonic, flat or sharp, but one pitch, neat nest weave. Physiological philosophic harmonics — CONNOR SEZS: Wait, that’s…THE WORLD: Background Sound: Volume 77. Wait, what was that? http://www.allmusic.com/album/bbc-sfx-cd-vol-46-istanbul-mw0001458163/releases.

“Cyber Sauna” feels like a sensory deprivation chamber; the swishing of background water gives way to the snowy static of electricity, as the sounds mingle and bleed into other tempos and temporal lobe activity, in a grand rising of the tides. “Core”’s dark sludgy water gives us some clear vocals, close incantation and that religious wasteland abyss of atmosphere that haunts Geometric Shapes sounds. “Serendipshitty” hollers a casiotone beat poetry. “Dingo Nibs” sandstorm tornados reverb and pitch in a speedy spark.

As a note, I love this dissonance: discord is important in my chambers and hollows, and the controlled tracking of such to meet up for a few blissful harmonics in sync is the pay off. Lending itself to bebop and other improvisational bedrocks, this wind storm guides the very dust particles away from the stiffened hairs of irritation, to lead whatever seeming dissonant elements had populated the song to a safe bedding smooth skin (CONNOR SEZS: Mathematicians said it best, ending that New Orleans v Chicago : Jazz v Bebop early ‘fifties feud. The relative errors are accuracy, because the harmony, however infrequent, always erases absolute error from the equation). For measures at a time, this relief roots rhythmic perfection, sonic samadhi, and all harmonics halo glowing (CONNOR SEZS: ROUNDING THIRD) before juggling the instruments away, anticipating possibilities potion or poison, and subtly settling them in another loomed landmark of pleasing pattern.

(CONNOR SEZS: Geometric Shapes describes themselves on a website as ‘free form musical improvisational rapid collection of abstractions of part covers part universal shapes of sound having a break down.’ They did this waaaaaaayyyyy more concise. Brevity, chap chip c.h.i.p. s.)

The closer, “Nibiru,” listens as a shoegaze classic. Stairway guitar bleeding off a faraway vinyl sets up a silent stage, then a oingo boingo synth and percussive ball pit fills the menagerie of sound stampedes. (CONNOR SEZS: The panflute always leads me toward Xavier Renegade Angel association than subway corridor buskers. Magma meditations not reflecting ripple pool temperates.)

Okay, okay, back to the difference in the time span of the Nile remodel. Geometric Shapes, at a recent show with Ultra Bide and Mutawawa (Strange Matter) brought the forefront of my consciousness into a righted rowboat, from the floor of the space and not the three feet high of the stage. The show, not as props heavy as my trip on the Nile, was a tableau of curated purpose and a solid smooth finding of spotlight. A calm masterful banter between songs dislocated the dissonance in the snap of a world ocean, attempting definition in measure, but infinity in connection and loop without end. Coasts viewed were simultaneous in distance, as all elements brought into being were then formed, evolved, and set to task by two musicians holding only a few instruments, and themselves, accountable for a singular experience and not a setlist. Residency of an artist implies (to me) that someone is home in the inner working, even when the physical and mental selves are allowed complete freedom, to conform to cartoon physics without making a coyote misstep, to lack the judgement of the ever-present universe. Check out this fresh organic experience without a chilly choking frost veneer, before they blast out of your reach and into the stars. I’m sure they’ll still transmit, but you know how much time those years take, in light, without the speed. (CONNOR SEZS: Also, as a close, how did I predict that Reggie Jason thing? Another empty victory of gordon sumner synchronicity. I’d like to send this one out for Lou and Rachel, and all the kids, and P.S. 192, Springfield Estates, Franconia Elementary.)

by Perkus Tooth

. issue XVII : vii .

. artist : 1969 highland springs high school choir .
. album : gloria 
.
. year : 1969 
.
. label : the custom fidelity company .
. grade : d .

Highland Springs Choir 69 Front

It was 1969 at Highland Springs High School, home of the Springers. I once asked a Highland Springs student what a Springer was. He eloquently responded, “It’s a dragon. In a skirt.” I later saw that the mascot actually wears a kilt, in a reference to the Scottish Highlands. The students and families of the 1969 Highland Springs High School Choir would have never expected a recording they made to have survived to the ripe old age of 44 years. They would have never expected an individual with no close connection to them or their school to listen to the recording. Yet that is exactly what I have done. They would also have never expected to have a critical review of their performance published, available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read. 44 years later, that is what I intend to do.

I was a band geek in school and then married a high school chorus director. Because of this, I know that many student performances are professionally recorded live so that they can then be sold to students and parents as keepsakes to enjoy. In my day, you bought an audio cassette of your concert. By the time I was in college in the 90s, we started purchasing CDs of select performances. Now, you have the option of CD and/or DVD, and I’m sure that Blu­Ray and HD download options will be coming into their own soon in this niche recording market.

I can almost assure you that there are no random, unconnected persons anywhere that happen to hold a tape or CD of any of my many student performances. Recordings like these are for sentimental value. Then, when you move on to a new recording format and throw out your old tape deck, they become one thing ­ trash. You don’t take them to a used music store to trade them in. You don’t sell them at a yard sale. You probably don’t even post to Facebook to ask if any old classmates have use for them. They simply go to the landfill. In this rare case, though, I paid good money (a dollar) for this student recording. The reason? The format is one that has created a market for obscurities, and is very near and dear to my heart: it is a vinyl record.

In 1969, the compact cassette was still in its early years and relatively few people had a tape deck. My guess is that it was quite a novelty to have a recording of any student performance at all. Enter “The Custom Fidelity Company” of Pasadena, California. Evidently, they could coordinate a professional recording at your event and have it pressed to an LP. I run across old records of local student ensembles such as this one from time to time that were pressed by Custom Fidelity. My favorite record store usually has some lying around. You can see an incomplete discography of Custom Fidelity pressings here. There are always some notes on the back of their albums about the technical processes they undertook in recording, and they seem to have taken pride in attempting to make a quality product. You can be certain that theirs is one genre of vinyl records that will not come back into production.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the record itself that I have does not perfectly match the sleeve. Both the school and director, the dashing young Mr. Emerson Hughes, are the same. The student roster of course may differ slightly if it was recorded in a different school year. Most obviously, the tracklist is different. I would have liked to have chuckled over “Aquarius” (listed on the album cover) and judged a variety of more “serious” pieces (such as a Mozart “Laudate Pueri”). The record I found inside though, contains only one work, split between two sides: the Vivaldi Gloria. It seems that sales must have gone well enough, and Mr. Hughes must have been impressed enough with the first record, that he allowed Custom Fidelity to hit him up for multiple recordings over his tenure at Highland Springs.

In all truth, it is impressive that a combined high school choir would undertake a work of this length and complexity, so it was not a total disappointment to find the mismatched record in the sleeve. Indeed, this seems to be a recording not by an auditioned, select ensemble, but by the combined elective choir of the school, making it all the more impressive. It can be very hard for a choral director to retain the attention and interest of a student ensemble over the course of the semester if they are working on only a single style of music, much less a single composer, 
and much much less a single work such as this! You can rest assured that this piece is all they worked on in class for months on end. Mr. Hughes was either a great salesman for the musical genius of Vivaldi, or the students were a very special group with a background in, and a love of, sacred classical music, or both.

If I were confined to a single word to describe the majesty and genius of Vivaldi’s most popular Gloria, I would choose “exuberance.” In a traditional musical setting of the Latin Gloria text, exuberance is arguably the artistic goal. When performing a Gloria, you are indeed shouting praises to an all-encompassing embodiment of perfect creative love. Despite the many shortcomings you would expect to hear in a high school choral performance, the Springers, under Mr. Hughes direction, manage to capture and convey that exuberant spirit of this masterpiece. From the first shouts of the word “Gloria,” the choir captures the essence of the piece.

Indeed, from the get­-go, we experience the choir’s very best quality, and it persists throughout the entire record. It is their surprisingly accurate intonation. They truly have a wonderful sense of choral harmony. This single, well­honed skill really carries their performance throughout the record, making it all quite listenable. Many of the singers must have either had a background in choral singing through experiences in their house of worship, or had been receiving private voice lessons, or both. I would be interested to learn of the prior musical training that brought them to this point.

Unfortunately, also from the very beginning, we experience the defining flaw of their performance: their diction. Particularly, their Latin consonants are quite incorrectly formed. When singing the Latin word “Gloria,” it is advisable to “flip” the letter “r,” almost as if pronouncing it like the letter “d.” This choir, however, sings an Anglicized “r,” drawing out the consonant and ruining the Latin text. This type of mishap persists throughout the record. The only person that I can really pin the blame on is their choral director himself, Mr. Hughes. They certainly seem capable of learning whatever he throws at them, and would have undoubtedly learned the Latin pronunciation correctly if they had only been taught it correctly. Some grace may perhaps be given for a possible lack of concern for foreign language diction in their era of music education. Another possible cause would be Austro­Germanic influence on Latin pronunciation, sometimes called “Viennese Latin.”

One factor that somewhat tempers any stylistic mishaps is that this Gloria had only come into common use 30 years earlier during a 1939 festival. This may come as a bit of a surprise with the popularity this work enjoys today. It is very common to hear the Vivaldi Gloria performed and broadcast, especially during the Christmas and Easter seasons. Most modern listeners will find at least parts of the Gloria familiar. The piece was written in the early 1700’s, but went unnoticed for centuries. So, perhaps there was not yet a strong general stylistic consensus about this piece in choral music in 1969. Even so, the pronunciation on this record doesn’t hold up today.

Vivaldi actually wrote this Gloria for an orphanage of very talented girls, coincidentally making this high school performance somewhat similar in nature. Interestingly enough, that Venetian school that Vivaldi wrote many pieces for garnered its students from wealthy patrons. The girls were the illegitimate children that the men had by their mistresses. The unwilling fathers sadly cast the young girls out, while sending sizable sums of money to pay for a good education for the girls as their inequitable penance. This tuition evidently allowed the school to secure none other than Vivaldi himself as their court composer.

Although the piece is written for choir and orchestra, here it is accompanied by pipe organ. There are few high school string programs even today that would be up to the task of playing this piece with orchestra, and I dare say that you may actually find some string groups in present-day Henrico county that are actually capable of this setting. The organist here is either an incredibly talented student organist … or an adult accompanist who is ill-prepared or lacks some skill and musicality. The first example of the organist’s poor musical interpretation shows up at the end of the first movement; he chooses staccato notes rather than a more portato gesture.

The recording itself is audibly semi­professional, although some defects could be due to the age and condition of the record I have. The pressing itself looks quite nice with a handsome gold label and apparently good finishing and tooling to the vinyl. There is, though, quite a bit of either surface noise and/or tape hiss on the record.

All four parts are very well balanced, denoting strength in all four of the voice parts. One common weakness of high school choirs is the propensity not to carry energy all the way to the end of the musical phrase. This choir has no such problem, carrying all the way through the very last note of the phrase. This demonstrates peculiarly good use of breath control. Their instructor, Mr. Hughes, has not “dumbed down” the music by doing things such as altering tempos in order to help them make it through the phrase more easily either. While their tone quality is still that of a younger choir, their voices sound surprisingly mature for high school. One would hope that they are not altering their voice in any unhealthy or destructive manner in order to achieve this sound. In listening, it is evident why the director would have wanted to capture this choir’s performance.

While it is always a miracle to get the men of a high school choir to convincingly begin a piece of music or a movement, they certainly do so in the second movement, “Et In Terra Pax.” However, their tone quality is not as good as in other areas of the record, once they have had a chance to warm up and get their head in the game. It sounds as if they are singing more toward the back of the throat rather than achieving full resonance. The altos, however, first demonstrate their buttery and full sound with their soli entrance. It is during this second movement that the choir begins performing some quicker and more disjointed harmonic changes. Vivaldi was certainly ahead of his time with these harmonies — which may remind one of pieces as modern as Barber’s “Adagio For Strings,” written over 200 years later. These harmonies, however, don’t phase the students at all as they move through them with beautiful ease and interpretation. Contrapuntal passages are handled very adeptly, creating a beautiful contrast to their return to homophonic passages. While the tenors aren’t quite as strong as the basses, they certainly hold their own during their soli passages. On the slower movements such as this one, the organist sounds much more in control of the keyboard manuals and stylistically palatable.

“Laudamus Te,” however, is back to a quicker tempo, and the organist has some unfortunate fumbles here and there during the introduction. This movement features a duet that is very delightful. The soloists’ voices pair very well together ­- a great selection by their teacher. I picture them as the darlings of the choir that everyone loves and is friends with, but who knows. They have a wonderful blend and interpret the music nicely, other than some trouble at the end of one of the early phrases of their duet. In fact, the propensity of this choir to perform the music in such a stylistically appropriate manner (other than diction) makes me wonder if they had a model that they were listening to, such as a very good record played repeatedly in class. Remember that these are just high school kids. It is somewhat unusual for a choir to have stylistic prowess and subtlety of interpretation in all four voice parts due to the simple fact that a choir director can only sing convincingly in one or two voice parts when attempting to model musical styles. For most high school students, they really need to hear someone sing their part the way it is supposed to be sung in order for them to be able to emulate successfully.

This group is able not only to produce a sweet sound, but also to really have some fire when singing movements that call for it, such as the “Gratias Agimus Tibi.” One hallmark of young choirs is that the girls sing too sweetly and the boys too bombastically, but that is not the case here. The basses do, however, carry their part with the most gusto during this movement, pushing the choir forward. The slight fadeout at the end of the movement is odd unless this recording happened to be attended by an audience who forgot to hold their applause until the end of the entire work, as is customary.

As is often the case in high school choral programs, the women of the choruses are usually the standout soloists. The “Domine Deus” movement features a young mezzo who is without question the standout soloist of this record. It would be hard to heap too much glowing praise upon this likewise glowing solo. I would be surprised if she were not in her senior year when she performed this. Her voice is quite mature in tone, mainly a function of age. I would be interested to know what she did with music in her life from this point; she certainly sounds as if she could easily have pursued a career in music performance and education. Her rounded tone, her crafted phrasing, diction, vowels, and easy and tasteful portamento between wide intervals make for a truly delightful aria­styled movement. Since it is a slower section, the organist is able to create a nice canvas for her to paint her interpretation on top of. This solo would be more than good enough for any college or semi­professional performance of the Gloria. It is evident that she worked on it quite a bit. Sensitive musical treatment of this manner does not just happen automatically for a professional, much less for a high school choral student. The organist even ends the piece very nicely.

In the “Domine, Fili,” we experience an unfortunate rhythmic pitfall of many student performances. Sometimes a school choir director will only have so much influence over the accompanist, which may explain the shortcoming in this movement. Rather than playing a “dotted­eighth and sixteenth” march­style rhythm, the organist plays a triplet pattern with the first two notes tied together. In layman’s terms, that means that rather than achieving a crisp rhythmic feel, it has a “lilt,” sounding like music to accompany someone walking with a limp. It ruins the entire movement. Why? Because when an organist is asserting an incorrect rhythm
like this, it becomes impossible for the choir to sing the slightly different and correct rhythm over it. It is a lost cause, even though the tenors make a valiant attempt at putting it right. I am hoping that a student organist is at fault and that the director did not teach the pattern incorrectly. The movement could have been very nice, but alas, it sounds like the choir is paired with an organ grinder or a theater organ with a hand­pumped bellows.

The organist momentarily redeems him or herself with a very tasteful entrance to the next “Domine Deus.” The soloist here sounds to be a true burgeoning alto, which is a rarity. Like the rest of her section, her tone quality is enchanting. The interplay of call and response between the soloist and the rest of the choir is quite nice. It is very easy for a young choir to get lost in the magic of their friend’s solo and fail to make a solid entrance when it come times for them to sing again. This choir has no problem whatsoever with that responsibility. They are there 100% to prop up their classmate musically with their supporting role, spotlighting the textual contrast Vivaldi has interwoven here. While this alto’s phrasing is not quite as refined as other soloists, her voice is strong enough to pull off the solo. And while her intonation is generally good, some larger intervals toward the end of the solo do her in a bit. Again, the consonants of the choir in “miserere” are awful. Even so, this solo is a lengthy and serious undertaking that she should be commended for.

The organist continues to play tastefully on the more recitative sections. I would venture to say that for a student ensemble that this “Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi” movement is the most difficult to begin. Not only is there subtlety of expression, the beginning harmonies are quite complex. It would amaze me if they had been able to “hear” their upcoming first note of this movement after ending the Domine Deus without help from the organist. As the music begins to take off, they again show some real conviction in a fiery passage, led again by the basses. This is a group of students who is not afraid in the least to express a forthright attitude when the music calls for it. They practically yell out their notes, and it works wonders.

The “Qui Sedes” features a different mezzo soloist. Mr. Hughes should be commended for finding opportunities to feature multiple soloists. Keep in mind that this is not a huge 200­-piece choral group. It is quite surprising that Mr. Hughes was able to either identify or cultivate multiple capable soloists for Vivaldi’s caliber of writing for vocalists. While this soloist is not as prodigious as the others, she performs quite nicely. She is very adept at the many runs of ascending melody. Her tone quality sounds heavily influenced by the popular music of her time. It sounds as though this solo may have been quite a reach for her, musically. However, her stylistic approach to the solo on the whole is very appropriate. Her phrasing and sense of line are very nice and seem intuitive.

The director again pulls no punches in tempo with the “Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus.” It is a refreshingly brisk reprise, setting up the “Cum Sancto Spiritu,” which the basses start off in a manner that would rival professional groups. This movement contains a massive amount of contrapuntal writing as the parts layer in. This is incredibly challenging for an amateur choir. It is the polar opposite of singing Christmas Carols. Voice parts are entering and exiting all over the place, almost as if they are fireworks shooting off and rapidly disseminating. Amazingly, the Highland Springs Choir sings this movement as if they were made for this musical moment. While this movement is certainly not the most popular of the Gloria, it is truly the crowning achievement of the record and worthy of commercial broadcast. Each vocal section holds its own. You can hear entrances clearly, and the important moving lines are brought out for the listener. That takes work to achieve ­ a lot of work. Furthermore, it is always wonderful to hear an ensemble who has spent just as much time honing the end of a piece of music as the beginning, rather than leaving it to chance and poor planning. The group ties up the Gloria in a slam dunk manner. Afterwards, the organist is allowed to play a postlude which he or she has put some good work in on as well. They even show a bit of interpretation in the phrasing, giving it some character.

So there you have it, as absurd as it may be; my critique of what many would likely call a 44-year old vanity record. I would be surprised if another copy of it were to ever surface. I’ve made it available via stream or download at the link I’ve provided below this article, complete with artwork. I would encourage you to give it a listen. While this group may not be the Robert Shaw Chorale, their record is a palatable introduction to Vivaldi’s
famous Gloria, as well as a curious little piece of local music education history. School systems in the Greater Richmond area (Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield) are known to have good music programs that compete with the lauded and resource­rich schools of northern Virginia. Perhaps this is early evidence of such local excellence in music education. Mr. Hughes may have very well taken this group to choral competitions, in which case they would have undoubtedly earned the coveted score of “Superior” from the judges, or whatever this top score was called in the late 60’s.

Speaking of scores, you may have noticed my grading of this record at the top of the article. I haven’t graded this recording as compared to other high school ensemble performances. In the context of The Rummage blog, I’ve put it up against every classical recording ever made, from Leonard Bernstein conducting his own music to Itzhak Perlman playing Beethoven. This is admittedly an unfair standard of comparison, and one that the musicians never intended to be judged by. Graded in this manner, I give the record a mere “D.” In the context of Secondary Education though, it is certainly an A plus, and an accomplishment that Mr. Hughes and his students, wherever they may be, can certainly be proud of.

Listen!

by Maron El-Khouri

. issue XVII : vi .

neutral milk hotel : live at the national, october 12th 2013 .
. grade : pretty important life moment .

NMH

Reclusive folk geniuses Neutral Milk Hotel are a bighearted mess of daydreaming reverie. They were when they disappeared, and they continue to be today. As ramshackle-pop construction workers, they play songs imbued with the majesty of a massive, yet ultimately simple, undertaking. They make intricate melodies seem simple and simple songwriting sound complicated. Jeff Mangum only uses a handful of chords to project a pristine image of confused thoughts, manic obsessions, and sexualized World War stories. Behind his voice is a Jurassic amount of wooly fuzz on an acoustic guitar with a secondhand shop horn section scoring the creaky peaks and valleys. Their rousing performance at The National recently was like finding an old scratchy blanket that’s kept you warm in your lean years, with all the bedbugs removed and the coziness intact.

For their second show after a fifteen-year absence, they rolled out of bed and enthusiastically went back to work as if they had never quit. The exponentially unrecognizable Jeff Mangum stalked onto the stage with a full white beard and launched into a confident take on “Two-Headed Boy” to uncontrollable screaming. As the song reached its epilogue, where the lyrics change to a sort of vocal onomatopoeia striving for (and achieving) transcendence, the band and a few extra members filling out on horns appeared to another roar from the audience and kicked right into the mournful soul-searching instrumental “The Fool.” The curve-ball laden setlist then veered between a wonderful combination of B-sides (like the heavy lidded “Ferris Wheel on Fire”) alongside the crowd pleasers from Aeroplane.

Jeff’s signature velvet caterwauling has been pleasantly refined. Somehow his alien locomotive voice has grown more mature, practiced, yet still tearing at the seams. He didn’t try to hit that too-high note in “Oh Comely” as harshly as he had in the past. The new faces, including Mangum’s wife, added an extra fullness that helped them stay true to their original sepia-toned orchestral arrangements. Speaking of the band: everyone on stage was ecstatic to be playing again to the point of a welcome distraction: the most endearing of which was when a sunshine-smiling Julian Koster was jumping up and down while playing accordion so hard that the notes only connected when his feet landed between each jump volley. Everyone seemed so happy to have a huge crowd in front of them. They obliged a wonderful encore after an avalanche of foot stomping and screaming, ending with a blissful-singing, saw-assisted take on “Engine.”

Last Saturday marked the long-awaited return of the greatest musical hermits of the nineties. Whether or not they get around to any new material isn’t important. What is important is that the band got to see how much they matter to a generation that grew up with and after them, and that generation got to see one of their heroes. The sold out crowd was well behaved, emotional, and reverent. Hopefully the fan reaction served as a welcome balm after the band had been mostly ignored in their heydey. They put all of themselves into their performance, not letting the cobwebs on their old trademark sweaters slow them down. Neutral Milk Hotel’s sprays of timeless color and reckless emotion were shot out in a mixture of impressive perfection and scuzzy shambles with incredible enthusiasm and generosity.

by Ryan Myers