(05.2008, Brassland Records)
Verdict = Avant Garde composition that hits, wavers and then hits again
Nico Muhly’s follow up to his stunning solo debut Speaks Volumes, which came out last year, is simultaneously incredible and bewildering. To be honest, it took me a good long time to digest and weed through this record. Unlike Speaks Volumes’ individually composed tracks, Mothertongue is made up of three separate suites constituted by ten tracks and is intensely conceptual. Throughout the first suite of music a chorus of vocals is manipulated and fluttered about like a swarm of electronic hummingbirds. While the initial affect is jarring, repeated listens reveals this suite (of which the album is named) to be the most vibrantly successful of the three in the midst of its harrowing vocal experiments. The following movement entitled “Wonders” doesn’t fare so well in the face of repeated listens (though there are definitely portions worth repeating). This is perhaps more a reaction to the medieval style crooning than to the composition itself, but it is enough to dampen the piece as a whole. Fortunately, the final portion of the album (“The Only Tune”) gathers its vocal inflections from the distinctive folk rumblings of Bedroom Community labelmate, Samamidon, who along with Muhly, lets the album down gently, assisting in disentangling any muscular knots created in the Mothertongue’s first two parts. While overall the album is positive and Muhly is to be commended for his focused efforts on incorporating vocals more fluidly into his compositions, Mothertongue finds its place more as an artistic stepping stone than a revelatory destination. Fortunately for us a stepping stones for Muhly is a lifetime album for most. I’ll probably regret even that resolution because as I listen to it again and again those minor frailties seem to be continually fading; its certainly worth a few listens at the very least.
Nico Muhly on MySpace