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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Max Richter
Songs From Before
Fat Cat

Rating: 9/10 ?


December 12, 2006
Without a Philip Glass For Dummies manual to go by, large sections of the listening public have given up trying to figure out the avant-garde composer's cryptic musical language. Easier to comprehend is Max Richter's Songs From Before, where, instead of clashing, the worlds classical music and contemporary instrumentation and experimentation come to some sort of understanding. And that is, existence is pretty messed up, and living, for all its momentary joys and highs, is probably best summed up by an old man sitting alone with his memories on a park bench feeding pieces of stale bread to pigeons.

Through grey, tunneling drones and soaring new age mysticism, manifested in tracks like "Song" and "Harmonium," Richter maps out a path to the human heart that's simple and easy to follow, avoiding the clogged traffic of arteries and the dense forest of fibrous tissue it hides behind to make direct contact with those unconscious desires, unfulfilled expectations and secret pain it contains. He's an explorer of a place that's already been discovered, but still holds mystery and untapped emotions. It's a frontier that'll always be new. Richter trusts his instincts, his preternatural means of expression, to help him find his way and avoid the red herrings all of us investigate, intentionally or unintentionally, at the expense of getting to the real issues behind our sadness, our depression, our repressed anger ... our existential crises that crop up when you least expect them.

Or maybe that's all bullshit - the product of a Six Feet Under marathon I'm watching this particular morning - and Richter is conning us, hitting us where we're most vulnerable and exploiting our weaknesses with transparent melodic gestures designed to appeal to surface emotions. Songs From Before suggests otherwise. A 12-piece suite, interrupted with the sounds of rain, static and city noises, as well as fragmented Robert Wyatt readings of Haruki Murakami's Kafka-esque writings, that provides snapshots of characters in various stages of disrepair, Songs From Before is elegant and moving, a museum of fragile melodic sculptures carved out with cello, violins, piano and viola. Pieces like "Flowers For Yulia" sink into a melacholic state of shape-shifting tonality and disconnected electronica and shortwave radio signals in the background. Profound despair bleeds from the slow, deliberate piano figures of "Fragment" and "Autumn Song," supported by deep cello underpinnings and broken by the heartache of violins that pierce the gloaming like searchlights looking for survivors of a shipwreck. The touching nostalgia of the gramophonic "Ionosphere" briefly overwhelms, while "Time Passing" feels like a harrowing distress call from the afterlife.

Richter answers with "Sunlight," its faint melodic light breaking through with the grim, concrete skies of fall that hang over Songs From Before. The stringed instruments of that song are beautifully played and deftly woven together in strong compositional fabric, but its the drawn-out heaviness and lithe interplay of violins and piano in "Autumn Music 2" that brings you to your knees in prayer. It tugs at your heartstrings and gently cuts them, causing an outpouring of emotions you thought you had bottled up. Though it doesn't break the mold, it certainly brings contempoary classical music back to its roots, shunning notions of "experimentation for experimentation's sake" to dig through layers of callouses to make sincere art - the kind you can appreciate with both sides of your brain, and your heart. There is a thematic thread running through Songs From Before and it's pretty easy to extract what it is: Richter is immersed in thoughts of death and dying, as the autumnal moods and colors not so coyly suggest. His narrative, though, speaks the plain truth and he is unafraid of touching a nerve, or respecting the tragic circumstances of other peoples' lives with silence and a veneer of stone and indifference. It's amazing what can be done with what is essentially a string quartet, some piano and distant, static-filled broadcasts over ancient radio equipment. Maybe Richter will find Amelia Earhart.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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