Seattle producer’s labour of love makes for a fascinating album.
Darren Loucaides 2012-05-31
Created over several years, Composed is Jherek Bischoff’s labour of love. The Seattle-based producer, songwriter, and all-round journeyman, who has worked with Xiu Xiu, Parenthetical Girls and The Dead Science, recorded everything with just a laptop and a microphone at the houses of each musician involved, and set out on a summer road trip to capture the contributions of an all-star cast of vocalists.
The overall picture is quite precious, as though at every stage Bischoff is painstakingly constructing a vivid painting with the finest of brushes. The orchestral-tinged backdrop was fashioned by layering each musician’s part many times, some boasting 20 tracks. The complex construct of swelling and plucked strings, chirpy woodwind and dramatic percussion make for a curious, idiosyncratic ballet-style bigness blended with the folksy feel of the nature-drenched lyrics and bits of found sound.
As for the many singers, each has a peculiar style of their own but seems to apply a similar quivering lushness. David Byrne steps up first to utter sweet and offbeat nothings on the striding, vaguely enigmatic Eyes. Then Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso adds a delicate, lilting vocal to The Secret of the Machines’ both playful and dangerously tense music.
Mirah Zeitlyn, of K Records fame, gives one of the most captivating performances on The Nest, every syllable seemingly weighed and delivered to give the words just the impact desired; for example, the disturbing intimacy of, “I meant to harvest and feed you / My mouth to your mouth / I would please you.”
But the highlight has to be Young and Lovely’s unlikely duet, the playful confessional of Parenthetical Girls’ Zac Pennington set to a gallop of drums, brass and chase-scene strings, before slowing to a saunter halfway through so French enfant terrible SoKo can murmur contradictory words of ‘comfort’.
It’s the closest thing to a straight pop song on a record that doesn’t quite fit with any one genre. That’s certainly not a problem in itself, but sometimes it seems too much is being attempted; that it’s trying to be too many different things at once. Occasionally it’s surprising to hear a vocal where intricate music seems not to warrant it, and easy to wonder why a captivating vocal has given way to pure instrumentation.
In all, though, Composed is a fine achievement. Despite the many different contributors – including helping hands from Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and Wilco’s Nels Cline – it’s unified and coherent, making for a fascinating album.