New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Nathaniel Bellows

A Matter-of-Factly Harrowing Eco-Disaster Cautionary Tale by Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Mass for the Endangered is not an appeal to a deity but to nature. Ultimately, it’s a cautionary tale, a plea for the survival of the environment rather than for the humans whose liturgies typically serve as text for such things. Backed by terse piano and a vivid chamber orchestra, Gabriel Crouch leads vocal ensemble Gallicantus in this intense, dynamic world premiere recording, streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the suite, Snider seamlessly interpolates the original latin with new text by first-class art-folk songwriter Nathaniel Bellows. The opening kyrie section, centered around variations on an eerie six-note riff, is a study in contrasts, somber ambience anchoring angst-fueled crescendos from the choir. Hypnotic yet acidic echo phrases rise to chilling heights: this is hardly an easy piece to sing, and the ensemble dig in mightily. 

The group negotiate the tricky counterpoint of the gloria over harp caught in limbo between icy belltone astringency and anthemic neoromanticism. A tritone menace appears as exchanges beetween the men and women of the choir rise and fall.

The alleluia is a mashup of Renaissance rhythmic grace and tensely pulsing minimalism. Snider’s gift for implied melody really comes to the forefront as the voices pick up with an uneasily dancing rhythm over steady harp, resonant winds and circling strings in the credo. A galloping low string figure stands out stunningly below the soaring, twinkling atmosphere above.

Snider combines the sanctus and benedictus sections with a minimalist bounce that brings to mind David Lang’s choral works. The voices reprise the suite’s initial angst, but also offer hope against hope, a bassoon swirling upward over the strings’ incisive, percussive phrases in the concluding agnus dei. Nothing like the apocalypse to inspire creativity, huh?

Two Red Mollies Play Their Own Individualistic Americana at Pete’s

There’s going to be a rare Red Molly reunion of sorts this Nov 14 at 8:30 PM at Pete’s Candy Store when brilliantly incisive dobro player Abbie Gardner – who has a Tuesday night residency there this month – opens a twinbill with her old Red Molly bandmate, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Carolann Solebello.

Obviously, Red Molly have been back in action for awhile, with Molly Venter in Solebello’s place. The Pete’s show is a chance to hear two longtime friends and distinctive Americana artists in an intimate setting, doing their own material and very possibly working up new stuff.

The last time this blog caught up with Solebello, she was playing a fantastic twinbill at the American Folk Art Museum on a Friday night last spring with brooding New England gothic songsmith Nathaniel Bellows. With the first soaring notes of the bittersweet, opening country ballad, Brooklyn in the Rain, her strong, clear, insistent vocals were a potent reminder why she’d gotten the Red Molly gig to begin with. That, and her purist, similarly eclectic guitar chops. The fluidity of Solebello’s fretwork, whether with her chords or fingerpicking, should be the rule rather than the exception, but in what’s left of the singer-songwriter demimonde, it seldom is.

She told a funny story about her experiences as a struggling Brooklyn-born-and-raised songwriter dating an Upper West Side yuppie with season tickets to the opera, and then followed with a bouncy, pouncing, defiant, bluegrass-tinged post-breakup narrative. Like many of her songs, it was equal parts urban and bucolic, traditional and in the here and now: clearly, the dude was a fish out of water in her Lower East Side Americana scene.

That defiant quality is a consistent trait: she doesn’t feel at home in the role of victim. She added a gentle touch of vintage Judy Collins-style vibrato to a swaying, pensively catchy number after that, then brought the lights down for a fond reminiscence of her grandmother. The rest of her tantalizingly brief set was much the same, acerbic major/minor chord changes and often surprising dynamic shifts in support of vivid narratives that transcend the usual lovelorn coffeehouse girl stereotype. There will no doubt be plenty of those at the Pete’s show, times two, and maybe a duet or two.

And the ongoing Friday night series at the Folk Art Museum continues on Nov 17 at 5:30 PM with low-key, plainspoken, populist folk-pop songwriter Jeremy Aaron.

Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered Is Hard to Forget

At its core, the myth of a happy childhood is a right-wing concept. We’re all supposed to look back nostalgically on a past that, for the majority of us, never existed, so that for old times’ sake we can allow a corrupt and outdated system that ruled back then to keep us down. If we aren’t all fondly reminiscing over hazy memories of lazy summer days, we’re somehow invalidated: we’re inferior to those who can. That’s the cornerstone of another far more evil myth, that there’s a blithely deserving class of people running the show and others less content left to do their dirty work.

The reality about childhood, from a global perspective, is something Pat Benatar sang about: Hell is for children. Then again, she also sang “Hell is for hell,” over and over again. Which, when you think about it, kind of makes sense. And is why Pat Benatar is camp, while Sarah Kirkland Snider‘s lavish double gatefold vinyl album Unremembered – streaming at Bandcamp – is a powerful and important art-rock record. It’s more of a vision of horror and terror than the personal experience of pain and torment, although those are both present in places.

With its relentless, aching atmospherics, Snider’s 2010 Penelope suite – a fearlessly feminist look at the toll war takes on the home front- earned her all sorts of high marks in the indie classical world. Her latest album is more of a rock record, like My Brightest Diamond with a slower pace and a rotating cast of singers. Which also makes sense, since MBD’s Shara Worden shares lead vocals and dazzling counterpoint with a couple of her Asthmatic Kitty housemates, songwriter DM Stith and Clogs’ Padma Newsome. Snider takes a lyric cycle by Nathaniel Bellows, chronicling a literally haunted Massachusetts upbringing, and sets it to a luminous, often otherworldly, brilliantly individualistic score played by a crack studio orchestra conducted by Edwin Outwater.

As the opening Prelude gets underway, swooping reverb-drenched vocal harmonies rise, introducing a tensely trilling suspense theme. “They circled round my head,” Worden intones coolly and enigmatically underneath. The voices diverge in counterpoint and then return, setting the stage for the rest of the record.

The ensemble segues into The Estate’s shivery, reverbtoned woodwind cadenzas beneath stately vocals and acoustic guitar. It has Snider’s trademark allusiveness but also an anthemic sensibility within the vertiginous swirl of orchestra and disembodied voices.

As The Barn opens, Worden whispers, “You are not alone, not alone, not yet,” then the orchestral stormclouds burst. It has a tumbling, percussive drive and a narrative that might involve an abduction. The Guest has more of a nebulous atmosphere and baroque vocal interplay: ‘She left our house in the dead of night, my sister went to find her, we did not know why she left, “ Worden explains, and the story grows more ominous from there.

The Slaughterhouse is surprisingly allusive as well: Snider waits til halfway through the song to develop a hypnotically circling piano motif to raise the horror level to the rafters. The menace rises higher with The Girl, an Elizabethan waltz with klezmer chromatics and echoey ascending motives filtering through the mix: it’s one of the most nonchalantly chilling, Lynchian pieces here. As is The Swan, with its blend of shifting sheets of sound and eerily minimalist Satie-esque piano, another vision of dread and death that’s bloodcurdling in its nonchalance. The Witch, the album’s most epic and gothically stylized track, circles around a creepy music-box horror riff.

The River is a surrealistically enveloping mashup of Portishead trip-hop,. broodingly offcenter cinematic ambience and coldly playful vocalese straight out of John Zorn. The Speakers, with its roomful of menacingly anthropomorphosed objects, is even more surreal, even as it’s one of the most straightforward anthems here.

For all the ambitious, Carl Nielsen-class orchestration bursting in from every corner of the sonic picture, The Orchard capsulizes how Snider works: artfully lavish arrangements, simple and catchy rock hooks. The circular variations of The Song make it the most indie classical-oriented track here. The album winds up in a wintry whirl of voices, woodwinds and reverb with The Past. something Newsome’s gracefully mannered character clearly has not made peace with, and all indications are he probably won’t. It’s the most extreme memories, for better or worse, that we carry with us.