New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Taylor Levine guitar

Ted Hearne Catches a Grimly Pivotal Moment in New York History

Fort Greene will always hold a special place in this blog’s heart. It was a satellite office for the better part of a couple of years.

Browsing at Greenlight Books. Tacos at Castro’s. Secret theatre staged by the sharpest ten-year-old dramatist on the planet. Bluegrass music. Perfect made-to-order sandwiches at Fulton Finest Deli, coffee and the Sunday Times in Fort Greene Park. Stoop sales, organic herbs from the community garden, a pair of headphones left curbside at the most serendipitous moment. The Biggie Smalls mural on the corner. The Waverly Avenue Halloween block party.

An irresistible, devastatingly smart brunette cultural critic who would soon move on to the Ivy League from her city college professorship. You get the picture.

So what the hell does Ted Hearne‘s lavishly epic new album Place- streaming at Bandcamp – have to do with all this? As the narrative coalesces, his critique of how gentrification has devastated the neighborhood takes on a withering focus. Charles Mingus is cited as an influence, although that’s through a glass, darkly. This is Hearne’s most psychedelic rock-influenced album to date, and in that sense, his most accessible, which could be construed as a positive development considering the abstruseness of, say, his 2015 album The Source, a shout-out to American heroine Chelsea Manning

The record begins innocently and minimallistically with a father and his six-year-old son asleep next to him, and ends with “projectile vomit of the stars.” Lavish gospel interludes give way to acerbically kinetic chamber pop, psychedelic funk, glitchy autotune, abrupt channel-switching non-segues and High Romantic orchestral angst, and then back. You could call this Hearne’s Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. He’s known as a singer, but his piano work here is solid, especially when it comes to the gospel stuff. He also shares the mic: Saul Williams, Ayanna Woods, Isaiah Robinson Josephine Lee, Steven Bradshaw and the Chicago Children’s Choir contribute passionately.

“Is it ok to say ‘white supremacy’ in white spaces? Is it ok to say ‘Your kind ain’t welcome here’? Is it ok to say welcome?” Woods asks in the album’s first disquietingly hip-hop influenced interlude. It’s here that Hearne’s satire reaches redline. In typical yuppie fashion, children serve as pawns in the status game in a twee dystopia where “We’ve got pop-up shops that give out water for free.”

“The land is mine, and the land was mined,” is one of several particularly telling refrains. Hearne addresses both the Great Migration out of the former slave territories, as well as the yuppie puppy infestation of the past twenty years or so. “Systemic prejudice, don’t blame me,” the future McMansion owner blithely insists – as he buys into a system that’s about to crash, with potentially lethal results. The avant garde has long been an insular demimonde largely funded by and targeted to the idle classes, but Hearne seems hell-bent on changing that. If there’s reason, or time, or necessity for a music blog to exist at the end of 2020, you will see this on the best albums of the year page here.

Looking Back on a Surreal Interpretation of One of the Ugliest Periods in American History

By reflecting humanity back on itself and questioning the status quo, isn’t art subversive by definition?

Are those who merely mimic the inherently questioning nature of art selling themselves short…or, even worse, perpetuating an evil system by evading their duty to subvert it?

Was Emma Goldman any less of a revolutionary because she had limousine liberal friends who helped her out in a pinch?

Woody Guthrie and Roger Waters, two of the most popular antifascist artists of the past hundred years, dedicated themselves to concretizing their messages in the simplest, most impactful terms. Is an artist whose message is less straightforward missing an opportunity to create a powerful movement, or contribute to it?

Ted Hearne’s 2015 album The Source – streaming at Bandcamp – raises all of those questions. He’s singing as part of this year’s Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music at Roulette on a triplebill on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM with enigmatic singer/percussionist Anais Maviel and indie classical star Kate Soper. Advance tix are $20.

There seems to be more autotune on this record than there is in the entire Disney pop catalog from the last two decades. But maybe Hearne is using autotune subversively – or at least sarcastically. Introduced slowly as a way for a rapidly shrinking corporate music industry to completely eliminate humans (other than computer programmers) from what was then salable product, autotune can also be used by used to evade speech recognition technology.

Mark Doten’s lyrics are a primarily a pastiche of Wikileaks Iraq War transcriptions and quotes from whistleblower heroine Chelsea Manning, set to Hearne’s sometimes kinetic, sometimes uneasily fragmentary art-rock, which often recalls the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The two grab the rope left behind by the (mostly) nameless war criminals exposed by Manning and Julian Assange and lets them hang themselves.

For those who’ve kept up with the news, this is a familiar, ugly story. The suite shifts dissociatively from Pink Floyd-style channel-surfing samples, to a verbatim account of failed American diplomacy in Asia, a fleeting mention of American troops buying prisoners from human traffickers, and graphic references to torture.

There’s a cruelly prophetic interview with Assange over stark, maddeningly syncopated strings and more than a hint of sarcastic rock bombast; a slowly cantering, quasi-metal dirge fueled by Taylor Levine’s guitar and Greg Chudzik’s bass; and a bit of faux disco floating from Nathan Koci’s keys along with  the trio of violinist Courtney Orlando, violist Anne Lanzilotti, and cellist Leah Coloff. A similarly brief detour into quasi-renaissance polyphony is just as savagely snarky. The album winds up with an angst-fueled, crescendoing mini-epic told in Manning’s voice, tracing her life from preschool ousider to increasingly imperiled freedom fighter.

Obviously, Hearne and the rest of the crew on the record deserve credit for having the guts to tackle the issue at all. Whether they could have spread the word further if the music was more accessible is open to debate. However, it’s also important to consider that the indie classical audience Hearne has enjoyed for more than decade is largely Republican. Maybe this record has done more work for a vital cause that might seem apparent.