So I’ve always wanted to write a music review. I’ve long admired the rhapsodic descriptors utilised by authors of such pieces. Yes, those description can quickly degenerate from poetic to treacly at times; and there are often a smattering of gratuitous, often oxymoronic, alliterations like “tremulous tenor”. I have an inkling that this occurs because those that write these pieces are musicians– or aspiring to be, anyway– themselves. Even though the constituents of music are just words and sounds the synergy when properly combined can result in something ineffably beautiful– but without melody one risks purplish prose. I mean, how do you describe music, really? Well, I’m going to endeavour to try at least a few times a year.
Music, its appreciation and its uptake has to reside somewhere in our wiring. Some people practise for years to become accomplished musicians, but what about those people who can just pick a piece of music up almost immediately, or those that can contrive one in similarly short order? I can belch out the same (relatively simple) song on the guitar for hours and still barely keep rhythm or the lyrics on pace. Separately it seems so much easier. I don’t think my wires were connected properly. I lament not learning an instrument earlier in life, maybe I could have sewn that wire into the appropriate lobe by force of sheer will. There’s no harm in trying now– unless you count my neighbours. They may claim some harm done.
I am thankful that whichever wire carries music from the ears to the heart was made with some high-fidelity material, though. I have appreciated music from a young age in the most earnest of ways. I have no desire to be a musician, I don’t begrudge those that try. I have my preferences and opinions but I will let anyone or any band bend my ear at least once. I do cringe a little inside when someone tries too hard, mind you.
It’s kind of– definitely is– morbid but sometimes I think of the last song I’ll ever hear or the one to be played at my funeral. If you’d like a positive spin on that rather bleak thought you could say that there can never be enough music, I suppose. Nope, you’re right, still pretty dark.
Right now, if I knew this song would be the last carried between my ears I might be slightly less anxious. Maybe you agree.
It’s a cover of the Talking Head’s “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody)”. It’s one of the best covers I’ve heard of anything, ever. It’s done by an artist who uses the moniker Kishi Bashi. He’s a classically trained violinist who has performed with Of Montreal! among others. The album this was recorded for (String Quartet Live!) is simply fantastic. Aside from the cover of David Byrne’s hit, it includes reconstructions of songs from his first two outings (151a and Lighghts, respectively). The original versions of the songs are produced with occasionally heavy synth effects but on String Quartet Live! Kishi Bashi returns them to his classical roots and he achieves a more lucid, less muddled complexity. Let it be known, I am heavily biased towards traditional instruments over anything electronic. Still, every song he honours on this new album is objectively improved upon.
So, String Quartet Live!, is essentially a cover album. And there’s only one metric when judging a cover: does it add anything worthwhile to the original? If it doesn’t say anything more than the original than it really isn’t worth doing. It might as well be me bumbling over the lyrics on my couch. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an improvement or re-imagining of the musicality. Johnny Cash didn’t fundamentally improve “Hurt” when he covered it, he didn’t even perform it very well. But what he said just by choosing to cover that song in all his frailty was heartbreaking. I’ve heard anecdotes that the Nine Inch Nails won’t even play that song anymore– it’s been retired. Whether that’s true or not I’m unsure but I always liked the idea of a song being hoisted up to the rafters to be remembered but never played despite request or remuneration– something hallowed. I don’t think Kishi Bashi has achieved apotheosis for “This Must Be the Place” but he has certainly hoisted it a little closer to those rafters.