Thursday, May 26, 2011

Summer 2010: Japanese Class, MuteMath, and Imogen Heap

Last summer, I was operating with a pretty significant amount of momentum that I had built up in the process of finishing my ethnomusicology degree.  Time and again, people had asked me what I was going to do without that thesis hanging over my head, and even after it was done, I was still not sure.  I knew, however, that any future academic work would most likely focus on Japanese music and that gaining a command of the language would be an important component of that study.  Therefore, for “fun,” I took Japanese I at Austin Community College during the first summer session – confusing stuff!

MutemathSummer sessions can be pretty intensive, especially language courses.  I was going to class four days a week for several hours a day and studying a lot.  Most of the music I was listening to revolves around this experience, driving to and from class practicing the elusive phonetic combination of “L” and “R” that characterizes proper Japanese pronunciation.  Even after the class ended and I geared up for the school year, however, there were two albums, MuteMath and Imogen Heap’s Ellipse that held my attention, remained in the player for the entire summer break, and eventually made my end-of-year top 10 list.
I believe MuteMath came to my attention through Pandora, but ultimately I bought their debut on a bit of a whim during a Waterloo Records browsing session.  It was the first in the CD changer, and before I had turned three corners, I knew I had something special. 

On album, MuteMath is reminiscent of the 80s, but in terms of performance style rather than production.  In retrospect, a distinctive studio polish now defines this era, but there was also a playing style in the early 80s characterized by pre-Joshua Tree U2 and the Police.  MuteMath captures the vitality and energy of these bands in their heyday.  In addition to writing catchy, often frenetic tunes, MuteMath also has an instrumental aspect that indicates an experimental side.  Clips of their live shows were the clincher.

Another live clip led me to the second artist of summer 2010.  For a little while, I was interested in getting into looping for Chapman Stick, and I ran across this frankly amazing performance.

Unlike MuteMath, Imogen Heap hovered on the edge of my awareness for awhile before I purchased Ellipse.  After a little simmering, it ended up as my 2010 Album of the Year.  In the most superficial sense, I would compare it favorably to the best work of Peter Gabriel.  In a deeper sense, Heap distills the best features of many of my favorite female artists into a cohesive and unique feminist identity.  At the very least, she has the adventurousness of Kate Bush, the electronic eclecticism of Bjork and Laurie Anderson, and the street-level storytelling approach of Suzanne Vega.  Additionally, she also exemplifies the new breed of synthesist, whose virtuosity blurs the lines between technique and technology. 

Ellipse seems to move me no matter how many times I listen to it because, although it is entertaining, it also often makes a point.  It is a satisfying listen on many levels.  When I did my end-of-year review, I found myself caught up in it again and even now I find the consistency and depth of the recording astounding.   

It seemed appropriate to capture these two winners as summer 2011 approaches and even more changes (which I will hit on the end-of-month roundup) occur.  It’ll be interesting to have you all on board for them….

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