In this day and age, immediacy is vital. Our lives are busy and prone to easy distraction, thus our diversions should be quick, momentary, and easy to absorb so we can move on to the next thing. As our access to both the superfluous and the essential speeds up, it is becoming more and more difficult with each passing moment to lose one’s self in a challenging novel or album.
Oftentimes, if a new offering so much as appears difficult, it risks being wrongly overlooked. Victoire’s debut album, Cathedral City runs the incorrect risk of falling prey to this mindset. Led by composer Missy Mazzoli, the quintet is comprised of a violinist, a double bass player, a clarinetist, and two electronic keyboardists. Vocals happen in the form of operatic plaints and the occasional found recording. This is a band with the air of the classical or chamber-rock, but it is also one not far removed from a similarly complex indie band as Sigur Ros.
To perhaps make this argument a bit more convincing, the National’s Bryce Dessner lends some guitar work to “A Song For Mick Kelly”. Then again, this song appears six tracks in, is the only song on Cathedral City to feature a guitar, and is possibly named for a character from Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter; this connection, however, is one up for a bit of analysis. Yet, with this song’s deft meshing of classical and rock elements with discordance presents the clearest example of the paradox that is Cathedral City: headphones are a must to capture the complexity of each track, yet the album as a whole is surprisingly accessible.
For those looking for instant gratification out of their music, Cathedral City proves unexpected enough to keep most attention deficient listeners pacified. The way the instruments work together to effortlessly form the whole, even as the listener can hear each instrument make its significant contribution is a lure in itself; the way the instruments fade out and surge back into the mix is another. “A Door in the Dark”, Cathedral City‘s opener, announces itself sorrowfully, with strings that build and build before giving way to keyboards, only then to needle their way back in toward the end. The song transitions smoothly into “I Am Coming for My Things”, the title of which derives itself from an answering machine message sampled in the song. The message—a woman’s voice repeating “I am coming for my things, I deserve a chance in life,” before being interrupted by an automated denial—and its musical accompaniment are equally unsettling, despairing, and strangely steadfast.
Elsewhere, Cathedral City is filled with curious stutters and clicks, sometimes enhancing a slightly danceable backbeat (as displayed on the title track), while at other times forming a suitable tribute to avant-garde hero Arthur Russell, as on “A Song For Arthur Russell”. Vocals, stumbled upon or otherwise, imbue songs with more grace at the best of times (see the title track again), though they run the risk of being unoriginal at worst (closing track “India Whiskey” features a been-there-heard-that sample of a countdown).
For the most part, Cathedral City is a sturdily crafted work. While it is easy to meet an album full of dense instrumentation with indifference, Cathedral City is just as much an exhilarating excursion as it is a welcome release from the speed of life.
- Victoire on WNYC's New Sounds Streaming