Welcome (back) to the age of artist patronage. Thanks to fundraising sites like Kickstarter and PledgeMusic, the financial path between artist and fan is more accessible and reliable than ever. By eliminating the middle man, artists have fewer hoops to jump through yet more fans to answer to. Fortunately, art fans are pretty forgiving of any indulgences and sometimes even encourage these far-out ideas that would not have gotten off the ground otherwise (re: while the label man was watching). It is with this newfound leverage that artists and musicians can do what they want before presenting it to distributors and Where (we) Live is one such endeavor. For better or worse, Sō Percussion and Grey McMurray compromise very little on this album, a collection of songs meant to be manipulated in future performances by choreographers, visual artists and the like.
Sō Percussion’s reputation is intertwined with modern classical music, sometimes doing premiere performances of works by Steve Reich or reaching back to reignite older works by John Cage. Perhaps it’s the presence of guitarist and vocalist Grey McMurray as a collaborator, but the Where (we) Live album is more of a pensive indie-pop one. It’s not a drastic change in direction for the group, just a modification to their existing sound. They still sound like a modern yet classical-trained percussion group that just happen to be applying these skills to something else. That something else is a narrative thread propelled by McMurray’s six-stringed fits and starts as well as his voice, both singing and spoken. Some of the forms fall under the minimalism umbrella while others are meandering songs that allow McMurray to do some soulful rubatos.
The theme is obviously about home, both in the abstract and concrete sense. The members of Sō Percussion and Grey McMurray come from Brooklyn, a place where people have loved or hated to call home over the past few decades, depending on who you spoke to. Where (we) Live is a pretty somber look at the idea of one’s home, one that regrets the past while approaching the future with more trepidation than you would expect from forward-thinking musicians. McMurray’s spoken-word soliloquoys will skitter around something – naps, panic attacks, making make-shift toy boats as a kid, fumbling for lightswitches – but they are at best non-inclusive.
Musically, Where (we) Live doesn’t stray too far from its point of origin. Even with the electronic manipulations of voice and McMurray’s scraping of downtuned strings, the album stays its rhythmically mellow course (or maybe they’re mellow rhythms). With patrons giving to the band via Kickstarter, Sō Percussion and Grey McMurray have woven together an album that is not all that daring stylistically but comes close to making up for the difference in its content. Our concepts of home can stir feels of comfort or complacency, and the five musicians involved appear more interested in the pitfalls in the latter than in the perks of the former. Press material and early reviews of Where (we) Live emphasize its ever evolving live format, so that could literally be the ticket. To skip a night at home.
- "Strange Steps" MP3