Baroque prog pop on a free jazz bender
The five members of Make a Rising live and work in a dilapidated house in Philadelphia, a place they found in 2002, according to their website, “to synthesize their burgeoning compositional and philosophical aesthetics”. Although no photos are available, you can easily imagine the sort of house it must be—ornate, many-chambered and slope-shouldered. Interesting, but not in the best of repair, it would have ruined cupolas listing sideways, ornate banisters canting off into empty space, haunted cupboards and cluttered attics. There would be all kinds of furniture, slapped together with a total disregard for period, color and style. But the most important thing would be that people would walk around from room to room whistling, because in its own crowded, discontinuous, Escher-esque sort of way, it would be the most beautiful house you’d ever been in.
At least that’s how I imagine Make a Rising’s house, based wholly on the band’s wonderfully messy, exuberantly stuffed-to-the-gills debut album Rip Through the Hawk Black Night. There’s a dizzying mix of styles and ideas here, somehow coalescing in a dream-tinted, fractious whole. For example, you would guess that pianist Justin Moynihan has a few years of classical training behind him, just from the facility with which he accomplishes his runs and arpeggios, but he’s not above slipping a bit of cake-walking swagger into the opening track either. Violinist Jesse Moynihan (brothers, most likely, though the bio is mute on the subject) also seems to have done time in classical orchestras, though he knows how to coax pop flourishes and free jazz skirls out of his instrument as well. Percussionist John Herron flits from hard-hitting rock to abstract jazz to experimental world-ish drumming in an extremely melodic, thoughtful way that fits the music exactly. And finally, there’s a definite rock element as well in the guitar and bass; it comes through most clearly in “Lonely in the Skiff” in a staccato backdrop that might remind you a little of Clinic.
Remarkably all these varying sounds and influences come together in a unified whole, not just within tracks but across the entire composition. Rip Through the Hawk Black Night feels like a suite of related songs, maybe even a concept piece tied together by some sort of oblique story line. There is a childlike wonder in the opening choruses of “Look at My Hawk” that seems to be echoed in the surreal shimmer of “Plastic Giant”, and though the tracks don’t connect in any linear, narrative way, it’s not hard to imagine them linked by more subtle themes.
The best tracks are those that don’t rely too heavily on vocals—thin and pallid singing nearly sinks the otherwise fascinating “Plastic Giant” and “I Am Scared of Being Alone”. The players are simply not as good at singing as they are at the rest of their instruments. However, wordless vocals work well as a subtle element of “When Moving West” weaving in and out of a wonderful driving piano line, embellished by shaken percussion. “Pun Womb” moves chaotic bursts of violin, piano and drums into a dreamy interval of bell-toned keyboards before picking up a swooping, vertiginous wordless sung melody. “Lonesome in the Skiff” is quite good, too, bursts of prog-rock frenzy emerging from a rickety rhythm of sax and drums, and slashes of bass and guitar providing rock release.
Make a Rising often gets lumped in with fellow Philly experimenters like Man Man, but its sound is, to my ears at least, less chaotic, gentler and based more in classical forms than jazz or music hall. This is a beautiful, complicated mess of an album, and it gets more interesting every time you put it on.