Max Richter: Infra

By adding just the right amount of static to the sugar of his sweeping arrangements, Richter's created an album that's precisely balanced between accessibility and depth.

Max Richter


Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2010-07-20
UK Release Date: 2010-07-20

Max Richter faces the depressing double-bind that all modern composers do if they manage to appeal to wider audiences and gain some attention. Too austere or clever, too off-putting or complicated and he'll be branded another avant garde intellectual "normal" listeners couldn't (and shouldn't, the subtext runs) get into; too obviously melodic or moving, too consonant or broadly appealing and suddenly he's a New Age-y schmaltz factory "discerning" listeners know better than to pay attention to. Richter's a talented composer, and one that's shown an admirable desire to keep things interesting; he's worked with everyone from Future Sound of London to Vashti Bunyan, and the ravishing melancholy of "On the Nature of Daylight" from 2004's already-kind-of-seminal The Blue Notebooks has started popping up in soundtracks. So, while the mass of modern music fans might be ready to consign his work to one of the two aforementioned bins, Richter shows every sign of not caring and not slowing down or settling into a routine either; in this case, Infra started life as a collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor and artist Julian Opie, and some of the material here was originally the score for a ballet inspired by Eliot's "The Wasteland."

The result made for some stirring dance, I'm sure, but expanded and revised into a full 40-minute program for piano, string quartet and (mostly) subtle electronics Infra stands wonderfully on its own. One of the things Richter excels at is the kind of heartbroken melodicism that made Górecki's Symphony No. 3 such an unexpected populist success; if that was all Richter (or Górecki, for that matter) had going for him, then maybe his music would just be treacly nonsense suited for bad romantic comedies. As the broken-radio bleeps that introduce "Infra 1" indicate, though, Infra is a slightly weirder beast than that.

Richter gets compared to Michael Nyman a fair bit, and there are moments here that bring his work to mind; but not so much the Nyman of the famous soundtrack to The Piano as the densely, almost aggressively sawing strings of his work for Peter Greenaway circa The Draughtsman's Contract or A Zed and Two Noughts. Both men share an almost-obsessive interest in melodic form and repetition that means their work is easier for newcomers to digest them without feeling like they're being pandered to, but Richter goes further afield than Nyman (perhaps naturally, given the chronology of the two men). For every gorgeous string quartet piece like "Infra 4" or Eluvium-esque solo piano study like "Journey 1," there's a piece like the droning, "Journey 3" (which could almost be a field recording) to keep the listener on their toes. In isolation something like "Journey 3" might be meandering or grating, but as a link between more conventionally satisfying tracks it's perfect.

But it's with the five-minute "Infra 5" that Infra really comes into its own. The climax of the album, although there are three more brief tracks to come after it, here Richter pits his most moving string quartet arrangement against howling electronic dissonance, building to an almost-painful crescendo that's cathartic and harrowing in equal measure. Here and elsewhere on Infra Richter's work resembles (in tone if not in sound) the robust intensity and emotional force of Clint Mansell's work with the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai on the soundtrack to The Fountain. By the time the lovely "Infra 8" draws things to a close it's hard not to appreciate the pacing and controlled impact of the impeccably crafted Infra. By adding just the right amount of static to the sugar of his sweeping arrangements, Richter's created an album that's precisely balanced between accessibility and depth, desolation and joy, melody and noise.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.