Todd Reynolds: Outerborough

"Daredevil" composer Todd Reynolds has offered up a huge album, plentiful in every possible that way music can be. It's worth the trouble.

Todd Reynolds


Label: Innova
US Release Date: 2011-03-29
UK Release Date: 2011-03-29
Label website
Artist website

Defining Todd Reynolds' music isn't just difficult, it's also unnecessary. Whatever time you spend trying to decide what brand of post-, neo-, modern-, or avant-whatever he could be would be a waste. You can easily turn that headache into enjoyment by stepping back, thinking of the sound purely as "music", and just absorbing all of the pieces from there. And there is quite a bit going on in the 94 minutes of Outerborough, so much that an evenly spread discussion of each track could make this thing go on for pages. So as we go along, I will try not to dwell on every specific.

Even though I just discouraged the practice of categorizing music, we're going to have to give Todd Reynolds' music some sort of tag if only to give you a reference point. He is a chiefly a violinist and many of these tracks, though not all, are contemporary classical concept pieces centered on his instrument. There is a lot of electronic manipulation at play, and some of these passages can't be mimicked live by a human musician. Some motifs behave like pop with catchy brain worms, while others can function like jazz or world music by weaving vamps with improvised solos. But most of the time, the proceedings can safely be called moody classical with elongated forms taking your ability to recognize predictable patterns out to lunch. His professional affiliation with Bang on a Can has likely informed the modern edges to his music, and his latest project feels like a microcosm of his old job.

Outerborough is a double album and the first disc is made up of seven Reynolds originals. The first things you hear are the distorted, processed beats that are the backbone to "Transamerica". Already, it's difficult to know what to think. But this is also the fun of Todd Reynolds’s music. You can revel in the ambiguity he has given you, a free pass for being noncommittal. If "The Solution" dips a toe into India, then the following "End of Day" is a free flowing rubato through the heavens. It could be said though that the main calling card for disc one is the sleek sound of classical forms that are not quite minimal, but also not quite so open-ended. It's a strange and delicate balance that nearly gets toppled over (in a good way) by the breakneck-paced "Centrifuge", an odd little ditty played by something called the LEMUR GuitarBot. Reynolds' press release states that it is "unexecutable by a human."

Outerborough's second disc is made up of pieces written by others for Todd Reynolds to perform. Typically, the presence of music not composed by the performer gives them a chance to leave their comfort zone for a while, but I'm not convinced Reynolds had a comfort zone to begin with. Still, changeups abound. Overdubbing and what I assume is digital delay are noticeable tools, though the overall impression that these were written for solo violin remains. Composer Evan Ziporyn admits in the liner notes that he automatically thinks of Todd Reynolds when writing for violin, and everyone involved in disc two must have a similar thought. Between Phil Kline, Michael Gordon, Paul de Jong, Michael Lowenstern, David T. Little, Nick Zammuto, Ken Thomson, Paula Matthusen, and David Lang, you don't think they would write for any old chump fiddler, do you?

Two selections of the second CD grab one's attention on the first go-round. The less obvious one is Matthusen's "The End of an Orange", which is part manipulated spoken word and part manipulated violin. Abi Basch's text, musings on oranges in the morning and a plea to appreciate art, abandons the mix just a third of the way in as Reynolds' weepy bowing competes with his own hyperkinetic overdub that sails off into near-silence. The other noticeable work is "and the sky was still there", a tense seven-minute ride that functions as a backdrop to a woman telling the story of her struggles being a lesbian in the army. At times, the post-rock racket can almost overpower the narration, perhaps as an effort to get you to listen to her story more closely. Repeated listens bring the details of the music to the surface since the tale of the impersonality of the military and confusion of sexuality is already fresh in your mind. It's like a more intense edition of This American Life, when Ira Glass or whatever mumble-mouth essayist is shutting up and letting their subject do the talking.

Outerborough is a rich album. If you have a taste for the electronic side of sprawling instrumental music that specializes in the cross-pollination of many ethnicities while not straying too far from the classical idiom, then there is much to like here. If none of that sounds good, then there is much to dislike. But like all risqué art, it's difficult to remain indifferent in the face of such bold ideas. And in the end, maybe that's this mammoth album's greatest virtue: slicing through all of the indifference out there.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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.