Music

Rachel Grimes: The Clearing

Neoclassical composer Rachel Grimes pokes holes in the mold rather than snapping it in half.


Rachel Grimes

The Clearing

Label: Temporary Residence
US Release Date: 2015-05-26
UK Release Date: 2015-06-01
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

On Rachel Grimes's album The Clearing, six of the 11 songs have the word "Air" in the title. It's misleading to say that the music "soars", but it also doesn't spend a lot of its time on the ground either. Being a member of the chamber pop group Rachel's (fans of the band have told me that they did not pick that name because of Grimes), pianist Rachel Grimes belongs to a niche of composers who are working to further the neoclassical style within the indie pop world. The Clearing is a very quiet album, but you can't exactly call it relaxed. It doesn't aim for the stars, but it does end up levitating as it plays. At first play, it seems too polite and reverential to the average listener's sense of harmony. Eventually, The Clearing will grow slightly more unique with each listen. The Kronos Quartet covering Alban Berg it is not, but it does have its advantages.

The Clearing is mostly a chamber string ensemble album with Grimes playing piano on all but one song. Loscil/Scott Morgan is credited with processing and Grimes brings along her Rachel's colleague Christian Frederickson for viola duties. Depending on the track, there may be as little as one stringed instrument or as many as five. The personnel are rounded out by musicians from Shipping News, Liberation Prophecy, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta Trio, and cellist/composer Helen Money (Alison Chesley). Jacob Duncan's saxophone behaves more like the violins and cellos, keeping the skronking and wailing under tight wraps. It suits the approach, guaranteeing that Duncan's saxophone doesn't steal any more attention than Lisa Spurlock Gilmore's harp or Jennifer Potochnic's oboe.

Most of the time, the strings are the thing that drive the actual sound. A very distinct ostinato, with a perfectly placed emphasis, is the figure that gives "The Air in Time" its identity. At other times, the pulse tends to go rubato on you (which is impressive considering no one gets conducting credit -- and if they did, then I missed it). Grimes's piano comes across as ornamental with the exception of a passive-aggressive breakdown in "In the Vapor with the Air Underneath". Even here, Grimes's sense of drama is tamed.

If you listen to The Clearing at a low volume on your work computer while you delete your emails, you might miss the one song designed to stand out from it all, "Transverse Plane Vertical". The way Duncan and Gilmore team up on the melody could almost make it pass for something out of a New Orleans parade. In reality, "Transverse Plane Vertical" is just as serious as the rest of the album, despite Kyle Crabtree's upbeat drumming. Clocking in at only 2:53, this little moment in deviation is over before you know it. The Clearing may not be a slam-dunk for the neoclassical movement, but it serves out positive little tidbits of what the subgenre has to offer. It's a testament the composers who spend their time poking tiny holes in the mold rather than breaking it.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image