Last week we got the opportunity to go to Alex Ross's event at The New Yorker Festival, a night of music and yapping with "Composers on the Edge" - Joanna Newsom, Nico Muhly, Mason Bates and Cory Dargel.
The NYer's Alex Ross is easily one of our favorite music writers - as we increasingly (but slowly) take the classical plunge, his writing and website have been amongst our three or four primary points of reference, and if you haven't read his forays into writing about rock music (he might call it "pop"), then dig up his Björk, Radiohead and Dylan profiles immediately. We'll just sit quietly by while you read, waiting impatiently for his book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century to be published (what is more exciting than a big-ass, ambitious-ass project?).
Before we get back to "Composers on the Edge," we will take this opportunity to remind everyone that we first connected Nico Muhly and Joanna Newsom for a feature written by Nico about Joanna in our 28th issue as part of our "Artists At Work" blowout, so if you're a fan of either, holler at a back issue.
Anyway, y'all already know what we think of Mr Muhly's music and his piece "Keep In Touch." We were not so psyched on Mr Bates's electronics and organ piece (we found the drum n' bass business seriously outmoded). Cory Dargel's hilarious and smart pop songs (we're not going to call them "electronic art songs") were silly but clever and sweet - we're gonna dig up more on him, but we were really psyched on "Gay Cowboys," about a duo traveling through Illinois in a Chevy.
And then there's J.Newey. The event was held in a little floating room on the East River called Bargemusic and Ms Newsom opened the event, setting it off with a solo version of "Emily," the first track off her ridiculous new album Ys. Since the performance, we've listened to "Emily" more than any other song on earth - it is a beautifully arranged, sprawling piece full of secret hooks and really bold, poetic statements. Newsom just seems so brave. We have no idea what "Emily" is about as far as the narrative arc or any kind of general summary, but it is full of little moments we relate to so completely that they give us pangs ("And Emily I saw you last night, by the water/ I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water/ Frowning at the angle where they were lost and slipped under forever/ In a mud cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror," "I've seen your bravery and I will follow you there," and "I make this claim and I'm not ashamed to say I knew you better"). It's also worth noting that Newsom's singing is as good live as it is on record - all the quirky, wonderful nuances in all their simultaneously huge and miniature glory. She is a real treasure.
Hearing her play alone, however (without the Van Dyke Parks strings from the album), raised a question to be addressed to our friends at Drag City: we love Ys as is, but eventually could you also release the album with Joanna alone, kinna like the Fed and Underfed combo? THANKS.