“North Adams” – Gabriel Kahane
In another, better world, sort of like ours but also sort of not, pop songs would frequently sound like this: musical, playful, smart, tuneful, and interesting from beginning to end. Gabriel Kahane is one of a coterie of composer/performers out there–typically (in the U.S.) in New York City–blurring the lines between art and commerce, “high” and “low” art, rock and classical and jazz. He writes, he sings, he orchestrates; he performs with indie rockers and conservatory graduates and opera singers. The music defies facile labeling, but remains personable and easy to listen to, even as it is far richer musically than the unfettered marketplace ever spits up to us on its own.
Take this snazzy, blazingly intelligent song. There are horns, there are strings, there’s piano, there are vocals, tumbling together in continually unexpected ways. It’s a road song at heart, and the music has a back-road velocity to it. Early, the strings veer towards traditional chamber music; later, they deconstruct almost bebop-ishly. The horns, meanwhile, start with a hint of baroque but finish with a Latin flair. There are unusual meter shifts to keep our ears open but then also a great hook of a highway-cruising 4/4 chorus. Come to think of it, this is also music that puts a smile on your face, as great music often can for mysterious reasons.
Known in certain hipster circles for an eight-movement cycle of art songs he wrote using classified ads from Craigslist, verbatim, as lyrics (you can stream them on his home page), Kahane will be releasing his self-titled debut CD in September on his own Wasted Storefront label. MP3 via the artist.