“Last Dance” – Gabriel Kahane
This is one of the more challenging songs I’m likely to post here on Fingertips, where the emphasis is typically on easy-to-love immediacy. This time, I’m asking you to sit through a minute and a half of prickly, unsettled music—first a meandering melody, voice and electric guitar in a kind of convoluted fugue, next (0:48) a glitchy, horn-backed section with an equally uncentered melody, marked by brisk, blurty vocal runs. The lyrics are somewhat difficult to follow but appear to be about a woman whose husband has died and now finds herself back on the dating scene; the agitated music—far more resembling composer music than singer/songwriter music—exists, I’m guessing, to reflect her state of mind.
But then the character excuses herself from her date, locks herself in a bathroom stall, and starts singing. The music (1:35) breathes itself into different place, into something that seems like a chorus, and a deeply satisfying one at that. You the listener can relax now; the song is accessible from this point onward. This chorus-like element repeats five times through the remainder of the piece, and while still a tad complex—I, for one, can’t quite discern the time signatures in play here—this is seriously wonderful stuff, a sign of just what can become of pop music when someone equally schooled in classical music gets his or her hands on it. The hook—and there is one, in my mind—happens with the alternate melody line delivered at the end of each chorus repetition, when Kahane jumps from “All I want is your face” to “All I want is a last dance.” His is a warm, pliable voice—“untrained,” in classical parlance—and the repeated falsetto leaps happen easily and expressively, but with repetition gain an edge of desperation, suggesting the imagined but unreceived (because impossible) release the song’s lead character seeks.
Kahane writes stuff like this because he is not your everyday rock’n’roller. Son of acclaimed concert pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane, Kahane the younger has taking his classical training in a variety of post-postmodern directions, trafficking in art songs, musical theater, jazz, and something partially but not entirely resembling indie singer/songwriter fare, among other things. He was previously featured on Fingertips in August 2008, when his first, self-titled album of (perhaps a better label) singer/composer songs was about to be released. “Last Dance” is from his second such effort, entitled Where Are The Arms, which is arriving in September on 2nd Story Sound Records.