Singer/songwriter/producer/etc. Jherek Bischoff spent years working on Composed, which makes its brevity perhaps surprising. The album is fewer than 40 minutes in length, yet it’s anything but slight. Each composition is quite literally bursting with ideas.
Even though Bischoff wrote most of the music (with the exception of an arresting cover of English folk-pop singer Bob Lind’s “Counting”), Composed is an exceptionally collaborative effort. Most of the singers wrote their own lyrics and the 20+ musicians who contributed to the album didn’t even perform in the same room together; the liner notes indicate that many of their instrumental tracks were recorded at their homes or various studios individually.
As Bischoff explains, “I spent the summer riding my bike from house to house recording each musician. I finished the album by taking a road trip to record all the singers in person, except for Caetano Veloso and David Byrne, who recorded their own parts at home.” You might think this would result in a wretched mess, but it doesn’t.
Those used to bands featuring one or two singers might find the variety of vocal performances to be jarring, particularly when Bischoff has gathered (relatively speaking) some of the most unconventional—yet gifted—singers to interpret each piece. In addition to the aforementioned Veloso and Byrne, there is Mirah Zeitlyn, Carla Bozulich, Zac Pennington, Soko, Dawn McCarthy, and Bischoff himself.
Once you acclimate your ears to this peculiar approach, however, you can open your mind and heart to what is one of the most enjoyable, memorable, and unique musical experiments you will hear this year (and probably for a few years after).
Every track on Composed is wonderful and each deserves its own separate review. But in the interest of time, I’ll provide a brief, and hopefully tempting, overview.
“The Secret of the Machines” is based on a Rudyard Kipling poem, its lyrics adapted by Barbara Browning. “The Nest” features instrumentation that imitates wings flapping and birds soaring and gorgeous, evocative lyrics. Even the simplest-seeming lyrics, like those in “Your Ghost” are, pardon the pun, hauntingly ambiguous.
The most capricious track by far is “Young and Lovely,” beautifully sung by Zac Pennington (Bischoff’s bandmate in Parenthetical Girls) and French chanteuse Soko. There’s a terrific video for the song that alludes to the Greek myth of Aurora and Tithonus but the song is tantalizingly vague in the tale it tells.
“Insomnia, Death and The Sea” is the most ambitious, stirring work on Composed (and that’s saying a lot), a fitting grand finale for a grand album. Dawn McCarthy’s vocal imperfections and quirks are the most engaging of anyone’s on the album (again, high praise considering the roster of talent here) and it is a perfect accompaniment to the sweeping grandeur of the music and the title of the song itself.
Composed is a stunning, provocative piece of work. It’s the kind of album you should reevaluate after you’ve been listening to it for a few months in order to more fully understand and appreciate its multifaceted brilliance. I urge anyone who has lost faith in the ability of modern music to stir the soul to check out Composed as soon as possible.
Composed is out today from Brassland. You can purchase a copy from the label’s website, but be sure to check out Jherek Bischoff’s site as well, where you can read about the making of Composed as well as the live performance of the album at the Ecstatic Music Festival in February.