The Friday Morning Listen: Jherek Bischoff – Composed (2012)

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The dreamlike quality of Jherek Bischoff’s music is almost matched by the dreamlike nature of his upbringing. He was raised on a sailboat. He took a “break” during his senior year of high school to sail around South America with his family. Are these facts related in any meaningful way to Bischoff’s musical life? His compositional work? His roles in Parenthentical Girls and Amanda Palmer‘s The Grand Theft Orchestra? I don’t have an answer for that, though I suspect that those experiences had to have some influence on his artistic perceptions.

My introduction to Bischoff came just a few days ago, in a happenstance that (now that I think of it) was also somewhat dreamlike. Just a few weeks ago, Me and TheWife™ stuffed a truck full of our belongings and moved to a new location. We love the new place (a cottage that is the secondary residence on a small, working horse farm) and have settled in nicely. I’ve been working at home most days and have been doing what I usually do during the day: keeping the music on at a healthy volume. Upon returning from errands late one morning, I ran into one of the landlords, who immediately struck up a conversation about music (he’d obviously heard the sounds emanating from the front windows). He had heard some music on the radio and was so enthralled by it that he went right out and procured the CD.

Now if you let your sad clichés run wild, you might assume that man on a farm who is pulling a CD from his red pickup truck is about to hand you, say, a disc of the big hat & belt buckle, suburban country variety. Well, let me say that Jherek Bischoff’s Composed would have knocked that cliché right on its sorry ass.

As it turns out, a Terry Gross Fresh Air segment had introduced him to Bischoff and so here we are now.

I don’t even want to attempt to label this music. Reviews have trafficked in words such as “baroque pop,” which I guess is on the right track. I’m reminded of both Arcade Fire and The Dirty Projectors. What amazes me about this record — over and above the incredible guest artists such as David Byrne and Nels Cline ‐ is how Bischoff constructed much of it. The orchestral passages (of which there are many) were actually put together one instrument at at time. Because he couldn’t afford to hire a full orchestra (who can these days?!) he visited his classical instrumentalist friends and recorded the individual parts in their living rooms. It was a creative indie approach to a huge problem.

And did it work? When I first listened to the interview, I was certain that the final outcome would have some obvious “recording trick” affect. Wrong. Composed sounds glorious, full of orchestral bloom and emotion-laden shine…without an orchestra.

The video below is my favorite track. “Young & Lovely,” based very loosely on the Roman myth of Aurora, is presented in two parts and features the voices of Parenthetical Girls cohort Zac Pennington as well as Frech singer Soko. The song starts out as an uptempo, string-driven pop song. In the middle of this comes a surprise direction change, a waltz-time segment that feels like a play within a play. It feels like, yes, a dream. Please don’t wake me.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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