Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

A Cappella and Lovin’ It

March 1, 2006

A Cappella and Lovin’ It

If you’ve read anything of IndependentClauses, you’ll notice that I like new sounds. I like sounds that I can’t play, can’t write, can’t even imagine. If you’ve got a sound that’s unique, I want to hear it. I like to know that there is still creativity out there.

This column is about a CD full of sounds I wouldn’t have even pondered. I recently discovered it on Rhapsody- an online music repository at www.listen.com that costs ten bucks a month for unlimited plays by a virtually unlimited amount of artists. It’s called The Unaccompanied Voice: An A Cappella Compilation, and it was released by Secretly Canadian Records in 2000. I discovered it because Damien Jurado makes an appearance on it- I was listening to Jurado and clicked a link to one of the compilation albums he appears on (because Rhapsody is kind enough to cross-reference everything for me).

What I found there was a vast treasure store (24 songs worth) of completely unaccompanied voices. While the songs range from a single vocal line (Jurado’s performance of “Dance Hall Places”) to virtual choirs (“Farewell to Nova Scotia” by Sharon Topper and Fly), to one man putting many versions of himself looped under him (Jandek’s “Om”), to duets (“Leaflets Gabe” by Modest Mouse – yes, that Modest Mouse), there’s every type of combination possible. There’s also many styles- Pedro the Lion’s obviously indie contribution, spirituals like the delicious “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”, and even foreign language contributions a la “La Vie En Rose.”

The predominant factor here is beauty- the voice is treated like an admirable instrument, an instrument to be praised just like a guitar. These songs are a breath of fresh air- a reminder that a voice is a great thing. I was introduced to the Red House Painters through this album, and Mark Kozalek’s voice is now one of my favorite things about the Red House Painters (I just heard two of their albums on Rhapsody- man, I love this thing).

It sounds weird to have an album of all a cappella music, but usually the songs aren’t very long. Some barely break 20 seconds, and most stay within the 1 to 2 minute range. These songwriters know how to work their craft- they know what is too little and what is too much.

The amazing thing about this compilation is that you can still buy it from the Secretly Canadian site- the guys up there at Secretly Canadian believe in this comp so much that they kept it around. Or maybe they didn’t sell out the first pressing- I don’t know. But I like to think that they’re a tad bit proud of this off-kilter pressing- a little bit fond of their odd little baby. Here’s to odd music, and here’s to Secretly Canadian. May odd music continue to live on in defiance of the radio. May beauty still be found in unexpected places. May this ever be a testament to odd, unusual music.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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