The Crossroads of When We Are Inhuman
In each cultural field there are images or places of a great symbolic load. In the history of music, there is a long list that highlights the crossroads where, says the legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the secrets of the blues were revealed and became a exceptional interpreter.
Since then, those places where the roads cross and which must be attended at midnight to make diabolical deals in exchange for talent have become an almost mythical reference. Many musicians want to be able to go to that event to learn the great secrets of art at any price.
These lonely and magical crossroads welcome the possibility of revelation. The narrative places them as places to go to alone, but the appearance of When We Are Inhuman not only makes me think about the power of attraction they retain, but also the possibility that they also become a possible point meeting If a single musician makes the deal and obtains wonderful gifts, what would happen at that same point if artists with different and powerful personalities are found?
I have thought about this since I first listened to When We Are Inhuman, a three-way raid that provokes the coexistence and confluence of different aspects. But let’s go in parts.
The one who is not difficult to imagine arriving at the crossroads of Robert Johnson is Will Oldham, a long-time veteran and several aliases in which he has emptied his passion for misty and refined folk. Mostly, we know him as Bonnie “Prince” Billy and his slow pieces that know of the tribulations of the soul. This is a cult figure who, although he has also intervened in films, has not taken a definitive leap towards the mainstream , but has left us the tremendous “I See a Darkness” that has huge versions that go from Johnny Cash to Rosalia.
The one that goes through a very different moment is Bryce Dessner, who is part of the acclaimed band, formed in Ohio and established in New York, The National; there it is explained in a very stylized intellectual rock indie rock that auscultates carefully the interstices of adult life, but also unleashes the epic. Rock has brought him great recognition, but he has insisted on becoming a place in classical music that is composed in the present. He has been able to link with orchestras and institutions to show his other facet and recently published the album El chan(which includes a concert for two pianos) and presented in several cities the multimedia project Triptych (Eyes of One on Another). A conceptual artist too! Bryce is able to undertake any project that appeals to him.
Oldham is from Louisville, Kentucky; Dessner comes from Cincinnati; The triangle is completed with the presence of a group from Chicago, Illinois. Eighth Blackbird is a sextet that also fits into contemporary classical music and that includes winds, strings and percussions. The ensemble took its name from a poem by Wallace Stevens and has collaborated with Steve Reich and set up his own version of “Pierrot Lunaire,” an important composition by Arnold Schoenberg.
Each one has a formidable background to contribute to a joint project and that is exactly what it is: a disc in which Oldham’s Gothic folk meets Eighth Blackbird’s camera arrangements, which give it a completely different meaning to songs that are usually acoustic or slightly electrified. To show the result they sent “Beast for Thee” ahead, which he catches with an austere but profound beauty. This is the recreation of a piece co-written with Matt Sweeney and from the 2005 Superwolf album .
In the rest of the album we find reinterpretations of some of the movements of the Murder Ballades composed by Dessner and also the live record of “Stay on It”, original by Julius Eastman (composer, pianist, singer and dancer), precursor in the combination of pop and minimalism that passed away in 1990. But that’s not all, a classic of the Appalachian culture called “Down in the Will Garden” was also included.
In the eight tracks there is a great respect and admiration for the past, along with a minimalist tone as a common thread. All the participants put forward their coincidences and that is why they took a step forward “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” by Sufjan Stevens and created an independent theme, “Underneath the Floorboards”, which remains as an extension of the previous one.
Under the current conditions of the record industry, such a work is only possible through an independent label. Fortunately, Bryce Dessner has his own, 37d03d, in the company of Justin Vernon, first name of Bon Iver.
When We Are Inhuman symbolizes a crossroads and is a real crossroads. Inside, part of Bonnie’s “Prince” repertoire Billy gets a new sonic face. There are “New Partner”, “When Thy Song” and “One with the Birds” —second simple—, a set that maximizes the sensitive experience using the precise resources. It is time to believe even in encounters that seem impossible.