The Survivors: Part Twelve

Stephen Sondheim
Assassins (Original Cast Recording)

Regardless of what you think about musical theatre, your opinion of Stephen Sondheim kind of has to be separate from that. He’s one of those artists who is larger than the genre he writes in. He’s one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived, and even when his shows are flawed, like Assassins is, they illustrate the absolute highest level of character songwriting: a kind of writing that I identify as much with Kate Bush or John Darnielle as with Sondheim’s fellow Broadway icons. This cast recording is a rough listen in a few places, but the sheer perversity of a bunch of presidential assassins jauntily singing “everybody’s got the right to be happy” gives me shivers every time. 
Measure of gratitude: Very large. Thank you. 

Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

I stole this from work and haven’t spent as much time with it as I meant to. I’ve loved it on the couple of occasions I’ve listened to it. I’ll come to love it more someday, I’m sure. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Sufjan Stevens

This is an album I ought to have heard in high school, but actually heard many years afterwards. The album that finally converted me into a Sufjan fan was Carrie & Lowell, an album so different from this that it may as well be by another artist entirely. Carrie is a spare, beautiful, delicate songwriter album where every song makes me cry at least 70% of the time. Illinois is a maximalist, symphonic rock record that 16-year-old Parsons would have loved. I like it fine even now, but I discovered it past the point where it would have grabbed me instantly. Sufjan Stevens could have been an artist that came with me through two phases of my taste evolution. As it stands, I’ll probably never love his early stuff as much as Carrie & Lowell
Measure of gratitude: Medium. Thank you. 

Eric St-Laurent Trio

I reviewed this for my undergraduate student newspaper, where they used to pass out CDs that got sent to the offices to whoever wanted to review them. I took this one at my first editorial meeting, because I thought it would impress people that I knew something about jazz. It didn’t. The review was my first piece of published writing. Haven’t listened to it since. 
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Stimmung (Singcircle)

I went through a phase in high school of wanting to hear the weirdest shit that every musical tradition had to offer. I knew Stockhausen was one of 20th-century classical music’s most controversial eccentrics. And I’d heard a section of this piece on a long vanished old Naxos compilation. I bought it at a shop in Edmonton where I also bought my first professional model B-flat trumpet. I told the shopkeeper I’d heard the first few minutes and liked it. “The rest is exactly the same,” he replied. He was correct. I loved it anyway. This is over an hour of a small vocal group just singing the overtone series. The length of it is the point. I could certainly do without the erotic poetry recitations scattered throughout, though. 
Measure of gratitude: Large. Thank you. 

Richard Strauss
Wind Sonatinas (Armonia Ensemble)

This was pressed into my hands by a former colleague who knew I’d played a wind instrument. Most classical music people don’t like music for wind instruments and it tends to make one a little defensive. Not much to defend here, though. Nowadays I like Strauss primarily as an opera composer. He and Mozart are the only major composers whose operas are what I like best. 
Measure of gratitude: Very small. Thank you. 

Igor Stravinsky
The Rite of Spring/Firebird (Pierre Boulez with the Cleveland and Chicago Symphonies)
Three Symphonies (Michael Tilson Thomas, London Symphony Orchestra)
The Soldier’s Tale (Neeme Järvi, Royal Scottish National Orchestra)

Every music student has a moment where they get really into Stravinsky. For me, it happened thanks to Boulez’s recordings of the Rite and the complete Firebird, recordings which I now find a little surgical, a little lacking in ferocity. (Sure wish I could still bring myself to listen to recordings by that miserable toady Gergiev.) But nowadays it’s the neoclassical stuff that I like best: the least ferocious music in Stravinsky’s catalogue. The Symphony of Psalms is one of the greatest pieces of the 20th century, and The Soldier’s Tale would be another if not for the asinine story. Stravinsky is one of the composers I loved in my early 20s that has the most staying power, along with Mahler. And unlike Mahler, there’s still a lot of his work that I haven’t explored. Someday. 
Measure of gratitude: Massive. Thank you. 

Studio de musique ancienne
Palestrina/Victoria (with Christopher Jackson)

One of the relatively few concerts I saw in Edmonton that completely floored me was Christopher Jackson and SMAM performing music by Giovanni Gabrielli with cornetts and all. I bought this disc of music mainly by Palestrina in the lobby afterwards, convincing myself that I’d like it even though it’s purely choral, without any cool old instruments. I was wrong, I wasn’t ready for it at the time. But I sure did come to like it afterwards, and the other records I’ve heard from Jackson and company have also been outstanding, especially their recording of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro
Measure of gratitude: Middling. Thank you. 

Sun Ra
Space is the Place

The Karlheinz Stockhausen of jazz, I’ve always appreciated Sun Ra’s work as conceptual art more than as music. But that could be partially because my introduction to him came through this album, which is associated with a film I haven’t seen. His earlier music is a little more austere and a little less corny than this. But it’s a fine line between this and P-Funk, and P-Funk isn’t corny. What’s different, exactly?
Measure of gratitude: Small. Thank you. 

The Syrup Trap
Christmas Happens Every Year

This is an album where the volunteer writing staff of a comedy website sing a bunch of Christmas songs using only the words “O Christmas Tree.” I sing one of the songs and I am on the cover. It is effectively episode zero of a podcast I produced with some of these same people, which was a wonderful project I loved doing. A terrible Christmas album, but an interesting objet d’art that I’m proud to have been part of.
Measure of gratitude: Weirdly large. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s