24 April 2006

montage - "she's alone" (from the montage lp, available for purchase here.)

i once sang the first verse of the left banke's "pretty ballerina" to an answering machine. badly.

but, but! the song is written in a-flat major but to the song's benefit, and to the would-be troubadour's detriment, two of the notes are made natural : the "pret-" in "pretty ballerina and the last note in each verse. mindful of this and fearful of being "pitchy," i remained in key--but my voice gave on the first "surprise" in the verse (which really should have been easier, b/c the second one requires, as randy jackson would say, a little "false").

how fitting that it should give on "surprise," as it's such melodic surprises that make the work of michael brown so engaging. "pretty ballerina," as a result, is not a freefall down the piano, following conventional paths; rather, along w/ the general ethereality of the arrangement, it's a slow, occasionally disorienting fall that prompts the listener, lest he get too comfortable, to take heed of the sights. it's not unlike falling out of consciousness into dreams, not unlike falling into love.

"she's alone" by montage, the band that brown wrote & arranged for following his departure from the left banke, features a melody that is just as slippery, yet the movement is in entirely the opposite direction. it is, as a cursory listen to the first verse demonstrates, a demanding climb in the dark up an unsound, spiralling staircase, a climb that conditions one for what they'll encounter at the end.

at the end of a hall, there is a candlelit room where a woman mourns for her dead husband, gone seventeen years now. if "pretty ballerina" is about the easy loveward fall, "she's alone" offers a keyhole glimpse of what happens when there's no one left to break that fall. each night, it would seem, she commits a barthesian relapse, "'falling back' into an interior doctrine which no one shares with me." she is completely bereft : there is no one to turn to for comfort; there is no one to see about redress. she is the perfect proustian prisoner, cruelly denied the gift of madness which would have allowed her to live according to the dictates of memory.

what could possibly make such a portrait, which makes the denizens of "eleanor rigby" seem positively contented, worth listening to? michael brown's genius, namely, the beauty of the melody and a daring, striking arrangement--a string quartet for much of its duration, giving way to a horn section only near the end--that shies away from anything remotely rock & roll. furthermore, it serves to remind one, if he shamefully can't find examples elsewhere, that there are people far worse off.

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