08.03.2009

Way back in March, coldplay.com featured an interview with Mercury Rev, a band that was opening for them at that time on their tour. In the interview, they mentioned that they had an album available as a free download on their website. As someone who (at least in principle) is always interested in free music, I headed over, signed up for their email list and downloaded the album; as someone who (at least in practice) is always interested in procrastination, I hadn’t listened to it until today. But when I did, I found a very pleasant surprise.

On Wikipedia, the genres listed for Mercury Rev are “alternative rock,” “art rock” and “dream pop,” whatever those mean. Apparently the band normally has vocals, but the free album, entitled Strange Attractor, is all instrumental. I guess “dream pop” isn’t quite my cup of tea, but it was an enjoyable listen. The first track, however, captured my interest immediately. It’s called “Love Is Pure;” but it’s essentially a rock/pop remix of Arvo Pärt’s art music composition Fratres. I wrote about Fratres in the short-lived Listening Page feature on my former blog (short-lived because I soon expanded it to become this Listening Blog); here’s my description of the piece:

Pärt is an Estonian composer of minimalistic music, particularly a style known sometimes as “holy minimalism” (and ridiculed sometimes as “Holy minimalism, Batman!”). This is one of his best-known works–a hauntingly beautiful piece for four cellos. It’s one of those pieces in which the composer sets up a pattern, writes the beginning, and then lets the rest of the piece write itself (I hope to write a piece like this someday, it just seems too easy). In this particular piece, he writes a chord progression which begins at a very high pitch; then he repeats the progression nine times (I think), and each time the progression starts on a different, lower pitch, until it ends in the deep middle-low range of the cellos. The piece is about 10 minutes long, but it never gets boring because of the balance of repetition (the same general progression) and contrast (different chords in the progression in different ranges)…. It’s a really cool piece.

Mercury Rev’s version doesn’t repeat or change pitch, but it does use the same chord progression. The rhythm is jazzed up and delay is added, but the progression is clearly the same. It even retains the low held interval that the original Fratres does. Very cool.

You can listen to a recording of Fratres here, courtesy of Last.fm; and you can listen to “Love Is Pure” (by itself) here. However, the free download of Strange Attractor is still available at Mercury Rev’s website, and I’d recommend checking that out instead!

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