Several weeks ago, I got an idea. It involved writing up a number of penetratingly insightful questions on the subject of Ryan Morgan’s new record, Chivalry is Dead, and sending them to its primary creators – Ryan, and E.W. Harris. The idea being that I would then post a remarkably literate, rich, and well-informed review/interview type thing in this very space. Then I got busy and never did that. This, then, is my illiterate, poor, and uninformed version of the same thing.
Chivalry is Dead starts with something like a sound collage. Edited news reports, which have sort of a doomsday element to them, are super-imposed over an actual recording of someone (that I know) being literally pushed around by some members of the NYPD. All of this accompanied by some classic E.W. Harris atmospherics. It gets kind of intense.
Arnold Schoenberg wrote about a concept he called Grundgestalt. He said that this is the basic part of a piece of music. Kind of like the theme. A piece of music, he said, couldn’t do anything except endlessly restate and reshape this basic part. Again and again. This basic piece, the grundgestalt, always appears very early in the music. For instance, I was once in a class where the professor spent an hour illustrating that the feedback, trill, and glissando at the very beginning of “Foxy Lady,” were the grundgestalt of the song. As it turns out, the dissonant chord that Hendrix uses over and over in Foxy Lady is almost entirely present in that first 5 seconds of trill, feedback, and glissando. Which is a little freaky if you think about it, precisely because it’s unlikely that Jimi Hendrix thought about it at all.
I might suggest that the opening sound collage I described above is kind of like this record’s grundgestalt. The album has the feel of a dark radio show in the time of the apocalypse. It’s like you’re listening to the radio, and occasionally, between the songs and reports of current events, someone comes on to let you know that the world is coming to an end. And the album reshapes, again and again, these feelings of dark radio moments. Indeed, the record ends when the music stops, a wolf howls, and E.W. says “It seems it’s over.” Whether he means the record, or civilization generally, is not entirely clear. Knowing E.W., I’m sure this is completely intentional.
Where the news reports end and the songs begin may not be immediately clear, either. Sort of like looking at the Cyclorama in Atlanta’s Grant Park. There are real objects there and there is a painted background, but it is not always clear where one ends and the other starts. In the case of the Cyclorama, the ambiguity is achieved largely through the use of dim lighting. In Chivalry is Dead, it comes from Ryan Morgan’s songwriting. Ryan’s songs are like a Gonzo version of the news. Subjects pulled from the headlines, highly filtered through his own experience. There are songs here about Amy Winehouse’s death, bombings, the Maricopa County Sheriff who, right after Ryan’s album became available for download, was sued by the federal government for civil rights abuses. The songs are also extremely well written, combining extremely literate lyrics with contagiously catchy musical ideas. Well formed and thoroughly unpretentious. If it was simply an unadorned collection of songs, the album would stand on its own as a solid achievement.
But, of course, it is not simply a collection of individual song recordings. It is something much cooler. It is a dark, apocalyptic trip through the radio and the minds of Ryan Morgan and E.W.Harris. And I highly suggest that you purchase it.
I have the pleasure of playing a set at this record’s release show, tonight at Bar 4. I’ll be joined by a bunch of great folks, including Justin Storer, Matt Cranstoun, Bryan Rogers, Don Paris Schlotman, and even the great E.W. Harris himself. The Sky Captains of Industry will also play, which is always a very good time. They say they have surprises planned. Which means things could get very weird. Ryan Morgan will then play the songs from this record with a big-ass band, which should also be really cool. If you happen to be around South Slope, Brooklyn. I would suggest stopping by Bar4 around 8.
Check out the whole album for FREE at this here SOUNDCLOUND spot.
After being filled with a deep and sensuous longing to own those sounds, buy the record at this here CD BABY site. Or of course you could come out to the show tonight and buy it there. That would be cooler.
Here’s a sample taken from the aNIALLated record which also appears on Ryan’s new album. It’s a terrific Niall Connolly song and even better in the context of the whole Chivalry is Dead record. So I highly recommend you buy eight of them, and give them to your friends and family as an act of generosity. I also suggest you listen with headphones. And adjust them. To drown out the sirens.