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Album Review: Theo Bleckman's 'Hello Earth - The Music of Kate Bush'

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Theo Bleckmann Sings the Music of Kate Bush
Courtesy of Winter and Winter
Vocalist Theo Bleckmann is best known for creating vast sonic spaces with subverbal textures, electronics, and with the help of backing musicians such as John Hollenbeck, Ben Monder, or the band Kneebody. On Hello Earth, Bleckmann showcases his mastery of affective and lyrical nuances with interpretations of songs by British art rocker Kate Bush.

Kate Bush won her first acclaim at age 18 with her 1978 hit “Wuthering Heights.” Bush, with her cerebral lyrics, melding of musical genres, and lush instrumental arrangements, can be considered the precursor to artists such as Björk and Joanna Newsom. Bleckmann, along with keyboardist Henry Hey, violinist Caleb Burhans, bassist Skuli Sverrisson, and drummer John Hollenbeck, take a direct cue from Bush in terms of arranging. The songs on Hello Earth use vocals, various keyboards, violin, guitar, and electronics to create orchestral backdrops.

The opening track, “Running Up That Hill,” converts an up-tempo 1980s pop romp into a ponderous and tender ballad. It floats freely until the last two minutes, when it ramps up to a chugging pulse with the introduction of the lyrics, “let’s exchange the experience.”

Bleckmann’s “Suspended in Gaffa” stays true to the original with its bouncy meter, and with the vocal’s almost creepily exaggerated joy. Bleckmann’s arrangement, however, has a jazz-inspired groove with a push of intensity thanks to repetitive Steve Reich-like piano lines. The groove periodically gives way to a less driving section made up of sustained notes in the vocals and violin, suggestive of the suspension alluded to in the song’s title.

“Violin” rocks hard like the original, but with more of a punk attitude. It has been sped up, and features Burhan’s electronic violin, but otherwise hews closely to Bush’s version. “Hello Earth,” on the other hand, eschews the heavy back beat of the original, and is instead fueled by a sliced up and intensified rhythm section hits under the lyrics “Just look at it go,” and “why did I go.” This creates a tense build that abruptly dissolves into an extended moment without pulse, marked with soft and sustained electronic sounds. The contrast between groove and suspension is a common device used on the album, and is largely responsible for its success.

Theo Bleckmann’s music is often described as unclassifiable, and this is in large part due to his ability to fuse genres. He improvises, yet not in a jazz style. He sings rock music, but with pristine diction and with classically trained affect. The music of Hello Earth doesn’t fall into a single category, but often borrows from distinct styles.

The introduction to “Saxophone Song,” for example, is up-tempo jazz swing. The opening “Ha’s” in “Cloudbusting” are a reference to Laurie Anderson’s 1981 song “O Superman.” On Hello Earth pop, rock, punk, jazz, and classical music are sewn together seamlessly.

Bleckmann achieves the ultimate success with Hello Earth. On one hand, each of the songs on the album sounds just like the original. On the other hand, each is somehow unique and independent. The music belongs not only to Kate Bush, but to Theo Bleckmann.

Release Date:

March 13th, 2012 on Winter and Winter

Personnel:

  • Theo Bleckmann – Vocals, Electronics, Toys
  • Henry Hey – Piano, Harpsichord, Fender Rhodes
  • Caleb Burhans – Electronic five-string Violin, Electric Guitar
  • Skuli Sverrisson – Electric Bass
  • John Hollenbeck – Drums, Percussion, Crotales

Track List:

  • Running Up That Hill Suspended in Gaffa And Dream of Sheep Under Ice Violin Hello Earth Cloudbusting All the Love Saxophone Song Army Dreams The Man with the Child in His Eyes Watching You Without Me Love and Anger This Woman’s Work

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