His Name Is Alive
Michigan musician Warren Defever—the man behind His Name Is Alive—is a fellow who takes musical obsessions and feeds them into his own off-kilter aesthetic filter, resulting in astounding work that is simultaneously familiar yet undeniably strange, as if supernatural aliens had their own versions of Western world pop/rock forms.
For example, Defever listened to the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” repeatedly for a period of time in the mid-’90s, and the result of that obsession was the spot-on homage “Universal Frequencies.” His obsessions made His Name Is Alive a constantly changing band, going from early reverb-drenched ethereal darkness to eccentric rock to ’60s pop to soul to avant-garde jazz, with dozens of footnotes along the way.
Early in 2014, it was clear what Defever’s current obsession was. He had uploaded to YouTube a 73-minute mix of every single Thin Lizzy guitar solo—around one hundred—recorded between 1971 and 1983 that he had painstakingly stitched together. The new His Name Is Alive album, Tecuciztecatl, bleeds Thin Lizzy, with Defever notably re-creating that irresistible tandem guitar attack with partner-in-crime Dusty Jones.
It is a rock opera that carries the twin-lead-guitar method into thematic space, being about a woman pregnant with twins, one of which is a demon baby. Even the album’s title refers to the lunar deity in Aztec mythology, who was the dimmer half of a twosome of “suns,” only visible at night.
The 13-minute “The Examination” gets things started, introducing its charged prog/arena-rock sound, psychedelic flourishes and wild rockabilly breakdowns, sounding most similar to the band’s 1998 album Ft. Lake. The distinctive sound of a Mellotron provides counterpoint, and lead vocalist Andrea Morici harmonizes with herself, with her calm, clear style.
It is refreshing how much this album simply rocks out, unreservedly, with meaty riffs and hooks, and “I Will Disappear You” features a downright sick guitar solo, over its pastoral bed. “African Violet Casts a Spell” is a fascinating turn, utilizing the sound of water being struck as percussion and wandering acoustic guitar lines seemingly influenced by Saharan blues.
The end grows near with the bouncy “Yes Yes Yesterday” which concludes with Morici streaming, “A hornet, a jacket, in spirit a visit, bracelet, blanket, rabbit magnet.” Tecuciztecatl is easily the group’s best proper album since 2006’s Detrola, and it fuels an obsession with ambition, creating a spirited, horror-laced rock opera.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh
Music for an Elliptical Orbit
Here’s something fun to do: don a pair of overalls, wear a fake set of maloccluded teeth and after an orchestra performance, walk up to one of the violinists and say, “Mighty fine fiddling, I tell you what.” You might be met with a look of bewilderment or an icy stare.
However, one violinist who probably wouldn’t mind is the Irish musician Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, who has crafted a fascinating intersection between Irish folk fiddling, modern classical music and the realm of improvised music. Also a member of the groups The Gloaming and This Is How We Fly, his second solo album, Music for an Elliptical Orbit, is spooky and entrancing with a slight chill; it’s meditative, stark and mostly sedate with a human sensitivity.
Touches of the drone, pedal notes of fiddling form a foundation for Raghallaigh’s melodic exploration on Irish scales. In the classical world, there is always the temptation to use vibrato to make each sustained note sound as pretty as possible, but Raghallaigh resists that, depending on bow pressure and speed as expressive modifiers.
Music for an Elliptical Orbit is less folk-centric than Raghallaigh’s previous solo album, Where the One-Eyed Man is King, which utilized overdubbing and other instrumentation. However, Orbit is strictly a true solo affair, with Raghallaigh playing his special Hardanger d’Amore fiddle, a 5-string instrument that has an additional five sympathetic strings; these sympathetic strings—which let tones sing on after the player has moved on to new notes—are most prominently heard on “Eastern Snow,” a patient adaptation of a traditional number.
The album is remarkable for demonstrating an artist in total control of his sound, like on the opening track “Lithosphere,” which uses a great deal of harmonics, both drifting and expertly chorded. “Cloud” features soft scrapes and notes barely poking their heads out of the turtle shells, placing a greater importance on textures than on the note pitches.
“Little Mammoth” is perhaps the album’s most abstract piece, resembling at times animalistic moans and whimpers with scrapes and harmonics, and the concluding “What What What” (also recorded with percussion on This Is How We Fly’s 2014 album) releases a flowing melody with gentle liberation. Mighty fine fiddling, indeed.