Greenberger gathers stories of the aged, Aaron & Brochu get unsettled
Greenberger, Spring, Child, Hashimoto
Take Me Where I Don’t Know I Am
For 37 years, David Greenberger has been asking senior citizens questions, often in nursing homes, and collecting their entertaining and touching responses and both clear and foggy remembrances, and he’s published many of them in his zine The Duplex Planet, with special care taken with regards to the grouping and presentation of the anecdotes. He’s also collaborated with a variety of notable musicians—including Robyn Hitchcock and members of NRBQ and Los Lobos—to provide accompanying music as he recites choice responses.
While each track can stand alone, there’s a larger narrative at work with multiple voices; first, there’s the figurative voice of the interviewee, and secondly, there’s Greenberger’s own familiar voice—which one might recognize from his occasional commentaries on NPR—that doesn’t try to mimic others like an impersonator might.
With all elements taken together, Greenberger’s work is an epic contemplation about aging, triumphs and regrets, informed by valuable experience and colorful misadventures. His latest, Take Me Where I Don’t Know I Am, employs the talents of composer and musician Keith Spring (a saxophonist for NRBQ), acoustic multi-instrumentalist Dinty Child and Keiichi Hashimoto, who supplies welcome brass accents.
Musically, this album is on the more accessible side of the spectrum of Greenberger’s collaborations, with easy-to-swallow, light genre pieces (funk, noir jazz, waltz, among others) and a few exceptions like the off-kilter “Digging into Embarrassment,” with a piano vamp and bendy guitar flourishes.
What’s notable about the album is how quickly it can change moods; “The Fires of Halloween” offers a wicked sense of humor—one second, the protagonist is setting fires and hiding in bushes with a baseball bat to attack his enemies, and the next moment, he’s talking about the love of his life, in a witch costume.
Then, there’s the absolutely devastating “My Hope,” conveying the crushing loneliness of a man about to turn 95 who has outlived his wife and siblings and simply wants to pass away.
The small details in “I’m Here” help make it one of the album’s most moving tracks, about a man living hand-to-mouth while attending meat-cutting school; he sleeps in a YMCA on a punctured air mattress that leaves him waking up on the cement floor after it gradually deflates.
For this writer, the arrangements that seem to work the best are the ones with a minimalist tenderness, like a watercolor background, that contribute to an emotional payoff without being manipulative, balancing moments of levity and poignant storytelling.
Hannah Aaron and Leo Brochu
The unsettling new album Bitter Lake from the Minneapolis duo of Hannah Aaron and Leo Brochu was created using a meticulous process; the twosome culled tape recordings over a year-long period—field recordings, found sound, live recordings of conventional instruments and contact microphones attached to objects, excerpts from old vinyl records—and cataloged everything.
They selected their favorite sounds and assembled them in different combinations, mixing in real-time, until they found good fits, making the four long tracks that comprise Bitter Lake.
The album, released on cassette and digitally, takes its name from the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal; it’s known for being the location of the secret Quincy Agreement—securing military support in exchange for oil—between FDR and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz, but the album doesn’t appear to have any blatant or subtle political message.
It’s all about casting shadows with an eerie mood, using whatever interesting sounds the duo could gather, including recordings of a dishwasher or the sounds of steam engine trains from an unusual old LP.
The opening track “Mazar” has a spacious first half, instantly creating a haunted atmosphere, before its second half introduces backwards recordings and the first semblance of a melody—Aaron is the more melody-oriented artist, while Brochu leans toward the noisy side; the final minute seems to use junkyard field recordings with a disquieting amount of tape hiss.
The ten-minute “Saros” uses what sounds like microphone wind noise transformed to resemble a volcanic eruption; distinct settings are conjured by the noises, like the squeaky hinges in an abandoned house or a rough metallic beat in a spooky factory, and the track gradually becomes more chaotic.
“White Saxaul” is perhaps the album’s most striking track, although it starts with a somber keyboard tune, with some distortion hinting at threats; finally, the barricade is destroyed, leading to a barrage of harsh noise and terrifying scrambling—the screaming static and hissing will be a treat for noise lovers but unlistenable for others.
The closing “Dreary Chamber” disperses into abstraction but ends with the sobering sounds of a clock ticking, concluding an absorbing album with sonic scraps sewn into a disturbing patchwork.