Max Richter – Memoryhouse


Overall, this is an overrated record and the number of times I’ve seen Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros namedropped in reviews of Memoryhouse makes me think that this is one of those “classical for people who don’t like classical” sorts. Of course, that’s not a reason in itself for something to be overrated; my issues with Memoryhouse run a little deeper. 

Firstly, his postmodernity has been woefully overstated: though he proves he likes Philip Glass (“The Twins (Prague)”), Jan Sweelinck (“Jan’s Notebook”), John Cage (“Garden (1973)”) and J. S. Bach (“Fragment”), he doesn’t bother developing said pieces into anything more than proofs, and though each are pretty, they do nothing but make the album long. I haven’t heard his follow-up The Blue Notebooks yet, but people assure me that he expands on these thoughts into proper songs or else just leaves them off the record.

More importantly, however, is how, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Max Richter is so fucking obvious with his socio-political messages. If these song titles didn’t tell you that this album is to be taken seriously (when he dubs this album “documentary music,” he really means it: most of these songs are tied to a specific moment in history, ie.  “Laika’s Journey” is about the sad and apparent immediate death of the first dog launched into space), and if the snatches of spoken word laced throughout, often from poems about the war, still didn’t do so, then have a go at some of these zero-subtlety strings playing drawn-out arpeggios over drawn-out notes from other instruments (ie. “Interior,” tacked onto “Garden (1973)” is just “Europe, After the Rain” strings over a harpsichord, while “Arbonita (11 Years)” is the same over female vocals, reallllly slowly crescendoing and slowly de-crescendoing over 7 minutes).

But overrated doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and assuredly, the good stuff on Memoryhouse is good and nothing’s ever so bad, you’ll be reaching for the skip button (though I’ll be fine if I never hear “Arbonita (11 Years)” again). The particulars: I like “Europe, After the Rain” where the violin and piano continuously play hide and seek with each other; I like the coldness of “Laika’s Journey” (apparently generated by strings?!) and the tense thumps that suggests the inevitable doom; I like the neo-romanticism of “Andras” and I like “Untitled (Figures)” because it’s like one of Aphex Twin’s prettier tracks with pretty percussion (think: “Flim”) but with strings on top, and these fleshed out songs speak more of Richter’s versatility than the ones mentioned in the last paragraph; I like how well the three-block stretch of “Fragment” to “Embers” segue into each other, especially the latter two songs; I like “November” and “Last Days” because they’re dramatic instead of didactic documentary drama and because the strings sound like they came from a real person instead of a computer as mentioned in the last paragraph.

If you’re yearning for modern classical music that contains minimalism, neo-romanticism and electronic but doesn’t do it for the sake of postmodernity and catharsises but are less obvious and thus more realized, I’d suggest going for Spaces.


One response to “Max Richter – Memoryhouse

  1. Pingback: Carissa’s Wierd – Songs About Leaving | Free City Sounds·

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