Friday, September 4, 2009

Women to Note

Right now, one of the only things to coax me into the car and into the late afternoon traffic rush is the promise of Imogen Heap playing through the stereo, slipping out through the window and into the sunlight. I've been a fan of Imogen's since (like everyone else) I first heard her lush "Hide and Seek" from heard her solo album, and last summer I bought the album she produced as a part of the band Frou Frou. Her newest album, Ellipse, was released on August 25th and kindly given to me by Patrick. I am always half skeptical listening to a new Imogen Heap song since there cannot be much more she can do. I was wrong.

From the persuasive pulsation of the first song “First Train Home” propelling you into her unique blend of electronica and lyricism, to the humorous oddity of a woman confronting the evasive woman in the mirror in “Bad Body Double,” the pared down, eerily synthesized chirping social commentary in “Little Bird,” and the quiet but soaring intimacy of “Between the sheets,” Ellipse displays Heap’s breadth of capability in both melody and communication.

Ellipse does not omit her trademark touches: sighs and groans of cello in the background; sharply rhythmic lists and catalogues of words; collages of sounds - her range is impossibly wide, arcing in the head voice, and a whispered contralto, tight harmonies that weave quickly - songs which ask questions; which describe a banal reality; music which sounds just like London at night, inescapably English and urban. Composer, performer, producer, she is queen of little melodic touches, taking a pointillist approach to both timbre and harmony. Have I praised her enough?

Heap will sing things that make you feel silly singing, as in “Bad Body Double,” or crooning “the many windswept Stickies of my mind,” but the fact remains that you cannot stop singing along. Like one of my favorite choral composers, Eric Whitacre, who specializes in dense clusters of harmony, you can pick nearly any note and find your spot in the choir of Imogen’s voice.

Another birthday treat was the chance to watch Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married again. Of course, our incredibly insensitive and LSD-induced television screen (as big as the Hulk and as receptive) rejected it by going into a spasm of shapes and colors. This happens from time to time and Kristin and I will either smack it sharply and with hate, or squint at the screen really hard. We decided not to accept this kind of behavior from the television and so abandoned it to relocate to a spot in front of a laptop.

For those who have only seen Anne Hathaway in her prettier incarnations, watching Rachel Getting Married is a discomfiting change. Kym (Hathaway) leaves rehab to go home for her older sister Rachel’s (Rosemarie De Witt’s) wedding. A wedding is always a trying time for family dynamics, and this is immediately clear in the Buchmans’ case. Staged at the large house filled with energetic and creative friends and members of the wedding party, and behind the tension of the prodigal daughter returning after cleaning herself up, is a family history that the Buchmans try hard to forget but cannot.

It is clear very quickly what sort of person Kym is – she loves fiercely, but she is prickly, and defends herself with edgy comments and defensive dramatic posturing. Rachel, the bride, welcomes her sister home but is evidently hesitant as to her wedding being derailed by a self-destructive sister and the distracted concern of her parents.

The dialogue is painfully real, and the film is one of the most authentic I have ever seen. You will forget you ever saw Hathaway as an overly pretty Jane Austen when you see her with lanky hair, nervously smoking a cigarette, and accusing her family (“you people”) of neglect. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress was well deserved.

The music is provided by a small string ensemble (violin, Middle Eastern oud, etc.) that performs constantly throughout the movie, like a Greek chorus or the underscoring to an opera. Rachel Getting Married explores not only human tragedy but color and music, incorporating hip hop, wedding saris, carnival dancers, trumpets, drum rolls and saxophone solos.

Not an easy movie to watch, Rachel Getting Married is a beautiful tribute to sibling love, to the wars that are fought at home, to the difficulties of substance abuse and the rocky road to recovery, the subsequent allowances that are constantly required of family members and, despite all, the vibrant richness of love and new life.

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