I’m a man who loves words. In a way, this is obvious. I operate a blog where I write about things I like which (in theory) helps others locate these same things and like them too. The love runs deeper than that, however. There are many types of music fans, artists and critics, but you can ultimately divide them into two categories. Those who build a track or listen to a track for the melody, and those who craft and listen for the story and the meaning.
I fell in love with music for the meaning the songs gave me. Feeling lost as a youth with a mother who had passed and an overwhelmed father, those emo nu metal songs grabbed me by the heartstrings. Later, older, and more rebellious, there was punk music and the message of taking nothing from the man. Finally, there was early adulthood, personal growth and a gravitation towards more sunny climes and sounds – pop without all the baggage and depression, if you will. Through it all, I’ve always followed the words. What do they say? What do they mean? What does it mean to me?
Still, as ever, there are exceptions to everything. A man who will not eat meat would likely indulge if it was steak or death, no? We may be against things real or imagined, but very few things are completely and totally unacceptable in all circumstances.
When I received an e-mail about Hauschka earlier I honestly had not a clue of the man or his talents. He may as well have been one of Werder Bremen’s starting full-backs. I couldn’t pick him out of a line up. He’s a German composer – a damn good one at that, by all accounts – and he crafts music with a special technique utilizing his Bechstein grand upright piano. The technique is called “prepared piano”. The style, in short, involves altering the sound of the piano strings by using effects or placing items strategically upon them producing the desired result. At first blush it sounds both complicated and borderline compulsive; a test of the limits of an avenue or instrument and Hauschka’s ability to generate a form of controlled chaos out of accepted order.
There are many, many folks more qualified than myself to speak on the virtues of Hauschka’s craft. Despite my limited knowledge of his work and narrow understanding of the particulars, I found myself enjoying my listen to Abandoned City. At any point there are thousands of musicians and dreamers crafting pop tracks for you to chant along with; how many pianists like Volker Bertelmann are in the world? I’d venture quite a few less. The music of Abandoned City has a cinematic quality steeped in realism; if your life was a novel and you were the author, this might be the soundtrack to your narrative.
I’ll not lie – part of the draw of Hauschka’s new album was it’s theme. I grew up around a lot of abandoned places. Old mining towns left behind. Schools collapsing and rotting. Neglected homes victimized by arson and graffiti. “Elizabeth Bay” captures the sense of impending doom that creeps into the water of the few towns still standing in the area; the deserted buildings reminding the families who remain that the inevitable is coming. The world has moved on from this place.
Discovering something you didn’t expect is the name of this game. You want to be surprised. You want to experience something new. If you dig “Elizabeth Bay” you are likely to enjoy “Who Lived Here?” and the rather interesting “Agdam”. Hell, you’ll probably enjoy all of Abandoned Cities once you get your foot in the door. The good news is you can stream it in full on Hype Machine for a few more days.
Oh, did I mention that every room is vacant?