Newly released, “Hecuba” is the latest work from Oracle Hysterical and it’s a must-pack for summer listening. You’ll want it with you on your phone, your iPod, your every-thing. It is storytelling at its finest and you need to know who you are to Hecuba.
Mythologically speaking, Hecuba was the wife of King Priam of Troy, during the Trojan War. If it’s been a long time since you brushed up on your Trojans, you’re forgiven. They had 19 children together, among whom were Hector, who got on the wrong side of Achilles when he slew Patroclus; Paris who essentially began the war; and Cassandracould you believe it?
Euripedes’ play of the same name is the source material and we see Hecuba at rock bottom. She is a slave, and now has to watch her children perish. Oracle Hysterical creates Hecuba’s strongest images in song. If you’ve got a friend into contemporary classical or alternative music, you owe it to both of you to share the experience of this album.
The Mother’s Day launch of “Hecuba,” oddly appropriately, was held at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on May 13. This is a perfect venue for audiences who love music and the musicians who make it. The wide, shallow stage is mirrored by a wide, shallow very flexible audience space. We could see nearly every musician strut his or her stuff. We were seated toward stage left, yet still had a panoramic view as we enjoyed the tale spun out before us.
A somber moment happened early on as Doug Balliet took a few moments of silence for composer Matt Marks, who had died only days before of heart failure. He was 38. Marks continues to influence contemporary classical musicians and had a famously wicked sense of humor. I had seen him a few years ago with a poison-pen Disney parody that was pure delight. He is missed.
“Hecuba” was played straight through from the initial track, “Helen.” Bassoon doubles voice at times, with atmospheric light percussion, bell-like strings in jazz box, and bottom in low profile cello with the extra-human vocal range. “100 Tongues” is a fantasy piece that has Hecuba imagining her body covered with open mouths that screamshades of Edvard Munch! Tracks elide and slide into one another, the band adding vocals to wall of sound, existential angst made flesh.
“Leto’s Laurel” gives us the mother’s perspective while, among my favorites, “He Will Close Your Eyes” has a tattoo in percussion that leads to male vocal accented with harmonium, off beat of avenues as the steps stray from even “farewell Cassandra"...should we believe? Then, the acoustic strings combine, in ”woe is me, woe for my children, woe for my ancestors,” and it’s perfect for the swirling madness outside our doors, regular like a heartbeat, with occasional syncopation ... driving forward then evening out as all instrumental. It is the pulse of sense memory.
“Where Did You Go” is balladesque meditation on lust. “Electric bassoon” is sultry dark flute tones and whale song. “Musical bridge” gives spotlight to bassoon then bittersweet segue to a Beatles-esque simplicity that makes this one of the tunes you’ll be humming time after time. “Bolero” is a minor key acoustic dirge, wistful reedy beauty in bassoon doubled by accordion with driving figure on electric bass is joined by vocal and percussion on lament of sacrifice of Hecuba's daughter, sacrificed to Achilles’ ghost on Mother’s Day, with accordion sounds organ-chestral. “Child’s Song’” scintillating guitar transports us from lament into a chaos of emotion, accordion with a whale song figure over ostinato, with segue into the acoustic “Galaxies,” about the restlessness of time with dark flute timbre in bassoon. Cosmic Alan Parsons/Moody Blues/Jethro Tull rumination on the immutability of the world as it turnsdeeper than the sky and higher than the planets. Mandolin figure in guitar's upper register gives way to bassoon percussion chaos. .. like entropy and order colliding.
The final work on the album is “No Comfort.” Acoustic accordion organ leads into vocal of purity, extended syllabic utterance providing fullness of assonance in contrast to dissonance in bassoon figure giving an aetherial feel, harmonic guitar tones punctuating swell of vocals, volume, and emotion, now adding upright bass for earthy bottom notes. It’s smoky single malt expressed as sound, breath and bloom and time in one. Download the tracks, or get the albumit’s music you’ll cherish.
For more information about this and other great recordings, visit http://www.unfinishedside.com