Despite the wetness, the fifth annual Green Man festival in Wales—a country in the southwestern part of the British Isles, where the wind blows off the Irish Sea through your ears and into your brain—was a wonderful verdant extravaganza of folk music and fine fellow folk. The Glanusk Estate, a remote national park surrounded by soft pastures, good old farmland, and the bottle-green Table Mountains, opened its gates for this year’s festival, inviting 10,000 people to pitch their tents on its belly until we said our exhausted farewells three days later, covered in mud.
There’s a juncture in Evan Hause’s new opera, Man: Biology of a Fall, when Army chemist Frank Olson confronts the popular magician John Mullholland. These characters are based on historical figures: Olson served in the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, Maryland, around the time of the Korean War, participating in biological weapons research including the infamous MKULTRA mind-control experiments. As Hause said in an interview, Mulholland “was famous in his day for his books and pamphlets, and employed by the CIA to teach sleight-of-hand tricks so they could slip LSD into people’s drinks.”
On the off chance you haven’t heard of Pitchfork, here’s the backstory: In 1996, teenage slacker Ryan Schreiber launched pitchforkmedia.com from his parents’ house in suburban Minneapolis, writing all the CD reviews himself. Interviews and features (mostly top-100 lists) followed, but the meat of the site was, and remains, the reviews, which grade records on a ten-point scale. Pitchfork grew in size and influence, soon becoming notorious for the “Pitchfork Effect”—a rave from Pitchfork can thrust an unknown band onto center stage at the Hammerstein; a bad review means “Nice knowin’ ya!” Pitchfork now averages 160,000 visitors each day. It’s a safe bet, however, that of those 160,000, zero would admit to actually liking Pitchfork.
In Comicopera, Robert Wyatt’s fifteenth solo album, the listener travels. This album, while technically worked out, leaves room for the spontaneity of multiple performers. This move from the cloistered songs of his previous recordings was not random; Wyatt was seeking to mimic a live sound. He cites a love of big bands—Duke Ellington’s and Charles Mingus’s in particular—as an inspiration because of their ability to let every player stand out and make an individual impression. When you have talented friends like Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and the jazz musician Alfie Benge (Wyatt’s wife), working with you, you can presumably create whatever sonic atmosphere you want.
Although You Follow Me clocks in at under forty minutes, these ten delicately crafted first-person narrative songs have a staying power. “I didn’t want it to sound like a little record. I wanted it to sound really kind of forceful,” Nastasia said. From the pacing velocity of “I’ve Been Out Walking” through the closing notes of “I Come After You”—a dramatic, tiny little epic of a song—there’s not an extraneous note to be found on the album. With only a guitar, drums, and a single voice, Nastasia and White have crafted a sparse epic where tenderness, fury, and despair mesh seamlessly.