Seattle composer Jherek Bischoff has quite an impressive list of accomplishments on his musical CV. A full-time member of the local experimental band The Dead Science, Bischoff has toured with Xiu Xiu, been a producer and arranger for Jason Webley and The Paranthetical Girls, worked with the likes of Los Campesinos and Past Lives, put out a collaboration record with Seattle musician Richard Webb, and composed scores for a film and videogame soundtracks.
Having already surrounded himself with talented musicians from a variety of genres for most his career, Bischoff took collaboration to a new level for his second solo album Composed, which came out earlier this month, enlisting an entire orchestra as well as a remarkable list of guests. “In the past, I have typically played all of the instruments, wrote the lyrics and sang on all of my music,” Bischoff wrote on his Myspace page, “but for this record I wanted to get people that could execute my ideas much more precisely.”
Composed is Bischoff’s most ambitious project to date. A lack of resources required him to record members of his orchestra individually -- “I spent the summer riding my bike from house to house recording each musician,” he says -- and then, in a feat of sound engineering, mix them together to create his orchestral compositions. The album walks the fine line, as many orchestral albums intended for a larger audience do, between becoming caught up in self-indulgent grandeur and restricting their own abilities. Artists like Andrew Bird and Beirut, aspects of both of which can be found in Composed, have mastered the craft of using big, intricate, and powerful sounds to bring an intense energy to their music without allowing it to become overwhelming.
It’s easy to get lost in Bischoff’s beautiful and intricate compositions, which range from frantically swirling orchestral assaults to elegant, uplifting waltzes to darker, more rhythmic pieces. What grounds each track firmly in the realm of orchestral pop are his incredibly talented guests and collaborators. Guest appearances from David Byrne, Mirah, Caetano Veloso, and many more provide Bischoff’s orchestral tracks enough maneuverability to experiment without alienating listeners.
On tracks like “Counting,” Carla Bozulich’s strained and soft vocals are very much a part of Bischoff’s orchestral composition, swelling with the instrumentation until both have blended together in one sweeping voice. On other tracks, such as “The Nest,” which features vocals by K Records superstar Mirah, the vocals and instrumentation stand distinctly apart, pushing back at one another to create a beautiful and haunting dynamic.
Other album highlights include “Young & Lovely,” a quick and jumpy song based off the Roman myth of Aurora, and of course the album opener “Eyes,” featuring none other than the always-excellent David Byrne.
Eyes (Jherek Bischoff & David Byrne) by Brassland
Because of all its complexities, Composed can at times be an intimidating album. But even the slightly less accessible tracks, such as “Your Ghost” are incredibly rewarding to the patient listener. Regardless of the brief moments when Bischoff’s ambitions become a little too overwhelming, Composed is a wonderfully composed album and an absolute delight to listen to.
Composed was released in the U.S. on June 5, 2012 on Brassland. Jherek Bischoff will be performing in Seattle on December 1, 2012 at the Moore Theatre. Tickets are available here.