What’s stuck in my head this week is less a song and more a fascination with a strange coincidence in the world of contemporary rock music. Let me take you back to ancient Greece so I can explain:
Legend[i] tells us that Helen, born from an egg laid by her mother Leda, who had been seduced by the sky god Zeus disguised as a swan, was hatched along with two brothers. The twins, Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri[ii], were protectors of their iconically attractive sister, whose beauty inspired so much lust that she was basically being kidnapped by some king and warred over on a constant basis. The Dioscuri famously rescued her from Athens and returned her to their native Sparta, becoming the inspiration for the city-state’s historically unique practice of having two kings. For centuries, they remained so popular and revered that the fathers of the early Christian church adapted their rites of worship to fit stories of Christian saints. All over the bronze-age world[iii], the pattern of twin gods who attend a representation of the feminine divine repeats, across both geographic and linguistic barriers. There must be something about this type of story that appeals to human beings on a very basic level.
Maybe that’s why the music of fuzzed-out alternative rock band Blonde Redhead and poppy country-folk songwriter Brandi Carlile each seem so natural and palatable, but also so present and fresh. Both groups feature an angelic (looking and crooning) leading lady backed by a pair of statuesque twin brothers who seem content to deflect most of the spotlight toward their charismatic frontwoman.
I mean c’mon, isn’t this a crazy coincidence? Was Joseph Campbell really on to something?
Singer, guitarist, and pianist Kazu Makino, along with lead guitarist Amadeo Pace, and drummer Simone Pace, make up Blonde Redhead. Known for their avant-garde sound experiments in the nineties, the band has gradually altered their sound throughout the last decade, evolving toward distorted guitar soundscapes that blend magically with Makino’s sometimes abstract and challenging, sometimes ethereal and melodic voice. Last year they released the album Berragan,[iv] which represents yet another dramatic turn for the group, toward stark, almost minimalist songs of reflection on heartbreak. My favorite albums remain the first ones I discovered, 2004’s Misery Is a Butterfly and 2007’s 23. Here is the title track from that 2007 album:
Brandi Carlile has been performing and recording with twin brothers Tim (lead guitar) and Phil (bass guitar) Hanseroth for the last decade, producing five studio albums full of comforting, Americana-tinged pop. Her golden songwriting touch and powerful, rich voice were first brought to my ears in 2007, when famed producer T-Bone Burnett was enlisted to package and polish her talents into the album The Story. Ms. Carlile has the voice of Patsy Cline and the face of a Hollywood starlet, her music is featured on movie soundtracks, she sells out theaters, and sounds increasingly country with each hit. Yet somehow she remains just under the radar of utter celebrity. I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with her open homosexuality in a society where many are still intolerant of how some other people love. I guess I should be happy a normal guy like me can still just barely afford a ticket to one of her shows. Here is performing her single “That Wasn’t Me” off her 2012 album Bear Creek:
Blonde Redhead and Brandi Carlile are both currently on tour. You can catch Brandi in Albany, NY on May 23rd at the Palace Theater. Unless you’re living in, or traveling to Europe this year, you’ll have to wait to see Blond Redhead. Whenever you see them, don’t get any ideas about trying to capture and run off with the girls. The twins are pretty much destined to defeat you and bring them back home anyway.
[i] The “at-risk” youth I work with tell me they don’t teach classical mythology in school anymore. Maybe that’s for the best. I mean, do cloud-headed teenagers of this generation, who seem destined to confront harsh economic and ecological realities my peers can hardly imagine, really need to be seduced by these ancient stories like I was, and then dragged by their curiosity into a half-decade of graduate studies that will leave them barely able to pay their bills, but acutely able to recognize all the archetypal dynamics of their interactions with the other people waiting in line at social services?
[iv] Which seems to be named for the Mexican architect Luis Barragan? As an appreciator of bizarre, conceptual music, I can’t tell you how much I want this music to be about a guy who designs buildings.