Puzzle Muteson: En Garde
Q2's Album of the Week runs the gamut from Damien Rice to Richard Wagner
Monday, July 25, 2011
If the acoustic guitar had eclipsed the piano’s popularity as a household instrument in the 19th Century—as it has now—parlour music would probably be more akin to Puzzle Muteson’s spare and eloquent songbook than, say, Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord” or Stephen Foster’s…everything.
Muteson, a nom de plume for English singer and guitarist Terry Magson, has the trademark indie-folk voice found in decidedly nonclassical artists such as Damien Rice or The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard. His overall package, however, is a much grayer area when it comes to labels: Like Gabriel Kahane or Sufjan Stevens, he has a well-cultivated pop-meets-art-song aesthetic.
Ultimately, Muteson’s debut album on the equally enigmatic Valgeir Sigurðsson’s Bedroom Community label, exemplifies all of the above and more, proving that even the most scientific of categorization fails in comparison to a simple listening experience. Repetitions become their own multi-movement opuses. In “En Garde,” the phrase “out of control” careens like an addict from slight disarray to total chaos in the midst of clinging to spurts of calm.
Economically recondite lyrics like “If you’ve had enough/Call my bluff/Open up” rise out of the misty sonic aura of Muteson’s music. The opening track (and source of the above lyrics), “I Was Once a Horse” sets the landscape for a fully fleshed out singer-songwriter’s tone poem that sounds like a postmillennial offering from a Tannhäuser-ian Meistersinger. The tone of what’s said is just as—if not more—important as what is actually being said, and Muteson gives his work over to an organic development that unabashedly embraces a natural and emotional aesthetic. Adding to the Romanticism of the work are underlying orchestrations: Muteson’s earnest finger-picked guitar is accompanied by lush string arrangements, subtle choral breaks and ardent brass courtesy of Nico Muhly. Yet, like Sigurðsson’s production of the album, no element unduly overpowers another, allowing the true star of the work to be the full Muteson monty.