One of two composers-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Anna Clyne has been described by no less than Riccardo Muti himself as an artist “who defies categorization and who reaches across all barriers and boundaries.” That description is apparent on her new album, now available on the Tzadik label. Blue Moth is chock full of unorthodox-yet-lush landscapes and sense of musical wordplay.
Nabokovian in nature, the album starts with a hypnotic, haunting, folksy and at times vaguely victorian “Fits + Starts.” The piece hits its steps with primal percussiveness while keeping its heads in an ethereal hurdy-gurdy hurly-burly. Other works live up to their titles with equal aptitude and surprising evocations, such as the following “Rapture,” painting a landscape of desolation angels, broken glass and disjointed static. There’s a sense of irony in such works—Clyne’s “Rapture” doesn’t paint the picture of a heavenly deliverance, rather the apocalyptic aftermath of those left behind.
Similarly, Clyne tackles the seedy underside of the industrial revolution and current economic crisis in a piece like “Steelworks,” which layers interviews with Brooklyn’s Flame Cut Steel employees against steam heat, hammered percussion and gear-turning woodwinds. “If something is working fine and you can keep up with demand, then there’s really no reason for you to change unless the machine breaks down by itself,” one man says at the beginning, leading to a mediation, at times verging on the edge of Baroque, of what it means to not fix something unless it’s damaged.
For no small amount of burlesque in Clyne’s world, however, there’s still some hope. “Beware of beauty,” cautions an otherworldly voice on the synonymous closing track, “Beauty.” At first it seems satirical, cautionary, but then as we’re urged to “look beyond,” flashes of cello, violin and flute come in with winged frenzy, mingling with electronics like moths in a lighting fixture. It’s a brilliant flash that ends at just the right moment, and one that heralds an impressive young talent taking flight.