Here are some things I've been listening to lately (complete with Spotify links).
Ne-Yo's "Let Me Love You" this came on the radio yesterday, and I was struck what a great, weird song it is. The chorus is pretty standard (it's fine, but nothing to write home about). But the opening lines really grab you.
It starts with a David Grey "Please Forgive Me" ish feel (oh hi, early 2000s), and then the jagged and odd vocal line comes in-- what? interlocking fourths? a vocal line that dives around and goes all over the place?! The line is so odd, so non-pop music, he repeats it again, and it's just as cool the second time. The music then transitions into the perfectly serviceable but dull chorus. But it's the crazy little moments like this in current pop music that make you sit up and listen closer. (We're not going to get into the square-peg-in-a-round-hole text setting-- like Stravinsky-- but it is some clunky text to music going on...luckily the music is far more interesting than the text, so he could really be saying anything and be A-OK).
I'm reading the amazing memoir by Pulitzer Prize winning music critic Tim Page, "Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's." The thrust of the book is right there in the title, but he has such a clearheaded writing style, and is able to talk about how his mind works with such detached specificity it's really amazing. I highly recommend it.
I bring this up because he has one little aside where he mentions one of my favorite Steve Reich pieces, and in just a sentence, completely sums up my feelings on why it's an amazing work. He writes, "In my own idiosyncratic version of paradise, Reich's Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ would always be playing in one Elysian pasture or another."
Yep. That's pretty spot on. The work is, in my mind, one of Reich's most joyful, expansive, and somehow personal pieces. Maybe it's the natural sound of the voices humming that taps into something visceral, but this is a warm piece, a musical moment that draws you in and makes you feel like you're floating, like you're surrounded by something warm. The piece starts with the same repeated vocal line amongst the instruments but then it elongates-- the voice slows down, and in that moment something opens up. I can't really put in to words how much I love this piece. I know Reich is maybe the most "New York" of all New York composers, but this piece, to me, says California sunshine, warm sunsets, pink sky, the smell of flowers. Listen and see what you think.