Sunday, March 5, 2017

Album Review: Beatrix Players - Magnified

When you think about the circumstances of life back then, it's funny how we still romanticize the Victorian era. When you drive by an old Victorian house in town, you likely give it a long look and remark at the beauty of the architecture. If you've ever owned Victorian furniture, you know how uncomfortable it can be, but you also realize that few styles have ever evoked as much style and class as that one. The Victorian era was one that has endured through style and art, but not necessarily music. We don't often sit back and listen to a chamber quartet, or whatever the modern equivalent would be. But it does ask the question: what would modern Victorian music sound like?

The answer might just be the Beatrix players.

The three ladies making up the group have created a unique sound, with only a piano and cello serving as the dark backdrop to their harmonies and melodies. It's a sound that, like the old chamber music, could be performed by a group in the confines of a living room in an old Victorian house. It's a sound that is incredibly subtle, and requires a pre-internet level of attention to truly get the most from. This is not the kind of music you can put on in the background while doing chores around the house, unless you want to miss out on the details that make the music interesting.

Perhaps that is a scary proposition, needing the dedicate yourself to the act of listening. It is no longer something that comes naturally, but when something comes along to require that level of focus, it reminds you of the power music can hold. If you just casually listen to "Lady Of The Lake", as I did when I first heard about this album, you might come away with the impression that the Beatrix Players are three women with soft voices who sing somber songs. But when you listen more carefully, you can hear the way they layer their voices, running cascading melodies against one another. It's far more complex music than first glance might tell you. There might only be two instruments, but that's the great trick being played here.

Throughout the songs on this album, the ladies are able to use their voices to great effect, not letting the melodies get swallowed by the somber pacing of the songs. It's easy for slower material to lose all its energy and become static, but these songs keep the melodies enough at the forefront that the songs don't hit fallow patches. There is a reason for everything on display here.

If I'm being honest, the one thing I do have to say is that this is an album that, at least for me, is one of those that requires a very specific mood. The soft and dark mood has its place, absolutely, but this isn't an album that I could find myself putting on at any random time. That doesn't make it lesser as a work, but it does mean I might not give it the same number of listens as a similarly well-done album in a different style.

But the main point here is that if you're looking for something different, something that can evoke memories of a bygone past, the Beatrix Players have made an album that does what it aims to very well. It transports you to a different time and place, and these three ladies have shown us a way to make classically-oriented music shine in a modern sense. No, I might not be spinning "Magnified" every day, but on those occasions when my mood matches the music, it will be a welcome soundtrack.

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