(Telegraph Harp, 2015)
I had a full-on ROFL this morning as I popped on Patrick Higgins’s new record Bachanalia, because, although I’m not an idiot (at least on paper), the album title’s pun didn’t hit me until now. Sure, I’ve listened to this record a couple times, but I have no idea how I missed it. And boy, do I ever love puns! Especially ones involving Baroque German musicians. Because that’s what this record is – an orgiastic festival celebrating one of history’s greatest composers, Johann Sebastian Bach, as interpreted by NYC avant-garde guitarist and Zs member Higgins. I already lauded this dude’s outfit with praise this year (holy flurking Xe), and I’m about to do the same to Bachanalia. Because if this album’s anything, it’s one spicy meat-a-ball!
If you’re not familiar with Bach, and you know who you are because you dropped out of school way too early, please take a moment and listen to most of the hymns you grew up singing in your local church. Bach pretty much composed the entire hymnal, if I’m not mistaken. Now remember that when you consider Higgins and producer Ben Greenberg recorded this album in St. Cecilia’s Church in Brooklyn and at Higgins’s own Future-Past Studios, “housed in a historic Lutheran church.” Is this whole record really churchy, then, you ask? Not necessarily. But reverent – yeah, I would say reverent is the right word, for both the music and the process. It’s also just common knowledge that Bach sounds best while piping through the sacred spaces of old religious buildings.
Bach wrote for all kinds of instruments, but Higgins plays solo guitar throughout this album, unplugged, accompanying himself with the acoustics of the space and the occasional recording modification. It’s very sparse, considering the intense flourishes and complexities of the Baroque period, but it allows the music to breathe, to undo its stuffed high-collared shirt and strip itself to the basic melodic composition. Higgins wisely keeps it simple, and Bachanalia is the more powerful for it. It’s playful at many points, sure, but it’s also emotionally raw and heavy at points too, such as the on the 14-minute “Chaconne – Violin Partitia No. 2 BMV 1004,” which should be expected when you realize that Bach wrote this in honor of his late first wife. There’s no way you’ll finish it without at least one tear streaming down your cheek. Same with album closer “Aria da Capo – Goldberg Variations BMV 988.” I’m so weepy!
But there’s so much joy, too! My sick old stony heart almost burst upon the initial prickles of “Prelude – Violin Partita No. 3 BMV 1006,” and then it did as the tune progressed into gorgeous euphony. Try not to imagine a bucolic seventeenth-century garden gathering with the utterly familiar “Chorale – Cantata 147 BMV 147,” or sing the old hymn “To Him Who Is Able to Keep You from Falling” to which it serves as score. Speaking of familiar, although it takes a little while to kick in as it begins in a haze of anachronistic but perfectly placed guitar tone, “Buree – Lute Suite No. 1 BMV 996” loses none of its charm and in fact gains appeal (if that were even possible) through Higgins’s virtuosic guitar playing. Guitar is the new lute, you minstrels! Take that!
There’s so much to like about Bachanalia, it’s really hard to know where to begin. So start at the beginning. End at the end. If you’re concerned about the “accessibility” of classical music, kindly remove your Taylor Swift–loving head from your hindquarters and give yourself a good, swift kick in the solar plexus if you’re agile enough to manage it. This record is a gateway drug for the classical masters, let me tell you. It’s also a fine classical statement on its own. And the guitar playing – the guitar playing! Remarkable. Let’s just say that if Patrick Higgins is this good at reinterpreting Bach – revering the spirit of the original while imposing a modern personality resulting in an overarchingly palatable final product – then maybe he’s the perfect person to reinterpret our gun laws! *Cocks assault rifle, grabs bible* … I kid, I kid! … But, hey, somebody do that, OK?
RIYL: Fucking Johann Sebastian Fucking Bach, Yadayn, John Fahey