itsnotyouitsme: Everybody's Pain Is Magnificent
Laid down in four days over a two-year period, Everybody's Pain Is Magnificent finds itsnotyouitsme violinist Caleb Burhans (a founding member of Alarm Will Sound) and guitarist Grey Mcmurray (who's performed and recorded with So Percussion and Chromeo, among others) fashioning an eighty-minute opus of chamber-ambient grandeur. It's not the first release by the group: after forming itsnotyouitsme in 2003, the New York musicians issued Walled Gardens in 2008 and Fallen Monuments two years later. Though J.S. Bach, Brian Eno, and Pink Floyd are cited as influences, few moments on the double-disc set directly evoke those artists; it's instead the spirit of Stars of the Lid that looms largest over itsnotyouitsme's soundscapes.
At album's start, “The Snake of Forever” draws the listener into the duo's universe, initiating the deeper immersion courted by the slow-motion ebb-and-flow of “The Fate of The World Rests in the Hands of a Tiny Animal,” which packs as strong an emotional wallop in its own understated way as a prototypical Stars of the Lid piece. It wouldn't be stretching it too much to suggest that the two outfits are kindred spirits, as itsnotyouitsme, like its kranky counterpart, situates its music at the elegiac and mournful end of the spectrum. Like Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride, Burhans and Mcmurray also aren't afraid to give their tracks ample room to develop, as shown by the fact that many of the recording's tracks are in the eight- to eleven-minute range. One could perhaps see Everybody's Pain Is Magnificent as itsnotyouitsme's own version of Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline, the double-disc set Wiltzie and McBride issued in 2007. A typical itsnotyouitsme piece assumes form gradually, with the duo using looped patterns to establish a solid base and then having the music blossom through the subtle accretion of additional layers.
The duo's instruments delicately fuse for twelve, slow-burning minutes of elegiac drift during “Gardens of Loss,” with the violin's shudder occasionally extricating itself from the textural mass. Here and elsewhere, the material feels like a living organism, gently rising and falling, expanding at one moment and deflating the next, and every step taken as natural as the breathing of a sleeping infant. In its quiet way, “Gardens of Loss” achieves a kind of magisterial grace in its stately unfolding and gradual expansion. On the second disc, “The Ghosts Among Us” eventually intensifies its slow ascent with a desperate vocal wail and a wash of guitar-generated distortion, while “Will the Water Save Us Now?” (apparently recorded as the infamous Hudson River landing of US Airways flight 1549 occurred five blocks away) might be the album's most representative setting, given the intensity of its mournful declamations.
“It Might Be Time to Leave This Place and Go Mingle With Our Heroes” is distinguished in part by the contrasts in Burhans' violin sound, with the ostinato patterns exuding a more traditional acoustic character and the lead clearly more electric by comparison. The addition of vocals to “Little Wish” lends the piece a direct emotional quality while also suggesting that Sigur Ros could also be listed as a reasonable point of reference for itsnotyouitsme. “Bluebird (In My Heart)” also introduces a shift in tone by giving much of its spotlight to acoustic guitar playing and thereby adding a rather pastoral feel to the recording. Everybody's Pain Is Magnificent shows that itsnotyouitsme clearly isn't handicapped by its modest two-member makeup, as Burhans and Mcmurray use an array of effects and supplemental sounds (vocals, oud, Fender Rhodes, Casio SK-1) to transform the material generated by violin and guitar into multi-dimensional dreamscaping.