To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, music writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Wednesday night’s concert by Corey Dargel. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
When the Walker’s Philip Blither characterized Corey Dargel as “living between worlds,” my ears perked up. If anyone reading this knows anything about me, a lot of what I do focuses on those who live their lives as part of a diaspora, those who can call someplace home just as much, or more, as they might call Minnesota home.
As I listened to the two song cycles that Dargel, Todd Reynolds, and Ensemble 61 performed Wednesday night in St. Paul, it soon became clear that Dargel’s words were much more metaphoric and metaphysical yet balanced with the quotidian and the commonplace. Beyond the by-now standard new music line of bridging “art music” and “pop music,” Dargel’s fractured aphorisms of songs circled around the worlds of life and death or, perhaps more precisely, the feelings, preparations, nuances, and emotions of facing the death of a loved one, or even your own.
Todd Reynolds joined Dargel for Every Day is the Same Day, his first set of simultaneously disarming and disturbing songs, with their nursery school-ish rhymes complimented by the ghostly loops of Reynolds’ violin. The cycle’s best moments were in “Surely I Can Rebuild You,” a song dedicated to his grandfather. Dargel sang stories of his grandfather building stilts so his grandson could be a giraffe, yet soon the music and lyrics took a poignant turn: “Whatever it was that killed you/Surely I can rebuild you.”
As Dargel repeated these lines, Reynolds’s bow darted across his instrument’s strings, creating fluttering lines against a warm bed of gorgeous strings. In one of many excellent examples of Dargel’s word painting, these moments seemed to represent his grandfather’s moving parts finally going awry and failing, after fixing so many parts in his life, or Dargel’s furious attempts to make things better again.
The second half of the concert, with the excellent Ensemble 61, didn’t feature as many of these emotionally powerful moments. More overtly taking on the space between life and death, as symbolized by the near-death experience, the cycle ranged from childhood alcoholism (“chronic cirrhosis” never sounded so pretty) to the unrequited love of a hypochondriac for his/her doctor. What was nicely ambiguous in the piece was whether or not the love of the doctor came first, or the love of the attention that came from the patient’s hypochondria.
Over the rest of the cycle, many of the songs had the same elements, eventually blurring the lines between them. These similarities were strengthened by the rich, yet eventually undifferentiated warmth of Dargel’s voice, a voice that places him neatly in the style of many other contemporary male vocalists from all across the musical spectrum: Andrew Bird, Zach Condon of Beirut, Owen Pallett, and even Rufus Wainwright. The rhymes and punchlines started to wear a bit, and by the time the last song started, “Someone Will Take Care of Me,” it was a relief to hear a solid beat and a song that actually felt like a song and not a shard of experience set to music with by now predictable poetic juxtaposition. This constant beat, though, can easily be heard as a reminder of the inevitability of that which awaits us all when we depart this world and no longer have to worry about the in between.