At only twenty-five years of age, Nico Muhly has certainly put together an impressive resume for himself already. He graduated from the Julliard School for composition in 2004, and has worked with Antony and the Johnsons, Philip Glass, and Björk (he both played on her Medulla album and worked with her on the score for Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9). Speaks Volumes is his debut album, and it's a solid (and sometimes downright stunning) seven track release of chamber music for small ensembles with electronics.
There's a wide variety of influences and sounds at work on Speaks Volumes, and it opens with "Clear Music," a piece that at least partially recalls the better, almost haunted fairy-tale soundtrack work of Danny Elfman. Chimes, a harp, and celeste build out from a cello part that alternately swoops and stabs, and the nearly 10-minute piece takes several direction turns during its running length, dipping between dark and light. "It Goes Without Saying" mixes clarinets and cello, and it's here that the Philip Glass influence can be heard, as the dancing clarinet parts weave across each other playfully until a deeper rumbling of cello enters the mix. In the track (as in many others on the release), the electronic elements (sampled percussion that play off the clarinet parts) are used in a way that isn't at first noticeably "electronic" before building into more precise, skittery movements.
In a couple places, the album drops away to solo piano pieces from Muhly, and while neither of them are boring, they're not nearly as engaging as his full ensemble pieces. If anything, they provide little breathers from his more layered and dense other pieces. "Pillaging Music" is one of those, and a Steve Reich influence makes itself apparent as several different layers of percussion play off one another while cascades of filtered celeste and racing piano dance across the surface as well.
The twelve-minute album closer of "Keep In Touch" is at the same time one of the most uneasy and playful tracks on the entire release. A fairly steady, but undulating viola part anchors the track, but other elements in the mix include programmed percussion, trombone, piano, and odd, wordless vocals from Antony that range from guttural to ethereal. At times jagged-edged and at other times lush and full, the track is a truly bizarre, but largely-rewarding way to close out the album. A release that will certainly appeal to fans of minimal music or off-kilter modern classical, Speaks Volumes is not only a solid debut from Muhly, but another great album on the new Bedroom Community label.