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Album review: 'Orpheus Unsung'


Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting

"Orpheus Unsung"

New Amsterdam Records

Released on October 6 through New Amsterdam Records, "Orpheus Unsung" is a wordless post-rock opera written by composer-guitarist Steven Mackey and composer-percussionist Jason Treuting, an Eastman School of Music alumnus. Mackey and Treuting's music is just as wild and mercurial as the hero's journey it depicts: The mythical musician and poet Orpheus travels to the underworld and back in an ultimately vain attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice from death. The approximately hour-long score features jam band and prog-rock aesthetics, melodic and timbral influences from Asia and the Caribbean, and even noise and punk outbursts.

One of the album's greatest triumphs is its ability to maximize the musical drama with minimal instrumentation. Where Mackey's electric guitar is flowing, enigmatic, ethereal, and at all times idiosyncratic, Treuting's drums and percussion are punchy, visceral, cathartic, and even violent at times. The virtuosic interplay between the two musicians is an invigorating trip, especially on the rhythmically dizzying "Pursuit and Trespass," the downright psychedelic "...and other strange things," and the deliciously unrelenting nightmare that is "The Mob."

Mackey and Treuting have made an album that transcends the rock genre in immediate, grandiose, and inventive ways. This album is worth listening to again and again for new sonic nuggets you may have missed.