#MusicForWriters: Jodie Landau In Iceland, Romancing ‘You’

Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson
Jodie Landau. Image: Hörður Sveinsson

‘You’re The Choice I Make’

Let me offer you some artful goosebumps. This is a man at 23 speaking to you about what happens when he sings his music:

All of my pieces are from the “I” perspective sung to “you.” And while it is sung by me and thus often from my own perspective, the “I” and “you” at every moment can take on different meaning. Sometimes, I may be singing from me to someone else, while others it may be something I might want someone to sing to me, and sometimes both simultaneously.

If you don’t know we’re in a golden age of contemporary classical music right now, you haven’t read enough #MusicForWriters columns. Just keep Q2 Music playing as you work (a player is embedded below). It now offers music identified for you in the afternoons, 1 to 4 p.m. Eastern, and it just gets better as the international hub of this rising force in musical arts.

And as Mozartean as this lucky era of ours can seem at times, Jodie Landau is a unique talent, a genuine standout, and a welcome one.

‘This Sense Of Intimacy And Of Love’

In this debut, Landau gets more sheer authority into each measure of music and line of text than some of our best people do in a whole score. And one of the reasons this is such a singular event is that it’s not just Landau. He is writer, singer, and composer but he’s something more: a Peter Pan who has led a big band of not-at-all lost boys and girls from Los Angeles to Reykjavik. A striking number of accomplished music people believe in Landau and are betting on him.

In Iceland, Landau is a new inductee in Bedroom Community, one of the most exacting and focused collectives of artists in the world. It’s the Bedroom Community label we have to thank for releasing this album.

How collaborative is it? The album, You Of All Things, is a work by:

It’s the smart Album of the Week selection at New York Public Radio’s Q2 Music, with a fine introduction by Daniel Stephen Johnson.

I want you to know
how often I think of you
consider your thought
mull over your every view
they stay with me always…
I want you to know
I want you to stay
want you to hold
want you to feel
safe with me
awake with me
stay with me

In the music world, this release is called a 10-part song cycle. I’m telling you this is also a romance. Not the “shirtless men kissing beautiful women” stuff I’m constantly looking at sideways in literature. This is romance as a verb.

coverJodie Landau gets hold of an idea—maybe an idea of being in love with you. And then? He romances it. He romances you.

Jodie Landau is the music industry’s new Cyrano de Bergerac, a flirt of endless guile.

He yanks in every single thing he can find to play (he’s a percussionist), or write, or compose, all in the service of getting under your skin. He wants every musician, every engineer, every color, every breath, every possible way into your heart and your mind and he succeeds.

In listening to You Of All Things, you’ll get it. It is all about you. All about him romancing you. And if you can listen to the full album and not fall in love with this guy, then you need to go back and listen again.

[pullquote]”‘Can I write about love when I haven’t really experienced it?’ But of course I can write about love, and of course I have experienced and do experience love.”
Jodie Landau[/pullquote]

My recommendation is that you start—I hope he won’t mind my suggesting this—with the final three tracks on the album. These are a pure concentration of a soul that somehow we all know so well. Why? Because you hear yourself in this. Maybe you weren’t as silver-tongued as this, but when you were 23? You thought you sounded this way, too. We all did. Landau actually can do it, in real time.

Such a lesson for writers lies in “as I wait for the lion,” the piece from which the album title is drawn. Listen for how he can go from a breathy vibrato-less hush into a soaring head voice on “you evolve.”

I try to write
as if I knew
I try to find
a thought of you
you of all things
you of all things
you evolve

Such a lesson for lovers rests in the penultimate piece, “stay going nowhere,” and Landau gives a cloud-racing fusion to this breezy piece, the singers of Graduale Nobile hanging on, wind in their harmonies, sunshine on their vocalise.

I want you to know
and yet I still bite my tongue
I want to embody it all
[embody it all…]
speak the truth
but feel that the words are wrong
[know this, know all…]

And finally, such a shy shrug awaits in the strummed muscularity of his sign-off, hang-dog in its simplicity:

you’re the choice I make
time and time again
and thought the hour nearly ends
I’d love to wait
silently gazing
and sway

When you’re done listening, you feel him still “silently gazing.”

‘No Idea A Little Over A Year Ago’

Jodie Landau working percussion with wild Up in Los Angeles
Jodie Landau working percussion with wild Up in Los Angeles

Happily for me, our romantic, Landau,  gives a great interview, too. He’s going to talk about romance and how limited our commercial concept of it is. He’s right. In my exchange with him below, he’s going to explain all you need to know about the process of working with Rountree as the producing mastermind in LA and Reykavik. I’m quoting him at a lot of length, not least because the sheer enthusiasm of his art comes bounding through.

I’d be remiss in mentioning that there are other compositional forces here, as well, all writing for Landau.

For sheer musical dazzle, the composer Marc Lowenstein‘s two pieces titled “This” (“This – i” and “This – ii”) will keep you hitting repeat. Darkly energetic woodwinds and percussion, like a bad paddling going on in the next room, make a very tricky bed for Landau’s lower register as he sings his way in, in this case voicing texts from Rumi. The voices of Graduale Nobili rise to meet him, strange sirens over celeste, a rhapsody that at times becomes strident, demanding, so urgent.

There also is music here of composers Ellen Reid (the second track, “Orlando & Tiresias,” in which gender duality is, indeed an issue) and Andrew Tholl (the deliciously ominous “Memory Draws The Map We Follow” with its Holst Neptune celestial wind-up).

[pullquote]”Some people have respectfully asked if the ‘you’ is a specific person.”
Jodie Landau[/pullquote]

But it’s Landau’s own work you’ll feel, remember, go back to over and over. At times working in an undefended soprano, he can break your heart, then whip that airy sound into something sinewy and purposeful so quickly that you feel trapped by his stare:

you held your hand out
I volunteered
your eyes seemed so inviting
and so sincere
but so suddenly you go
I really wanted you to stay so so sweet
but then realized
you don’t
you don’t care for me at all
and then I realized
you won’t
you won’t care at all

Contemporary in his fixation on relationship, timeless in the musical insouciance with which he tempers the sound of his own profundity.

So I started there in our interview. After all, this is a lot of album for a guy in his early 20s.

‘Don’t You Americans Be Fooled By Our Faces’

Image: Lauren Pray
Image: Lauren Pray

Thought Catalog: Jodie, how long would you say that this album has been “in you?”—by which I mean, it sounds to me as if [this] work might have been developing in your heart and mind for a long time. Is that the case?

Jodie Landau: My music for the album was developed over the course of a year leading up to the recording sessions, while writing for this project and others. My writing process often stems from improvisation, whether vocally, at the piano, and/or at the vibraphone. Many of these pieces in particular stem from vocal improvisations. The melody for an invitation and “a ballad—for you dear” was a melody that one day came out pretty much as is.  This may be why it seems to have been “in me” for quite some time, or why it’s somewhat familiar and catchy. So maybe it was “in me”, or rather “around me”.

The pieces by [fellow composers] Ellen Reid, Marc Lowenstein, and Andrew Tholl were written specifically for this album and the preceding concert in Reykjavik. The scores were delivered a little less than a month before the performance and recordings.  These were quite an exciting challenge to get “in me”. in the body, in the voice, and on the vibraphone, in such a quick period of time.

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There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: Music For Writers: Jodie Landau In Iceland, Romancing ‘You’

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com



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