Skyscraper Magazine » Dustin O’Halloran
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Lumiere | Vorleben
Format: CD / LP / Digital | CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: February 22, 2011 | June 7, 2011
By Reed Jackson June 24, 2011

Dustin O’Halloran, a self-taught, globetrotting American pianist, has been a rock musician, a film scorer, and a conceptual experimentalist. Like Johnny Greenwood and The National’s Bryce Dessner, O’Halloran stands among the ranks of what could be only somewhat inappropriately called the “post-classical” movement – multi-tasking musicians from unorthodox backgrounds writing polyglot orchestral music. You can hear much of O’Halloran’s varied background in Lumiere, which expands upon the limited palette of his previous solo-piano releases, with strings courtesy of New York’s ACME Quartet and indie-rock violinist of choice Owen Pallett. With the additional help, O’Halloran has jacked up his delicately precise style, adding narrative sweep and strong emotive flow to his compositions. For the most part, they bear the extra weight well.

As a pianist, O’Halloran favors lacy, minor-key melodic runs developed in one of two ways: fast or slow. The opening track,A Great Divide,” is one of the latter and it’s a stunner. Arriving with a modulated drone using layers of sustained tones and echo-laden chimes, the composition gently but inexorably builds into a modestly devastating duet of string/piano melancholia. The faster stuff bears the same bittersweet hue but seems more nakedly direct in its attempt to bewitch. “We Move Lightly” picks a simple high-register motif and sticks with it for the next three minutes, leaving some cannily chosen strings and faint backstage dissonance to provide the drama. It’s a resourceful tactic, and listeners more familiar with Explosions In the Sky and Mogwai than Gavin Bryars or Philip Glass will deem it successful. Less rock-oriented ears may find it a bit unsubstantial.

Lumiere fittingly suggests a world of dimly illuminated shadows, a magic-lantern theater of flickering shapes and transitory mirage. “Opus 43” is as meditative and hesitant as “We Move Lightly” is assuredly coy, as if O’Halloran were tracing the outline of melody or slowly watching it take shape inside a photographic dark room. When the strings kick in, O’Halloran’s by now trademark romantic halo seems organic and earned, instead of merely forced. The pianist is clearly concerned with the way a defined space can replicate, isolate and distort sound, and his songs work best when he allows a thrum of dissonance to add grit to their wistfulness.

Vorleben, a live album recorded in a Berlin church, captures all the creaks and rustles of an audience seated on hard, Reformation-era pews as well as the incidental noise of a large, open space and towering ceilings. This incidental contamination roughs up the edges of his sometimes too-pretty solo piano work, providing a charged, potent setting that even the fuller orchestration of Lumiere has a hard time matching.

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