Wild Like Walt Whitman
The Music and Philosophy of the Family Crest
It cracks the conventional crust of mature good sense.
It's infectious and sometimes really beautiful.
Snap your fingers, sing along, or
plug in your air guitar.
Symphonic Rock Raucous
What shall we call it? Cabaret Rock? Orchestral Pop? Baroque Folk? How about Symphonic Rock Raucous? It's hard to name a musical style that combines pop and cabaret, classical and jazz in such surprising and engaging ways.
It's even more interesting when we realize that the group playing the music likes for us to sing along and is willing to include us as members of the extended family of their band. There is a core of seven members but a supporting cast, an extended family, of four hundred to date.
Sure sounds like Walt Whitman's democracy to me. He wanted everyone to be included, and he thought poetry might be a way that it happens. The Family Crest thinks the same of music. Want to join? Here's what they say on their webpage:
We believe that anyone is musical when given the opportunity. That’s why we’ve invited musicians of all experience levels to join us for live performances and recordings. We call this amazing group our “extended family” and are proud to have shared stages and sound booths with them....If you are interested in joining the family, let us know on Facebook or Twitter.
So back to the genre. I'll speak of their music as Symphonic Rock Raucous, borrowing my use of raucous from Rabbi Bradley Artson in his essay for the secular New Year's Eve: "The Hidden Holiness of the Secular New Year." Here's what he writes:
Joy for its own sake, laughter and conviviality without pretext, meeting time's advance with unapologetic delight, raucous noise, good friends — these are nothing less than the eruption of the hidden light cracking the conventional crust of our mature good sense, our dehumanizing obsession with control, our idolatrous reliance on possession as salvation. (Bradley Artson)
I think he's got it. In the music of The Family Crest there's a combination of raucous noise and good friends, with unapologetic delight and conviviality without pretext. Well, maybe not without pretext. There's a lot of theatricality. The lead singer was trained in opera! But not exactly pretext if that means phony. How about sincere over-the-top theatricality? Again, sounds like Walt Whitman to me.
Back to democracy. Think of the multiple voices in the group itself, whether seven or four hundred. The instruments alone include flutes, guitars, french horns, trumpets, tubas, vibraphones, toe-tapping, and foot swaying. The result is a kind of music that can be recorded in studios but is better recorded in cafes, churches, and train stations, where the observers are participants, too. .
And there's opera. The songs of The Family Crest cover so many operatic themes: what it's like to float in seaweed, beneath the brine, in a fallen love affair; or what it's like to want to hide away in a room and never see anybody, ever again, never. Their music can rambunctious and risky, but soft and dark, too. We swim blindly through the night, leaving our waking worlds for deeper truths, however painful. Romantic like Walt Whitman.
What's to make of all of this? "There's a decent chance," says Bob Boilen of NPR, "that you're about to meet your new favorite band." We feature them in JJB because they are so much in the spirit of what we appreciate: hybridity, multiplicity, inclusiveness, humor, novelty, democracy, process, connections, and an unfettered hospitality to life. My guess is that, if you consider the eighteen modes of life in the Whiteheadian Wheel of Life after you've listened to their songs, you'll find all eighteen and then you'll add some more. There's so much life under the brine -- and above it, too.
-- Jay McDaniel
Bob Boilen's Introduction to the Tiny Desk Concert
There's a decent chance you're about to discover your favorite new band. Based in San Francisco and led by Liam McCormick, The Family Crest builds its songs from a combination of infectious enthusiasm and powerful talent. The group owes its huge sound not just to its seven members, but to the community that records and plays with them. Eighty people are credited on The Family Crest's first album, Beneath the Brine.
The World below the Brine