Ted Hearne and Philip White
New Focus Recordings 2013
R WE WHO R WE, featuring composer/performers TED HEARNE (vocals) and PHILIP WHITE (mixer feedback), reimagine, dissect and radically reconstruct the “cover album” with the release of their first (eponymous) album on NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS. The recording features the duo’s versions of several hits from the pop world — some iconic, some ephemeral — refracted through their irreverent, experimental lens that is equally informed by their backgrounds in avant garde classical music and underground electronic music. The result straddles the line between ironic commentary on contemporary pop anthems and innovative dance tracks in their own right, all generated with the sparest of musical materials, but producing an impressively broad expressive range.
R WE WHO R WE mixes the free theft/collage style of digital sampling virtuoso Girl Talk with the raw noise of Japanese noise artist Merzbow. Philip White’s mixer feedback, controlled through a homemade rig of circuits and low-fi electronics, conjures the sound world of legendary experimental musician David Tudor, but becomes something entirely new when fused with the production aesthetics of pop. Ted Hearne’s voice – inflamed, athletic and powerfully stark, with the operatic drama of a latter day Jeff Buckley, the experimentalism of Mike Patton and party chic of Ke$ha herself – does battle with his own auto-tune. A tribute and commentary to both classic and ephemeral artists of the pop landscape, R WE WHO R WE uses pop music like graffiti uses public space, exploiting the tension between theft and tribute, like collage artist John Oswald did 30 years ago with his seminal and mischievous Plunderphonic.
“Material Gurl” brings an unexpected tenderness to the classic anthem from Madonna, while “Just the Chorus Now” puts a solo mic in the hands of the affirmative backup chorus from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” and “Emotions” transforms Mariah Carey’s iconic 1991 performance on The Arsenio Hall Show into a churning exorcism. “Hi is my Name” electrifies the opening track from Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP with a compulsively methodical yet manic rendition, and “Gucci Gucci” makes the breakout hit from Oakland hipster Kreayshawn an Adderall-infused dancehall romp.
Time Out Chicago
Listening to Ted Hearne and Philip White’s R We Who R We is a bit like attempting to force the beaters of an electric hand mixer through one’s nostrils and into the brain, then flipping the power on…and this is an unequivocally good thing. Using Top 40 hits like Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” and Madonna’s “Material Girl” as a point of departure, vocal hellion Hearne and electronic conjurer White hook listeners with the familiar while hurtling through often confrontational and exceptionally potent sonic deconstructions. Other than the lyric content, almost nothing remains of the source material, offering not pop-tune covers but compositional reinventions.
Hearne, who honed his classical chops at the Manhattan and Yale Schools of Music, drags his vocal cords through their paces. “Hi Is My Name” revs up Eminem’s ubiquitous flow to breakneck speed, tearing through syllables and forcing the listener to play catch-up. On “Original Self,” an original track, it’s as if the Chicago native is attempting to argue with Auto-Tune, railing against its magnetism as he wails atop a chorus of dental drills. Hearne’s inventive reimaginings of the lyrics draw you in, while White’s self-described “non-linear feedback system” similarly cloaks the deliberately provocative sound world of noise music in the shiny bluster of pop production. The result is something eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping.
– Doyle Armbrust
Two classically trained composers make an album of pop covers that includes songs by Eminem and Kesha. I was skeptical too, until I heard what Ted Hearne and Philip White had created. Now I simply can’t stop listening to this record. Madonna’s “Material Girl” (renamed “Material Gurl”) becomes a glitchy microtonal swirl, Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci” turns into a heavily distorted high-speed spasm, yet nothing ever feels sarcastic or condescending. This is a downright fun album created by two very keen musicians who know exactly how to revisit a song reverently and irreverently at once.
– Marcos Balter