TONY, The AWL and Village Voice take on TLDV1

I am so proud of that picture. That’s yoga right there folks!! So TLDV1 got a few more write ups over the past few days, and I’m going to do the unthinkable and link to all of them- despite the fact that one is AWFUL. But we’ll talk about that later.

Time Out New York

Great theater review from Helen Shaw. TONY has been ridiculously supportive of TLDV1, including inviting us to perform on The Volume, and now linking to our video as their brain stealer of the week! Shaw had issues with the staging at times, which is bound to be tricky with a two person opera, but she did say that “in singing the music itself—unabashedly boppy, baroquely multireferential, then suddenly sentimental—the rapturous pair manage to save themselves.”

So, fine, these kids are all still figuring everything out. But that actually turns out to be the best argument for spending your time with them. Marks himself is a founding member of the new-music Alarm Will Sound crew, and has recently been working with the Dirty Projectors to arrange their piece The Getty Address for the stage. That is to say: he’s got skills across a pleasing range of disciplines. Here, even when I was confronted with moments or gestures that I found awkward or too call-attention-y, I respected his overall compositional attack.

Equally impressive is his co-vocalist Mellissa Hughes. I saw her sing in Louis Andriessen’s De Staat at Carnegie’s new music space a couple months back, and with the Signal ensemble at this year’s Bang On A Can festival, but those were both stand-and-deliver performances behind sheet music. So I actually wasn’t prepared for the strength of her physical performance in The Little Death. When she gutted out the the familiar tune “He Touched Me” while wearing a virginal wedding dress and sashaying toward Boy, Hughes came across as confused in the most delectable of ways. But when she turned it into a degraded, Madonna-at-the-1984-VMAs pole dance, everyone in the tiny St. Mark’s Church gym seemed under her crypto-erotic-religious spell. Developmental hiccups aside, I can always make time for that.

Awl author Seth Colter Walls had issues with the performance, he straight argues against calling it an opera in the second paragraph, but he appreciates the bold statements Matt’s made in his composition and is willing to wade through some of the “developmental hiccups” that accompany a work-in-progress.

Village Voice

Part of me doesn’t want to link to this at all, because critic James Hannaham HATED it. But he spent maybe 200 words attempting to trash something that he clearly doesn’t have the taste buds for, nor attempted to appreciate before slamming it with references that make absolutely zero sense. I’ll post the full review here for shits and giggles:

The Little Death: Vol. 1, at the Incubator Arts Project, takes the opposite approach, flaunting conventional values against an unconventional background. Composer Matt Marks, who writes what he calls “emotionally manipulative pop songs,” has staged a song cycle he describes as a “post-Christian nihilist pop opera.” On a set cleverly dressed to resemble a Midwestern high school gym, Marks and Mellissa Hughes, a talented singer, gesture their quasi–Robert Wilson way through Marks’s repetitive techno score, which sounds like MGMT’s outtakes with Annie Clark on vocals, played on a broken boombox at full volume. The barest plot emerges, of Christian chastity besmirched by sex, followed by piety, unresolved. The best moment is when the performers reveal a stained-glass window, a surprising reminder that, despite its avant-garde credentials, the theater space is still in a church. Too cool to be Christian, too Christian to be cool, the show hovers in the place between irony and sincerity, which, it turns out, is called blah.

Me thinks I spy a hardcore CATS fan. This is not a musical, or a song cycle, it’s an opera. A musical idea threaded through with a narrative. It is a piece of theater, albeit one wrought with staging and plot challenges. Despite the fact that this is a theater review, he doesn’t really trash the production, but he does dig into the space  “The best moment is when the performers reveal a stained-glass window, a surprising reminder that, despite its avant-garde credentials, the theater space is still in a church.” He spends the majority of his rant trashing Matt’s music, and comparing it to MGMT, and comparing my vocals to St. Vincent. Well, that just doesn’t even make sense. Like, at ALL. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.

In general all of our music reviews have been glowing, the theater reviews take some issue with the plot, but most are quick to realize that we’re only presenting half of the story. There’s been so much talk about is it an opera, is it a musical, it has no story… it drives me crazy. Most of the opera I’ve performed in, and I’ve definitely done my corsetted share, is based on this same boy-meets-girl premise, and all of the action takes place in the Act 2 summary printed in your program, mmm-kay?  I think people struggle with the electronics, and with the multi-style vocals used to portray the narrative. This is not a stand and deliver Sondheim musical theater technique, this is not a “park and bark” bel canto technique. Matt’s music requires a musical vocal vulnerability, he wants pure straight tone, Aretha Franklin Gospel belting, heavy metal Meatloaf-esque grit and edge, and requires me to sing so low at one point he actually wrote it out in bass clef. It’s all very “pastiche-y” Handel would be proud, and quite possibly even Tarantino.

My .02

The Little Death: Vol.1 Press Round Up

We opened at the Incubator Arts Project on Thursday night, still just wading into our first week of performances but the response so far has been really positive and the experience has been great. I thought I would post a round up of some of the press we’ve received over the last week.

Time Out New York’s The Volume

Live performance of He Touched Me!

WNYC’s Soundcheck

Steve Smith names Matt Marks’ album The Little Death: Vol. 1 on of his best of 2010!

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone

What had been a great collection of smart, sometimes silly, pop songs in the guise of a gently confusing pop opera has evolved into a smartly stage, well focused piece of musical theater.

While Marks’ excellent music provided the building blocks, director Rafael Gallegos has built a solid foundation and has cemented the building block  together to form an elegant theatrical environment for the Marks’ eerie love story.


As a performer, Marks dives pelvis-first into the rock-star physicality of his part and exhibits a capable vocal range, even if he and Hughes are occasionally drowned out by the throbbing music. Thanks to her own strong vocals, Hughes is able to navigate the jumpiness of the music well, and her dirty, thrusting rendition of “He Touched Me,” in a wedding dress, is quite raucous and absurd, like something out of a Kate Bush music video.

NY Times!!

Saturated with sampled timbres and driven by sputtering hip-hop break beats, Mr. Marks’s music is bright and sentimental, at times even cloying in a manner meant to evoke anodyne commercial Christian pop. But Mr. Marks’s crafty juxtapositions, clashes and transformations add to the opera’s overall sense of ambiguity; in moments when he underscores sexual urges scarcely hidden within his squeaky-clean borrowed sources, substantial heat results.

A versatile soprano who excels in both standard classical repertory and modern works, Ms. Hughes sounded idiomatic and perky in indie-pop songs, and brought convincingly soulful grit to gospel numbers.

The Big City

The direction by Rafael Gallegos is really fine and adds a great deal to something that is already interesting, involving and satisfying. Just listening to the CD leaves some odd narrative gaps that the mind tries to fill in, and Gallegos has worked out a fascinating and effective sense of temporal narrative. The events that the songs portray, including the opening shooting, have an overall order, even with what is one big flashback (and of course young men have a tendency to try and kill what they can’t possess), and having things unfold through time, both forward and backward, brings out more of the complex nature of the characters, who, despite their generic names, are holding real internal contradictions together, and touching on them alternately and simultaneously. It’s one of the better and more relevant Off-Broadway musicals out there right now, not preachy at all and completely entertaining.

It’s been an amazing week, and we have two performances left so use that discount code TLDV1 to snag your $12 tix for tonight or tomorrow. Next week’s performances run from Wednesday through Saturday.

And because I love you.. check out the official FULL I Don’t Have Any Fun Video by our awesome video crew Satan’s Pearl Horses