Jeffrey Young and Paul Pinto’s new album on Gold Bolus Recordings, Jeff Young and Paul Pinto, Patriots, Run for Public Office on a Platform of Swift and Righteous Immigration Reform, Lots of Jobs, and a Healthy Environment: an opera by Paul Pinto and Jeffrey Young, is a haunting and humorous reflection on the turbulent nature of lives in America today. Throughout the album, Young and Pinto each play the part of a narrator, commentator, and political candidate. It is in that final role where the text turns to comical representations of intensely serious matters, almost as if the only way to cope with the severity of the situation is by poking fun.
The duo of thingNY began this collaboration in 2011 as “a parody of contemporary politics and politicians,” yet seven years later, seems uncannily reflective of today’s political issues and hot-button topics. Young and Pinto’s highly elaborate text–delivered both through plainly spoken words as well as with a variety of vocal effects–is layered over electronic sounds, violin, and percussion. The resulting half-hour piece of music-theater, …Patriots…, begs to be witnessed live, with its inherently dramatic delivery, humorous moments, and text-driven narrative.
The first two tracks, “Friends,” and “Intro,” function as the album’s introduction, opening with the simple repetition of “hi” overlapping in a variety of vocal ranges. When Young and Pinto break into the main spoken text, the effect of a vocoder gives them an almost robotic sound. The vocal line remains on a single pitch, and that combined with its quick delivery becomes reminiscent of an early chant style, seen through a contemporary filter. “Intro” begins with the violin playing rapid barriolage that slowly rotates through different harmonic colors, until the line eventually rises and quietly dissipates to allow for the vocalist to enter. Young and Pinto then deliver the crux of the album’s idea in spoken text—“We are in search of a broader kind of politics, a true politics of people.” The conversation between vocals and violin continues as the text moves towards pitched melody, playing both with intervallic leaps and rhythmic variation.
The remainder of the album functions in two halves, each with a “Q&A” movement and a monologue, separated by an aptly titled “Song.” The outer halves seem almost to come out of the 1940s form of radio drama, where music and sound would tell a story without any visual component. Against this old school radio show sound, the “Song” feels more akin to a vintage indie-rock style. Its straightforward melody provides a much-needed pause between the relentless drama of the text-heavy outer sections.
The two “Q&A” movements bring back the vocoder sound to play the part of the interviewer, while the interviewee (presumably the political candidate) speaks the answers over an instrumental backdrop. With questions ranging from “Which country would you most like to go to war with?” to “What is your favorite ethnic food?” and “Is there a single American identity?” to “In exactly 13 words, what are your thoughts on racism?” these two movements provide a satirical musical representation of a political debate. The main point of interest lies not in the violin, percussion, or electronic undercurrent, but rather in the spoken text itself. Its rapid pacing, varied intonation, and rhythmic playfulness become musical all on its own. Beyond that, the substance of the Q&A allows the audience to really consider how these pointed critiques at politicians and present day politics in general–though sometimes intentionally humorous–are based in the unfortunate realities of the world we live in today.
Following the “Q&A” sessions, Young and Pinto each deliver their own monologue where they continue in this style: spoken voice over an instrumental backdrop. Young opens by speaking unaccompanied, directly to the audience: “Now ladies and gentlemen, let me ask you a question. What is a job?” He goes on to discuss the workplace, family, and immigration in what seems to be a never-ending tirade, somewhat like a sales pitch, or an old school politician on the radio. At the same time, the percussion, violin, and electronics build underneath until the instrumental rhythm is just as insistent. The sense of urgency is almost disconcerting as the unrelenting rhythmic pulsation becomes increasingly amplified. His rant comes to a climax as he asks the President to “speak the words that keep the people moving, write the words that translate into doing.”
Pinto’s monologue opens in a similar way, but quickly becomes even more intense. Not only are the instruments louder, more dissonant, and rhythmically complex, but he delivers the text so quickly, without stopping for a breath, that he sounds almost possessed. When he says “Walls! Walls! Walls! I must construct walls because you tell me to,” you can picture the monologue as performed in a piece of high drama. As he reaches the climax, he breaks character to return to a narrative role reminiscent of the introduction. The two performers speak at the same time, creating an intricate tapestry of sound that eventually comes together as they wish the audience goodbye and goodnight.
At times humorous, others personal or critical, …Patriots… seeks to shed light on today’s current political situation through music-theater. Whether experienced as recorded radio drama or as live visual theater, the dramatic political parody maintains a sense of urgency, even through its lighter moments. Ultimately, as the title suggests, the album becomes a satirical tool for a make-believe political candidate running for office, and as they say in the final movement, they “hope to get your vote in exchange for this opera.”