The album is about the struggle, the constant (f*g) struggle of life, most works of art are, in some way. There’s rage, escapism and a lot of tenderness.
Vyvienne Long is a cellist, pianist, singer, songwriter, composer and arranger based in Co. Wicklow. It has been nine long years since the musician released her début LP Caterpillar Sarabande, an exquisite collection of impeccable and cello-led chamber pop gems. Entirely self-produced and available from the musician’s website, Vyvienne Long’s enchanting second studio album A Lifetime of High Fives was released on 8 November 2019 last.
In the music industry, nine years might sound like a long time – “a lifetime” even – but the musician has been busy with many side projects. In 2013, Vyvienne Long toured and recorded a live album with the London-based Balanescu Quartet. In 2013, she also toured with The New Triangle comprised of herself, Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu and Dublin-based electronic artist and composer Roger Doyle. The following year, she collaborated with Niwel Tsumbu again and Dave Flynn (Irish Memory Orchestra) as D.F.F. to record Pouric Songs (2014). There were also two “seasonal” single songs released – Please Santa – Let’s Go (2015) and the quirky Halloween Hoe-Down (2018).
With Vyvienne Long on cello, piano and vocals, A Lifetime of High Fives is an entirely acoustic and guitar-less affair featuring drums (Guy Rickarby), violin (Marian Cahill), double bass (Dan Bodwell/Robbie Malone), accordion (Dermot Dunne) and clarinet (Winifred Massey). Joining the combo, the Laetare Vocal Ensemble – a mixed choir based in Dublin conducted by Róisín Blunnie – and the ConTempo Quartet provide a wonderfully rich and dynamic backing to all songs.
Formed in Bucharest in 1995, the ConTempo Quartet is comprised of Bogdan Sofei (first violin), Ingrid Nicola (second violin), Andreea Banciu (viola) and Adrian Mantu (cello). Galway Music Residency’s Quartet in Residence since 2003, the ensemble was recently appointed as RTÉ’s Quartet in Residence in May 2014.
As a classically-trained musician, Vyvienne Long uses her cello both as a rhythmic and a harmonic instrument to create catchy bass lines, dynamic pizzicato or spiccato parts and rich melodic patterns. As a result, Vyvienne Long’s music constantly hovers between a pop-rock vibe (“Money Stuff”, “This Monster” or “Some Wretched Curse”) and a classical chamber music sound with several haunting ballads (“Seahorse”, “Banish” or “If You Ever Regarded Me”). The orchestral arrangements on “Let Go” or “You’re the Sun” lean strongly towards contemporary modern classical music. The Tango-style “A Dónde Vas?” features a superb instrumental combination of accordion, clarinet and piano too.
To date, the musician has also added several perfectly crafted pop songs to her repertoire – songs from The Beatles as recorded in her 2009 Beatles EP, The Cure’s “Lullaby”, The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” or Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” to name but a few.
These classical and pop influences resurface and blend wonderfully in A Lifetime of High Fives to achieve a unique and spirited artistic vision. A satirical take on personal and societal financial woes, “Money Stuff” is a dazzling composition. With its captivating bass line and intricate arrangements, a reggae-inflected spoken word middle section and Greek chorus-like harmonies, the song conjures at times the sound of 1950s and 1960s space age pop vocal bands or vintage concept albums like Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 “Histoire de Melody Nelson”.
Introduced as “a moral and emotional workout for the artist and the audience”, A Lifetime of High Fives is replete with bittersweet songs about mortality, love, angst, self-doubt…and credit card bills. The lyrics are also underpinned by a constant barrage of questions
How the hell did I end up here
Suckin’ in fumes in an old John Deere
I don’ know which way to turn
But God knows I’ve had enough time to think about it
And will I ever learn
Well it sure as hell doesn’t look like it
When did cellists play for money
When did music come for free
as well as an urge to “invest when it’s time to impress those who question why I make forsaken art”.
But a grounded and determined optimism shines through nevertheless. As suggested by the record title, the songs all prompt the listener to “think happy thoughts till bad ones go by” to echo her previous solo release.
We don’t care, it’s groovy being here
We are sailing far away
Left out troubles behind on broken heart bay
Flawlessly arranged and executed, A Lifetime of High Fives plays like an enthralling modern day rhapsody.