Two albums to listen to: an avant-garde double LP and a new perspective on death

Chris Duncan

Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

In the 1960s, musical experimentation was at an all-time high. But no album epitomizes the spirit of the unknown as well as singer-songwriter Don Van Vliet who performed under the stage name Captain Beefheart.

Beefheart was a true perfectionist. When friend and producer Frank Zappa gave Beefheart the majority of control over the content of Trout Mask Replica, Beefheart chose to spend eight months rehearsing and reworking the 28 songs on the double LP.

The result is a combination of several genres — blues, rock, R&B, jazz and more — that makes for a record far ahead of its time. The entire project has a stark, disjointed feeling, as elements float in and out of the music seemingly at will. This provides an opportunity for Beefheart’s poetic verses and growling voice to dominate. To many people, this album is an inaccessible mess, but its cult following would argue the complete opposite: that Captain Beefheart is a freak genius.

Tracks to listen to: “Ella Guru,” “Moonlight on Vermont,” “Veteran’s Day Poppy”


Franz Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D 810 “Death and the Maiden” – Amati Quartet

After Franz Schubert was hospitalized at the age of 27, the young composer realized he was slowly dying. He couldn’t afford treatment at the time, so the he had no choice but to accept his death. Initially, Schubert tried to keep his works upbeat, but his impending breakdown took a toll on his mind and his work began to reflect Schubert’s feelings as he watched his body deteriorate.

This composition is broken up into four distinct but thematically joint movements. Each one contains a common dark motif and sudden shifts from fortissimo to pianissimo and vice versa, portraying Schubert’s emotional toil.

Unimpressed by “Death and the Maiden,” people passed over Schubert’s music during his lifetime. Before 1826, the piece had never been performed publicly and in 1831, three years after Schubert died, the piece was finally published. The work eventually found its way to the concert stage and became a strong pillar in chamber music history.