Rachel's Vinyl, CD & tapes by Rachel's at Norman Records
Before we knew what neo-classical even was there was Rachel’s. The band emerged from the fertile Louiseville scene (see also Slint, Will Oldham) but were completely different in almost every way from their contemporaries.
It was quite the coincidence that pianist Rachel Grimes is the better known member of the band as they actually started as a solo project from ex-Rodan guitarist Jason Noble who recorded early minimal pieces under the name Rachel’s before Grimes and violinist Christian Frederickson joined.
Their first album Handwriting was a shock to the system to anyone enamoured by the noisy guitar rock its members had produced earlier. It was a beautiful classical-themed LP with nods to Michael Nyman and Phillip Glass amongst its gorgeous sweeping strings and piano. Their masterpiece though had to be follow up Music for Egon Shiele - a suite conceived to score a play about the painter. It is a gem, somehow infusing the work of Brahms and Ravel with an indie/post rock sensibility. It’s hard to explain but it became classical music for people that wouldn’t usually touch the traditional stuff. It seemed to single handedly invent the neo-classical/modern classical movement which spawned musicians like Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Johann Johannsson.
Rachel’s then spent the remainder of their career producing music that was equally interesting but contained less pure beauty than ‘Music For Egon Shiele’. 1996’s The Sea and the Bells blended their minimalism with post-rock in a more obvious manner whilst Selenography added in drums and sample-based compositions. They released a split album with San Francisco experimental noise terrorists Matmos before they made their swansong Systems/Layers might be their masterpiece, combining effortlessly their earlier chamber music sound with electronics, sound collage and post-rock. It seems more homespun, more grounded than the later soundtracky grandeur of the artists that followed and was a near perfect final statement.
Sadly, founder Jason Noble passed away in 2012 so there could be no more Rachel’s. Rachel Grimes has continued a low key solo career marked by her effortlessly brilliant piano playing but it is for the five perfectly formed, forward-thinking yet soothing and evocative albums for which they’ll be remembered.