This unique music and design project based in Louisville, Kentucky revolves around Jason Noble (ex-Rodan), namesake Rachel Grimes and Juilliard student Christian Frederickson. Somewhere between meticulous and improvisational, the Rachel’s blurs the genres of classical and experimental music to deliver sublime, intelligent, occasionally haunting compositions. In the indie-rock world with which these composers are associated — through Noble’s background, the Quarterstick label and musicians on the first album — Rachel’s is quite an anomaly.
Recorded at various times and places beginning in 1991, Handwriting unites an unlikely collection of players, as members of Rodan, the Coctails and Shellac join members of two symphony orchestras and other musicians in an intriguing seven-song recording. Frederickson plays viola, Grimes piano and Noble electric bass, guitar and tapes. The supporting cast provides strings, percussion and woodwinds. Using vibes, winds and traps, “M. Daguerre” is the closest to jazz the ensemble gets, but the song’s main theme gives way to effective, unsettling improv, as well as delicate passages led by Grimes’ piano and a string section. Other selections (the title track, “Southbound to Marion,” “Saccharin,” “Seratonin” and Grimes’ solo piano composition, “Frida Kahlo”) are contemporary classical pieces; while they’re good listening, they don’t “rock” in any conventional sense. Finally, Noble seems to be in charge of “Full on Night,” a fourteen-minute avant-abstraction with guitar, piano, tape loops and percussion that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Slint record or the Eraserhead soundtrack. The limited-edition CD comes in a handsome letterpress paper sleeve with an equally stylish booklet.
The Rachel’s also became involved in scoring for stage productions and film. Music for Egon Schiele, performed by Grimes, Frederickson and cellist Wendy Doyle and packaged even more ornately, is a Grimes composition for a dance/theater production based on the life of the Viennese painter.