Various Artists – Harpsichord 2000

Various Artists
Harpsichord 2000

What the heck? An entire album devoted to exulting the wonders of the harpsichord, spinetta, clavinet, and clavichord, from an Italian record label released in the U.S. Now come on, tell me truly, how well do you actually know the harpsichord. Do you even know what it sounds like, or would you recognize it if you heard it? Those tinkly piano-like sounds made echoed and full, a completely unique instrument. That’s what you’re going to hear a lot of here.

Now I guess the question is, why an entire album devoted to this relatively rare instrument, at least these days? The instrument is seldom used today, at least in rock-related music, and that’s what we talk about here. But, as the label points out, the harpsichord was instrumental to the baroque, psychedelic pop sound of the 60s, the “funkadelic black music of the 70s,” and numerous Italian, French and other European film soundtracks prior to those decades. It’s been used quite a bit for its unique sound, and maybe it’s time we all appreciated it just a little bit more.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this album was not just listenable but even enjoyable. Momus contributes two songs here, for example, lending a very off-beat, playful pop sound to this compilation, all centered, of course, around the deep plinking of the harpsichord. “This concept is boring,” starts “You Wanna Hear My New Song” by Remington Super 60 & Valvola, but that band uses the harpsichord as a nice backing to a couple lovely little pop songs. Bands like “Die Moulinettes,” “Cinerama,” and “Micromars” provide some cheerful, bouncy Europop, using the harpsichord where they probably would have used regular keyboards. One of my favorite tracks here is “Call Yourself a Man” by Count Indigo. If this doesn’t belong in a soundtrack, nothing does, and with the Count’s deep voice, this song is very cool! “Out of the Edge of Time” by Electroscope and DJ Spectra is a wonderful electronic song, with some glorious female vocals. And even the Make Up have a song here, using the harpsichord in one of their trademark swanky, sexy rock songs. The final track, by The Barry Gemso Experience, also has a soundtrack feel, but it also has a Spanish flare, which is very interesting. The album does suffer from some overdrawn instrumentals that all end up sounding very similar, and these pieces are scattered throughout.

Each of the bands here created a new, unreleased track for this compilation except for Momus’ “Jeff Koons,” which apparently inspired the album. Regardless of whether you are a die hard harpsichord fan or not, this is a truly innovative concept for an album, and it’s one that deserves to be heard. There are quite a few delightful pop songs here, all tied together by a common theme. What a great idea.