It took me a long time to realize I was listening to Abraham Levitan’s Speak, Memory backwards. Having uploaded it onto my (apparently dyslexic) non-iPod MP3 player, it had registered the tracks in reverse order. I strongly suggest having a listen to it this way. After having listened to it forwards, I encourage the listener to ‘experience’ “Please Me” after “Little Helicopters.” In reverse order I was convinced I was listening to an album that was about to get miraculous. Unfortunately for my expectations, “Please Me” was the climax for those listening from the opposite direction. Gorgeous is a word I don’t use often but “Please Me” (a duet with warbly Snokilla) is exactly that. A gem that I hope was on somebody’s “Best of 2008” list.
Levitan heavily utilizes fellow musicians from the Chicago scene. Two more duets appear on Speak Memory: Kelly Hogan (who also lent her vocals to Andrew Bird’s new record) and Bobby Conn (of Bobby Conn and the Glass Gypsies) both join Levitan on the album’s ‘centerpieces’ “Bad Weather” and “Sarah (The German Song).”
Speak, Memory (like its Nabokovian namesake) mixes a sort of magic-realism with (presumably) autobiographical witticisms. Charmingly humble lyrics about ‘scene’ love and an OCD childhood mix with epic guitar and soaring choral bits. The album shoots at a broad range of genres and hits you with a wild creativity that sounds a lot like how Beck might have gone had he not taken to the funk or an album Rufus Wainwright might have made had he not went all Judy Garland or Tom Waits might sing if his lungs weren’t rotten or Momus might write if he wasn’t a condescending twit. If you can imagine the musical chimera I just conjured up, that’s Abraham Levitan: a terrifying and mesmerizing talent.