Alexis Gideon Brings His Genre-Defying Video Opera to Baltimore

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    I first saw Alexis Gideon in 2005. He was playing the Flywheel in Western Massachusetts with his band Princess — two guys in drag with a huge rack of guitars playing Queen-level triumphant riffs and rapping over prerecorded beats. A seamless Ludacris cover ended the set.

    Later he struck out on his own, stripping his gear down to just one guitar, a melodica, a glockenspiel, and an iPod. His catchy, unclassifiable songs were more melting pot than salad bowl. In some ways it was the promise of Princess fulfilled — a whole new genre that blends art music gestures (particularly that mid-century clangy percussion sound), outside harmonies, shredding guitar lines, and a delivery that alternates between nimble rapping and crooning with generous amounts of low-register flourishes. Now, in print that all may sound ill-advised. But after a few listens you may find yourself wondering why everyone isn’t doing it.

    As part of his effort to “[break] down barriers of style and medium,” Alexis switched from writing one-off pop songs and albums to composing long-form narrative pieces live-synced to stop-motion animations. The first of these projects, Video Musics, was a six-song suite that played fast and loose with Hungarian folk tales.

    Here’s the song “Brimstone Blaine” from Video Musics:

    He followed that up with Video Musics II: Sun Wu-Kong, an hour-long setting of the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West. The story was more complicated — his rapped verses were often weighed down by straight diegesis. There were many stunning moments, both in the gorgeous animations and in Alexis’s typically beautiful arrangements, but no stand-alone “hits.”

    Alexis’s upcoming “video opera” features a shorter running time and a more adaptable literary inspiration. In under 40 minutes, Video Musics III: Floating Oceans explores the short works of Lord Dunsany. We follow our poet-protagonist through otherworldly dreamscapes and mundane dinner parties. The animation is his most detailed and tactile yet.

    Alexis will be performing Video Musics III: Floating Oceans to Baltimore’s 5th Dimension on November 7. It comes out on vinyl with video download November 5.

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