The Speakers : Yeats is Greats

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By Brian Miller & Peter Musselman (with the help of many fabulous musical, dramatic, and artistic collaborators...)

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Watch the video by Kara Hearn for To a Man Young and Old

cover art by Lisa Sanditz




"...a beautiful collection of dreamy, atmospheric folk-pop perfection. Recommended for fans of Sam Beam's hushed vocals, this song is fragile and hypnotic, capable of lulling the listener into a state of peaceful tranquility. Highly recommended."

- Gorilla vs Bear

yeats = greats
I was both amused by and skeptical of the new Speakers album Yeats Is Greats. Indie band plays songs with lyrics from Yeats poems? What would it be? A lo-fi Pavement sound-alike with someone belting out "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"? Thankfully, no. I keep trying to come up with words to describe Yeats Is Greats, and all that comes to mind is "lovely."

- Music (For Robots)

...These songs are beautiful, fragile comforts. They're not joycore, no. They're just things to lean up against on these long midwinter days. Or in the nights. Trifles, I guess, in the same way that streetlamps are trifles. Or cherry trees. Or stars.
Voices fall across each-other, whispers blossoming into smiling song, folk that's crisscrossed just enough with foreign sound, shadows of accordion or clarinet, horns and drone. Hear a bit of Iron & Wine, but better. Maybe Sufjan circa Seven Swans. Grizzly Bear without the fear, Elliott Smith with a gang of kindly friends. Like Mt. Eerie, maybe, or The Robot Ate Me. But different.
Oh fuck it - just listen.

Sean from Said the Gramophone, January 5, 2006

Bay Area's embarrassment of musical talent makes for stunning selection of CDs for 2005
Aidin Vaziri, Chronicle Pop Music Critic
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

While the rest of the world was stuck listening to the same old noise this year from the usual culprits like the Dave Matthews Band and Mariah Carey, we here in the Bay Area once again got to spoil our ears by indulging in tunes that were truly innovative, genre bending and perfectly thrilling. Here, the 21 best local releases from the past year. And remember, it's never too late to discover your new favorite artist.


10: The Speakers "Yeats Is Greats: The Speakers Sing the Songs[sic] of W.B. Yeats"
Jolie Holland's guitarist Brian Miller and lifelong accompanist[sic] Peter Musselman do as advertised on this album, setting the turn-of-the-century poetry of William Butler Yeats to their own dreamy tunes with bonus accordion solos.

The Speakers Sing the Poetry of Yeats

The Speakers are a lo-fi, new-folk duo from California. Their latest CD is a collection of songs with lyrics by William Butler Yeats. Brian Miller and Peter Musselman say they were inspired by the Irish poet's turn-of-the-century work because it sounded like country songs.
Miller and Musselman have been playing together since they were in middle school in Lancaster, Pa. They continued to play into college and later moved to California where they formed The Speakers in 1999.
For their new CD they sang and played accordion, guitar, bass, banjo, drums, violins, piano, organ, spaced-out keyboards and threw in some whistling.
Miller has also been the guitarist for Jolie Holland for the last five years and has appeared on her last two albums, Catalpa and Escondida, and her upcoming third album, Springtime Can Kill You.

--NPR Open Mic, November 9, 2005

The Speakers - Yeats is Greats
Derrière The Speakers, se cachent Brian Miller et Peter Musselman, un duo de multi-instrumentistes (à eux deux ils sifflent, jouent du piano, de l’accordéon, de la guitare, du banjo, de la basse, du violon, de l’orgue, du clavier, de la batterie), originaire de Californie et auteur déjà de cinq albums remarquables à défaut d’avoir été remarqués. Le dernier en date est une pure merveille dont le point de départ a consisté à mettre en musique des textes de William Butler Yeats. Sept poésies du poète irlandais ont ainsi été retenues, auxquelles les musiciens ont rajouté neuf titres originaux (la plupart instrumentaux), composant au final une toile sonore d’une délicatesse bouleversante. Entre folk pastoral et radieuses échappées instrumentales, aux arrangements inventifs et sans cesse renouvelés, Yeats is Greats n’est pas, dans le ton, sans évoquer Seven Swans de Sufjan Stevens. Doué pour transcender la tristesse qui hante les mots de Yeats en les éclairant de mélodies immédiates, le duo fait résonner les battements d’une langue sans âge et laisse affleurer un désir d’espace et d’altitude que la dimension intimiste de ce genre de projet n’engendre pas toujours. Quelques invités sont venus par ailleurs apporter une touche précieuse, notamment Ara Anderson (à la trompette) et la violoniste Jolie Holland (Brian Miller fut son guitariste attitré sur ses deux premiers albums, ceci expliquant sans doute cela), dont l’émouvante présence sur « The Mountain Tomb » est source de quelques frissons mémorables. Vivement recommandé. Novembre 2005 (Google translation -- it's funny)

Yeats rates Irish bard, playwright, and literary legend William Butler Yeats isn't ordinarily considered the most musical poet of his era – I'd think the sprung rhythms of his elder, Gerard Manley Hopkins, would lend themselves to melody more readily. Yet here we have the Bay Area's Speakers applying the Irish nationalist's works to song. What gives? And what makes the self-released album, "Yeats Is Greats: The Speakers Sing the Poems of W.B. Yeats (and More)" so, uh, greats? Perhaps it's the playful, intimate mixture of ambient instrumentals and balladry that drifts off into reverb-y thrums or fades in with a Doppler-ish drone. Jolie Holland's guitarist Brian Miller and Peter Musselman take their lengthy history making music together – one that goes back to their junior high band in Lancaster, Penn. – and puts it to excellent use, manipulating accordion, violin, banjo, organ, whistles, and more trad pop instrumentation to touching effect on lovely, down-low numbers like "Lost in a Crowd" and "The Delicate Conversation."

--Kimberly Chun, SF Bay Guardian Aug. 24-31, 2005

"Setting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music could have been a colossal flop if, say, Paula Abdul had done it. Not so with the Speakers, whose cooing, hypnotic melodies seem, somehow, like the kind of music the long-dead Irishman would sing if he were alive today.
Borrowing seven of Yeats's poems, a good dose of his lush, dreamy romanticism, and weaving in nine original tunes, the Bay Area-based duo of Peter Musselman and Brian Miller has created something sad and sparkling and fragile. And, in the end, really beautiful.
The best tunes, like the Yeats-penned "The Mountain Tomb," set their hushed Sam Beam-ish voices against an off-kilter-background -- in this case, choppy guitar and a swerving menagerie of horns, clarinet, and haunting violin (the latter courtesy of folkie goddess Jolie Holland). When they converge at the chorus, the effect is spine-tingling.
Only rarely do the Speakers up the decibels -- as on the banjo-crazy 12th track -- but who cares? Their meter is drum-tight, their harmonies flawless; old Yeats would be proud."

--Joel Smith, The Inlander June 22, 2005

"Almost half of the songs on "Yeats Is Greats" are set with poetry of the evocative poet, while the others rise from today's muse and the contemporary worlds of verbal experience. Both the old and new are set to a smoky, atmospheric hush that curls together a sleepy ambient electronic backdrop with a quiet americana, almost lo-fi folk dripping with secrets. It is a delicious combination of the bitter and the succulent, the poetry exquisite and colored with contemporary context. There's a steadiness to be found even in the questioning harmonies and doubtful melodies. This one is a beauty."

--CD Baby June 13, 2005



1 Oh! Hello There (I didn't see you come in)

2 He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead
3 A Cradle Song (featured on NPR's Open Mic podcast)
4 The Mountain Tomb
5 It Goes
6 Hey Little Rat
7 Music for Concertina, Violin, & Russia
8 Lost in a Crowd (Lyrics)
9 The Delicate Conversation
10 The Fool by the Roadside
11 Nothing Ever Dies (Lyrics)
12 To a Man Young and Old
13 The Temp Worker
14 To a Child Dancing in the Wind / Two Years Later
15 An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
16 It looks like Pete has fallen Fast Asleep

Secrete Song


© the speakers