The Frail Ophelias

Listen. I know I say what I am about to say at grave risk to my reputation as an established and, I hope, respected member of the local music press. Much of this job hinges on not just paying attention to what’s happening in music, but being able to suss out what’s cool in music. At age 32, my credibility in the field of cool is diminishing by the hour, so making this call is likely not going to do my rep any favors.

Still, the most impressive thing I heard out of the Bay Area this year was by a Shakespeare cover band.

That’s not to say nothing else coming out of the Bay impressed me at all this year: Ah Mer Ah Su ruled my summer with “Heartbreaker;” I’m a sucker for the twang of Goodnight, TexasConductor and the spooky, seductive sound bath of Cruel Diagonals (who has since relocated); and I’m keeping a close eye on this unofficial folk-pop collective that spans Jeremy Lyon, Cody Rhodes, Kelly McFarling, Kendra McKinley, and just about every local musician you love.

But consider this: I am also a former drama geek. As a teen, I participated a whole lot in my school and community theater programs, but once I got to college I just…stopped.

That tiny little part of me that still loves the stage has to get funneled somewhere. As a kid, I balanced my love of the theat-ahhh with the sweaty, freewheeling world of my local punk scene. So it’s natural that, as an adult, I gravitate towards “big” music — whether that’s the frenzied verses of Ezra Furman, the booming background noises of Be the Cowboy, or the daunting scale and scope of writing an entire album in a nearly-extinct language.

The Frail Ophelias released their first record, based on the text of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, earlier this year, and it takes my love of “big” really literally. Honestly, at some points, it’s even a little too literal for me — as Ophelias mastermind Karl Digerness said himself, the phrase “Shakespeare cover band” invites almost a reflexive eye roll. But as I said back on Halloween, the Frail Ophelias’ Macbeth does not simply rest on its “Ooh, look, a band based on the works of Shakespeare” laurels. Especially for a freshman record, it’s unimpeachably beautiful.

So beautiful, in fact, that I’m certain this album could have been about damn near anything — taking the powers that be to task, gentrification, a now-extinct breed of butterfly (more on that here) — Digerness could have sung the freakin’ phone book and I know I’d still be writing a gushing Best-Of post about it right now. More striking than the novelty of seeing someone interpret an old theme with such skill is Digerness’ musical ability itself. I’m so glad I was introduced to him this year, and I’m hoping shouting about his Macbeth project on this little blog will inspire even more members of the local music community to collaborate with him in 2019.

Macbeth is gorgeous. It is a vital contribution to our music ecosystem here in the Bay. And if you like “big” music like I do, I implore you: Listen to it before the year is out.