Spielberger has returned with a brand new album, and the duo has added guitars and drums to their wash of ambient noise. Where 2011’s Chrissie’s Last Swim existed in a world of droning hiss and white noise, Jazzy features driving rhythms and enthralling guitar showmanship. The product of Miami-based musicians Bert Rodriguez and Ed Matus, the duo’s third album kicks off with a grand statement, as far as the presence of these two new instruments in the Spielberger mix.
“Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” opens with the roar from a strike to the hot strings of an electric guitar, responded to by the growl of a bass. The instruments sizzle for a couple of seconds in that classic charged reverb only electric guitars can make before the musicians take off, following the thud of a kick drum and clang of a high hat. After a few bars of swelling chords, the rest of the drum kit comes to life and a melody of muddy reverbing guitars tangle and bound along in classic post rock fashion. Almost halfway through the piece, the groove seems to freeze and echo, as the drumming disappears. Throbbing in place for approximately another two minutes, the guitars emit roars and growls that seem impossible to create by the strokes of the strings, recalling shades of the earlier Spielberger. The piece sways and throbs in mid roar, as other sizzling drones grow almost exponentially, spinning off from the array of notes, throbbing, shrieking and pulsing at their own pitches and echoing at various tempos. The drum kit comes alive again with power and zeal, snares, cymbals and all. The shrieks of the ambient drones grow higher until they seem exorcised out of the piece, and the melody returns. After a few bars, the guitar breaks away to slowly start a solo that turns into a frantic pummeling of strings in an aggressive tremolo. As “Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone” grinds to its end, the strings seem to emit little electric speckles of reverb, like the remnants of static hidden in a wool blanket.
The track makes for a thrilling opener to an album firmly in the contemporary world of post-rock, while still reflective of its early roots in minimal ambiance. It marks a positive sign of evolution for the duo. However, as Rodriquez reveals, do not call this a departure. “Actually, the first track, ‘Mistaken, Abandoned and Alone,’ is literally the first song we ever wrote together,” he writes via email from his new home in Los Angeles. “We put it aside because we hadn’t built up other tracks that related to it. The whole album is really the result of several jam sessions we had from before we even released the first EP [“Music for Cruises”]. Almost all of the tracks on this record came from those sessions. I guess we’ve been working on this album from the beginning of our relationship together.”
So guitars do not mark anything that new for the duo, as Rodriguez tells it. “We both play guitar so, whenever we got together, we would plug them in and just write parts until things fit together. We were also constantly experimenting with affecting the guitar sound.”
As described in my earlier profile on this band (Spielberger hold torch proud for ambient music), some moments of Chrissie’s Last Swim, composed mostly through altering sounds on an iPhone app called Mixtikl, sounded like electric guitars. However, the sound of contact between guitar string and pick seemed missing. “We were really obsessed for a while with trying to make the guitars sound as little as a guitar as possible,” Rodriguez states. “I wanted to be able to play guitar but have it sound like a synth.”
Though Spielberger mutated the sound of electric guitars into something original on Chrissie’s Last Swim, it was the first step toward the new album. “That experimentation really helped us find some pretty interesting sounds that you can hear on the record,” Rodriguez says of Jazzy. “In fact, now that I think of it, almost everything on this record, even the two ambient tracks, were created with guitars.”
In a recent phone conversation, Matus says the two recorded the album just as Rodriguez was in the middle of moving to LA, but the mixing took a while longer. Matus notes that it was also important to get the drums sounding realistic, though no real drumming took place. With Jazzy’s rollicking opener, one can practically visualize a drummer raising his arms as high as possible to beat the skins, however, Matus, says, it’s all computer-generated and very carefully produced. Matus had already turned artificial drums into something primal and real-sounding in the past. “Ritual #1,” an instrumental track on the final album by his previous project, the Waterford Landing, In The Heart Of Zombie City, features some nightmarish rhythmic pounding of something akin to an indigenous drum accompanied by tambourine, echoing through what sounds like a giant room inside a derelict building of some wasteland as some alien, mechanical screeching echoes in the background (stream and download the album here). It’s a visceral moment on that final, grand album by the Waterford Landing (also worth checking out is the Bay City Rollers meets chill wave number “Soft Revolution [Blue Flames]”).
Matus says some of the ideas for the pieces off Jazzy came from he and Rodriguez improvising together on guitar. The title track began with the simple, soft pulse of an electronic click track, he says. Matus starts it off with a luscious, grooving but repetitive guitar line and Rodriguez comes in plucking his part out, dropping down the guitar’s neck, like a series of soft, dripping bits of rain on a window’s edge. They wrote the piece as such: two guitars tangling together. They later added bass and rhythm, a move that might seem counter-intuitive to many musicians who piece together music via overdubs while writing or recording. “I don’t think I’ve ever recorded a song like that,” Matus says, “to just plug in our guitars and see what happens.”
Though ambient music pioneer Brian Eno was a major inspiration for the two earlier Spielberger albums, this one features the influence of another pioneer and cohort of Eno’s in the prog rock world: Robert Fripp. When asked about the similarity of “Jazzy” to the work of Fripp with Andy Summers in the early eighties, Rodriguez embraces it as a high compliment. “That was definitely an inspiration, without a doubt,” adds Matus. “A long time ago, when I first heard that stuff, I always thought it was so alien and otherworldly.”
“Jazzy” also found a life outside the album thanks to a famous beer company, and Rodriguez’ higher-profile reputation as a contemporary multi-media artist. Beck’s commissioned Rodriguez for part of its “Artist Series Bottles,” alongside M.I.A., Freegums, Geoff McFetridge, Willy Chyr and Aerosyn-Lex. Rodriguez designed the only text-based label with the loaded statement “Don’t Forget You’re Here Forever” in neon lights. Beck’s created a campaign promoting the artists in this limited edition series and produced a short video documenting Rodriquez’ journey and arrival to LA. The music used in the video is “Jazzy:”
Though the guitar-use is unmistakable, still prevalent in Spielberger’s sound is the creative use of Mixtikl. Though it features some frenetic guitar work, the sound of the guitar in “In the Museum,” sounds like some spasmodic little creature trapped in a gelatinous blob, composed of echoing reverb that washes and wanes over the poor guitar. “Part II – A Boundary Crossed” is a subtle thing of beauty, as the guitar echoes from below the whoosh and calm sparkle of electronics like a ghost. “We just decided to break out the guitars … There are still tracks that are largely Mixtikl-based,” Matus says. “We always wanted it to have that background quality where we wanted it to be floating in the background. Some songs started with a Mixtikl theme.”
Rodriguez sheds further light on the duo’s creative process. “It was never our intention to only use Mixtikl to make music,” he states. “In fact, Ed has hardly used it at all. He likes to use his phone mostly to make beats and use the synth apps that are on there.”
However, Rodriguez appreciates how one cannot completely control the resulting music via the program, as it is just one of many auto-generative applications that can produce its own music via programming. “I’m a little more obsessed with Mixtikl,” Rodriguez confesses. “I think it’s because it ties so much into my art practice. It’s a really unique and non-traditional way to produce compositions. I could use that thing to make music forever really. I really enjoy the fact that you can’t expect 100 percent how the composition will turn out. I like the chance at play there.”
Despite Rodriguez’ relocation, the distance has not stopped the duo from recording and planning follow-up projects to Jazzy. Though this latest album came out only three months ago, the duo is deep into work on follow-ups, including a third full-length album and a physical 7-inch single. “The next album is gonna be called That Championship Season,” Rodriguez says. “My gallery out here offered to produce a limited edition 7-inch so, we’re working on two new ambient tracks for that.”
The 7-inch will mark Spielberger’s first physical release, and will surely become a collectible considering the LA-based art gallery OHWOW would be behind it. As far as other physical media or even working with labels, the duo are happy with their independence. It allows them to release music when they want, no matter how close to their last release date. It also frees up their creativity. “We like a lot of different stuff, we like playing different instruments,” Matus says. “It’s just making music the old fashioned way. It’s the idea that this is us, and we’re going to do what we want. We don’t have anyone to answer to. As long as it comes out honest and real, that’s what matters.”
Spielberger likes to allow the music to speak for itself. Though for sale in cyberspace on sites like iTunes and Amazon (You can support this blog as well as the band by purchasing their album through Amazon links), Matus is fine about giving it away to anyone who might be curious. “It’s there for free if you want to take it,” he says referring to links on the band’s website. “If you want to donate and help us, that’s fine too, and there are people who do that. But the most important thing is for people to have it and listen to it.”
Too often, lately, I have heard lush, layered records only to feel dizzy and nauseous by the end. So-called chill wave has often been a culprit. The redundancies and piercing electronics of bands like Washed Out and Neon Indian annoy more than sooth these ears. Then you have cutesy retro bands like Cults: more high-pitched convolutedness. I found myself hard-pressed to find a decent record last year due to all the self-indulgent, shallow noise hyped by the taste-makers.
Then, this year, a brilliant, refreshing aural experience came along in the form of Bloom by Baltimore-based Beach House. The band has long been recognized for its do-no-wrong dream pop, a genre of music that emerged in the late eighties thanks to bands as divergent as the ethereal Cocteau Twins to the noisy My Bloody Valentine. But even those pioneering bands’ records often felt difficult to endure all the way through. Beach House’s fourth album further proves it has the know-how to balance layered, driving sounds with stark, spare musical moments with a delicate touch.
Over two months ago, the band released “Myth” as a free stream and download on the Internet as a teaser to the new album. Singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand called it a “gateway,” as it also opens the new album. A scratchy beat and the flat ding of a bell offers a deceptively simple opening for a few seconds until the trill of high-ranged keys on an organ, accompanied by Alex Scally’s equally athletic vibrato harmony on a steady-handed electric guitar, somersaults in to overtake the lead. Legrand’s voice joins in as the steady thud of Daniel Franz’ drums grow restless, pounding on in double time. With a booming, patient voice Legrand sings, “Drifting in and out/You see the road you’re on.” The second she sings the first note, a deep hum from the other end of an organ rumbles in accompaniment. Halfway through the song, Scally heralds a change in tone with the lethargic, resonant strum of his instrument like a wave blowing apart on the rocks of a craggy shore. Legrand sings strong and large with a slight echo effect decorating her voice turning the words only slightly unintelligible. Certain words are not completely clear, especially during the chorus. But that is the abstract charm of this record, begging the listener to fill in the gaps with his or her own hearing and interpretation. A few strums later, and the song returns to its driving form for a moment before closing out on ecstatic tremolo guitar work.
“Wild” seems to have a similar construct, but the distinctions are in the details. It opens with a mysterious hiss and hum that could be the processed howl of an organ or the wind across the surface of the ocean. A stuffy, tinny beat appears before a swell of cymbals heralds Scally’s guitar, driving along in cascading licks that chime with a brilliance many might have heard in a song by the Cure. Legrand’s singing is more obscured, which rolls along like the shimmer of pulsing, undulating waves on the surface of the sea. It ends once again with Scally’s tremolo on the higher-end of the fret board. Legrand’s organ offers more of an ambient, drone effect— humming and shimmering chords below the ecstatic work of Scally and the pounding, deep, relentless beat by Franz.
The third track, which already saw release as a 7-inch single for Record Store Day 2012, also arrives with a distinct, spare intro only to be coated in layers of luscious sounds. As a processed electronic pulse and melody is overtaken by swelling organ chords and the boom of Franz’ drum kit, Legrand’s voice finally does not even pretend to sing in English, just pulsing, soft sighs of “huhs.” It makes for another luscious moment, but this time missing Scally’s guitar for the first half of the song. However, his licks return as the song strips back its wall of organs, to bring back the canned electro opening, providing Scally space to offer a beautiful, if subdued gem of a moment on rolling, sliding guitar. “Like no other, you can’t be replaced,” Legrand sings repeatedly, as the song calmly heads towards its fade out.
Three songs in, and the album has only offered a dynamism and familiarity that brings comfort instead of inducing nausea. Beach House crafts songs with a patience and deliberation that highlights and celebrates the players’ talents without sacrificing the entirety of the experience. Bloom never seems to falter, offering one aural treat after another. “The Hours” features a standout hook: a duel between Legrand’s pulsing organ and Scally’s patient slide guitar. Thrown in here and there throughout the album are subtle field recordings. The distant sound of kids on the beach and whispers of “something” or nothing at all open “the Hours.” The sound of cicadas often heard in exterior scenes of Japanese movies appears to cap off “Troublemaker” before disappearing with an odd whistle to make way for the chiming guitar and sighing voices of “New Year.” These are genius little moments that break up the coldness of the interior of a studio or, worse, the zeros and ones of a computer file. Bloom is the sound of nature and the musicians clearly understand their humble roles as channels to the sublime power of music.
The crowning achievement arrives during the trio (or quartet?) of tracks that cap off the album. “Wishes” opens on a soft, spare beat, like many of Bloom’s tracks. The band layers on the melodies with patience: the swell of a high-pitched organ chord, the patter of a canned rhythm track, the noodle of keys, the loop of a guitar line. Chords from sighing organs build as the voices pile up and overlap. Even a masculine voice appears to harmonize for a bit. Scally’s guitar detours into a driving, Gothic hook, pauses a moment to allow Legrand space to sing the chorus and returns with a high-pitched tremolo. The song turns back to its driving layers of melody, and there is a distinct pause for silence after the fade out.
“On the Sea” takes the album into a maintained, spare melody unheard of in quality until now. It fades in like a light gradually illuminating the darkness. Only a ringing guitar and sprightly piano melody bound along as Legrand sings, “Out on the sea we’d be forgiven…” Franz offers a persistent thump on the bass drum like the click of a metronome. The only intricate rhythm is the persistent melody of piano and guitar. A minute in and Scally’s tremolo work breaks it down and another shimmering hum emerges subtly from the depths. The song becomes steadily ecstatic as the twirls of minimal, airy organs build like the persistent repetition of the music of Philip Glass. Legrand’s voice is almost operatic as the music swells and then eases back to the same, spare opening. It fades to give way to the rumble of what again sounds like the wind slicing across the surface of the sea.
The hiss continues as “Irene” starts forming on the swelling hum of what sounds like the deep rumble of a Farfisa or Harmonium organ. An old, canned scratchy beat appears as the minimalist pulse of a guitar persists in a dynamic pull and tug, as if waiting to explode only to recede again. There is a little climb to bright melody before a detour back to the minor-key tug-of-war of dynamics. “Irene” seems to expand and reduce in dynamics until the layers of melodies pause, allowing Scally to explore every stroke of his electric guitar. He repeats and repeats and repeats each stroke. Every lash is a growing mark of anticipation toward the edge of climax. “It’s a strange paradise,” sighs Legrand, as other layers of equally repetitive melodies emerge and coat each other, unfolding in a patient, droney jam session of swelling organs, intricate guitar lines and splashing crashes of cymbals. As the sound expands on each refrain with Scally’s vicious tremolo, Legrand slowly and rhythmically repeats: “It’s a strange paradise.” The band seems to delight in exploring a simple groove that grows more entrancing with each refrain. It grows over the final two-and-a-half minutes of the six-and-a-half minute song to peter off suddenly in one last quiver of tremolo that echoes away into a fade out.
The finale of “Irene” is so ecstatic that the band grants the listener seven minutes of silence before a little tape hiss arrives to apply the bandage after the aural gutting from such a din of ecstasy. A steady tap of a drum beat fades in, and the quiet quaver of guitar accompanied by the high-pitched pulse of an organ emerge. Legrand’s voice bounces rapidly from speaker to speaker in an enhanced stereophonic effect distinctive from the other songs on Bloom. This hidden track is spare but seems to come from another dimension. It offers a quiet moment of relief at the end of one of Beach House’s grandest accomplishments. It has been a couple of years since this listener has heard an album that offered as complete a listening experience as Bloom.
Finally, on the vinyl format of this album, I have yet to hear it, but Legrand mentioned recording a lot of the album to tape, and of course, the band did enter a proper studio (Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas) to spend seven weeks recording Bloom. Audiophiles agree analog tape is the best source for analog vinyl. Sub Pop have promised to send a copy of the double vinyl soon, so expect this post to see an up-date after a spin on the home hi-fi. Edit: the up-date has been posted: Vinyl review: Beach House – ‘Bloom’
Miami area tie-in: Local Miami-based indie record shop Sweat Records will host “The Bloom Happy Hour Release Party,” on the album’s official release date, this Tuesday, May 15, from 5 to 7 p.m. They will offer complimentary drinks for those 21 and over whilst playing the CD in its entirety. Attendees can also expect special prizes from Sub Pop Records. (Note: Sub Pop supplied an advance copy of Bloom in early April for the purpose of this review and the linked interviews with Legrand).
It was supposed to be an “Entertainment Weekly” exclusive premiere, and it even had an interview with Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, now it’s just an “error page.” Who knows why Arcade Fire’s new song, “Abraham’s Daughter,” written and recorded for the Hunger Games soundtrack was deleted from the Internet, but this is the Internet, people. Nothing can be deleted for good.
I found the mp3. Download it by clicking through here:
The track is rather uneventful despite the hype (and, man, is the hype machine in high gear for everything Hunger Games). I doubt it will win over too many new fans. It’s a brooding little piece with string and hurdy-gurdy player Reginne Chassagne taking lead vocals. It seems to be all soft build-up to nothing … unless it serves as the prelude to the Kid Cudi song that follows it on the full soundtrack (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase on Amazon). It certainly has the Arcade Fire style, but it sounds like filler. Devotees should love it just for the fact that it is now closing on two years since Arcade Fire released any new music since the Suburbs (Why Arcade Fire deserved that Grammy [February 14, 2011]).
On the theme of the song, he said, “Our whole approach was to get into the world and try to create something that serves the story and the film. There’s something in the story of Abraham and Isaac that I think resonates with the themes in the film, like sacrificing children. So we made a weird, alternate-universe version of that.”
On the writing of the song: “I tried to put myself in the headspace of how excited I’d be if this film was coming out when I was 15. I still remember hearing Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (for a Film)’ in [Baz Luhrmann's] ‘Romeo + Juliet’ when I was that age.”
February 28, 2012
Radiohead kicked off its US tour in support of its latest album, the King of Limbs, Monday night with a sold out show at the AmericanAirlines Arena. It marked the first time the alt-rock legends performed a show in Miami since they opened for REM in support of the Bends in the mid-nineties. Much has changed in those 20 years since Radiohead’s sophomore release. Fans of REM have faded, as that band has broken up while Radiohead has now (as of this post, at least) eclipsed REM as far as relevance in the independent rock world.
Radiohead are probably a rarity among independent music scene, in order to sell out an arena all by itself without the help of endorsements, heavy commercial radio play and a major label. Add to that the notion that the band has re-invented its sound so many times since its last Miami arena show as an opening act (kids, I’ve been there from the beginning, as this post documents: Radiohead tribute show in Miami, allow me a few words on said band), while still maintaining its line-up all these years (though this show saw the addition of a sixth member), they rendered any music from the Bends, not to mention, its predecessor Pablo Honey, the album that spawned “Creep,” irrelevant. In fact, Monday night saw no selections of those albums in Radiohead’s set list. A couple of dips into OK Computer sounded like nostalgia, in fact, and set a new tone to the show during the first encore. Really, like its new album, Radiohead felt mellowed out. But below burbled a surface of subtle complexity: a moody but mellow show, punctuated by lyrics of grumbling ambivalence to man’s place in existence. It’s almost a fluke miracle that this band has achieved a popular following so strong that it can sell out an arena on the strength of its name alone.
From my view, way far off in the lower level stands, people mostly sat or stood. Some ate nachos and pretzels and drank beer. The King of Limbs could indeed be the group’s most low-key album to date, and I think it’s a grand, if short work. The quieter and slower the record sounded, the better. A highlight moment has to be the coupling of “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost.” The latter being the stronger of the two. Its pastoral gorgeousness threw me back to Pink Floyd, in the use of acoustic guitar and tweeting birds. It’s probably the album’s slowest song, at that, but, man, when Radiohead ratchets down the mood, they know how to do it.
Though I posted about what was then the surprise announcement of the new album (Radiohead’s new full-length out this Saturday), I never offered later opinions on it. For the record, my views on the King of Limbs has wavered over these months. I have spun the biodegradablely packaged “newspaper” 10–inch vinyl edition only once. I was quite annoyed by the interruption of the track flow between “Codex” and “Giving Up the Ghost,” and feel so strong about it, I might just get the 12-inch version for home listening. In the end, King lacks the dynamism of In Rainbows, but it still has the intelligent and distinctive songcraft one might expect from Radiohead, and they play mellow so well, even if the beats get hyper.
So how did the album translate live? Radiohead even performed every song from the album except “Little By Little,” probably the weakest and most annoying track on the album, anyhow. I will jump ahead to their keen live version of the album’s closer, “Separator,” which closed the band’s first set:
By now you will have noticed the visual side of this show. Like the In Rainbows Tour (the only Radiohead show I have caught since I saw them open up for Belly in support of Pablo Honey in Miami Beach) video screens were a key element. That show happened two counties to the north, in West Palm Beach, at the Cruzan Amphitheater. But the drive was certainly worth it. That show featured a light show that trumped the venue’s jumbotrons, which were shut off for the duration of the performance. The set came alive with varying close-up images of the band members, as they performed, which pulsed in an array of colors. I made my own videos, way off from the front of the lawn, and it still looked cool. Here’s one of those, which though cut, highlights their use of screens during that tour, four years earlier:
This one is a particular favorite due to the fact that even a plane flying overhead did not do anything to break the mood:
More videos I recorded that night can be found on YouTube that show it was one of the few performances that still paid off from a distance. The show last night also worked thanks to the screen use. During last night’s show, as many as 12 different angles of the band members shifted and floated into an array of positions on the square screens, flashing in various color templates for each song. It made for a dynamic experience and helped highlight the subtleties between the songs. The only time all the screens folded away came during the presentation of one of two new songs, “Cut a Hole,” hinting at its work-in-progress state. Radiohead fans in the presence of its debut in a live setting may have wet themselves, but I found the track rather uneventful. I would have to hear it a few more times to pass solid judgement, and, who knows the band might change it up. Luckily, someone standing up front recorded it for yourselves to judge:
I did happen to record the other new song of the night, “Identikit,” which had a nice building, dynamic quality:
The screens on stage did not always focus on the band. Besides abstract images, frontman Thom Yorke’s face filled them up during “You and Whose Army?”
But the highlight is indeed the music, which proves to be something beyond pop music and trendy hipster rock. Radiohead is among a very few group of bands that still holds my attention, since I first heard them in the early nineties. There is a classic quality to its music that harkens to British rock’s early forays in redefining pop music with experimentation popularized by the likes of the Beatles and carried on by King Crimson and David Bowie. The seriousness of the musicians’ awareness of this was on full display in Miami last night, and it only left me looking forward to more. Here are the other videos I captured that night:
I was surprised to see a sell out show at the AAA in Miami because of the largely low-key experience that is King of Limbs, which did not receive close to as much critical praise and hype as In Rainbows. If the focus on the new album, minus “Little By Little,” did not establish a tone for this show, I do not know what did.
This was a show for diehard Radiohead fans. There was even the inclusion of OK Computer B-side “Meeting in the Aisle,” a mellow, mood-setting instrumental that fit cozily among the King of Limbs tracks. Though I was surrounded by what indeed seemed locals, I had noticed many commenting on Radiohead boards before the show that they were coming from out of town for this show, seeing as it was the kick-off to the band’s US tour in support of the King of Limbs. The coverage was swift and even saw YouTube videos and set list recordings as the show unfolded at the fansite At Ease. Though my wife (she’s the photographer here) and I kept track of the songs during the show, here is the set list courtesy of At Ease, which I verified based on my notes for accuracy. This is correct:
02. The Daily Mail
03. Morning Mr. Magpie
05. The National Anthem
06. Meeting In The Aisle
07. Kid A
08. The Gloaming
10. You And Whose Army?
13. Lotus Flower
14. There There
20. Cut A Hole (new song debut)
21. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
22. Give Up The Ghost (with a false start)
24. Karma Police
My only complaint would be the cavernous sound of the arena, adding an echo that felt annoying. Play any video I captured in 2008 at the open-air Cruzan and compare it to these to hear for yourself.
The show went on for nearly two hours, following the enchanting support act Other Lives, from Oklahoma. Be sure to arrive on time in order to not miss this chamber rock ensemble, who employ effective use of glockenspiel, cello and violin as well as more traditional rock instruments like guitars and piano. It all swells and rides along nicely and seems to fit in well with today’s folk/psyche/dream-pop indie rock scene. Here are two videos I recorded from their brief, shamefully ignored set (apologies for the chatter around these recordings):
Other Lives found another good fit as the warm up act to Bon Iver prior to taking on the task as opener for Radiohead. They were excellent and the complexity of the band set up did justice to the recordings. The band has offered both of the songs I captured above as free live streams on the band’s website.
You can see the remaining Radiohead tour dates here.
February 20, 2012
If one misconception has plagued the man behind the expressionistic, retro-infused handle Ursula 1000 over his 10-plus-years of recording original music and spinning records as a club DJ it may be the notion that he cannot play an instrument. After all, he plays all the instruments on Mondo Beyondo, the latest record by his alter ego Ursula 1000, released on ESL Music, including drums, guitar, bass, organs and synthesizers. I first met him as a drummer in the Miami band 23. His life as a DJ and Ursula 1000 would come years later. Speaking via phone from his Williamsburg home in New York, he notes that for the first time in 10 years, he is working to put together a band for a small summer or fall US tour. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a while,” he says. “Having played in 23 and stuff in Miami. I miss performing live.”
Though the Ursula 1000 band remains in the planning stages, it seems a longtime coming. He has released five albums under the alias, which pays tribute to iconic sixties actress Ursula Andress (she of the famed bikini in Dr. No) while also acknowledging the futuristic optimism of her heyday era in the quadruple digit tag. He has led a jet-setting lifestyle that has seen him touring the world as a DJ with appearances at giant music festivals and hip nightclubs since the late nineties.* His albums have a style that sounds like a pastiche of sixties pop music run through an electro-dance blender, leading to the notion that he is a sample-based DJ. “I think for me it would be a personal victory,” he says about performing live music, “so people would see that, yeah, this guy can actually play this stuff. There’s still people that see me touring as a DJ, but they know I have albums out. It’s hard for them to connect the dots, and they say, ‘So what is it that you do exactly?’”
What he does is weave together nostalgic sounds from the sixties, be it swinging, jazzy pop or psychedelic rock with modern sounds and some crazy dance beats. He walks me through a quick overview of his oeuvre. “The First two albums were the first two albums,” he says of 1999′s The Now Sound of Ursula 1000 and 2002′s Kinda’ Kinky. “Those were the ones that were very sixties-influenced, and there was some fifties, kind of Latin Cha-cha, mambo kind of elements.”
He followed them up with 2005′s Here Comes Tomorrow and 2009′s Mystics. “Then I started bringing in new wave influences that I loved and post punk and glam rock from the seventies and even sounds that were inspired by my DJ sets,” he says. “So I was very much making a record that was kind of listenable at home but also kind of DJ-friendly, too.”
Mondo Beyondo came out in August of last year. It seems to bring together the past and the present in the most organic way possible for an Ursula 1000 record. “With this one, I tried avoiding things like dub step and any flavor-of-the-month kind of rhythms,” he says. “I had been going back to some of my sixties roots, listening to garage rock and mod soul and all this kind of stuff. I was like, I’m just going to put something out that I want to hear. It wasn’t influenced by current trends, and I thought I may get total shit for this coz people may be thinking, ‘Oh, God, this guy is kinda living in the past,’ or kind of treading old ground, but surprisingly, reviews were very positive. It was nice to see that because I was expecting reviews to really rip me with it. With things like Pitchfork and these kind of trendsetter, taste-maker kind of people, if you’re not like this flavor-of-the-month kind of thing, like chillwave or something, or whatever the hell it’s called, then it’s [not cool] … I just want to do something that I really like and I really dig.”
Here’s the title track’s official video:
When it comes to music that he listens to, it runs a wide range of styles. But a lot of it moves forward while still acknowledging the past. He notes an appreciation for Seahawks, who he says, sound like yacht rock while also incorporating a dub influence, like the Orb. He has an affection for the work of Tame Impala, who he says have a warm, psychedelic soft rock sound. He also lauds Toy, a young band from England influenced by shoegaze music.
Though Gimeno counted himself a fan of shoegaze back in the early nineties (in fact he and his mates in 23 produced music that easily fit into that genre of dreamy, swirly music), he has recently fallen back in love with many of those bands. Just last month he compiled a mix of obscure shoegaze on his Soundcloud:
In fact, Gimeno says, he is on the way to completing an EP of original music that pays some respect to the genre and should see release this summer. He says the music is so far removed from an Ursula 1000 record, he has decided to release it under another alias: Impossible Objects. “I have this mini-LP almost done,” he says. “It’s not as eclectic as an Ursula 1000 record. This definitely sounds like it’s this one band playing this thing … I just love the droney guitar kind of stuff. It’s kind of a shoegazy, droney, space-rock guitar sort of thing, but there’s also heavy synthesizer work in it. So there’s also a Giorgio Moroder [influence], almost like John Carpenter, seventies horror soundtrack stuff,” he says with a laugh.
It marks an almost logical step for Gimeno, who just produced his most organic and flowing Ursula 1000 record to date. In fact, he says, this album originated from a more melodic instrument than the beats he is more accustomed to beginning a song with. “Since I’ve been playing a lot more guitar lately it’s been actually starting, in some cases, from riffs,” he says. “In the beginning, since drums were my main instrument, I used to start with rhythms, and now things have gotten a lot more melodic. I’ve been more confident with my playing, so now I can actually pick up a bass or guitar and actually work out a riff like a traditional band would.”
One guitar riff that stands out in Mondo Beyondo is the one that drives “Don’t Get Your Panties in a Bunch.” He says, “That lock grove, Krautrock-inspired, whatever you want to call it, I’ve always loved that. It’s funny because I didn’t get into Can or any of that stuff until way after the fact. I got into people like Stereolab, you know, like people who were emulating that stuff after the fact.”
Speaking of Stereolab, who happen to feature a French vocalist, another track on Mondo Beyond of note is “Repetez Le Repertoire,” which features another kind of Krautrock influence: the incongruous electronic rhythmic pulses of Kraftwerk. It also features the sensual voice of Isabelle Antena, who primarily reigned in the post punk/art rock, samba-influenced band from France called Antena, during the early eighties. Gimeno says he did a remix for her and always talked about collaborating. “I was re-listening to the first Deee-Light album, which is such a big record and a huge influence also for me too, just the way they were kind of handling samples, so I had this very bubbling kind of electronic track, and I thought it has this kind of French thing, and I asked her and she was down for it.”
Probably the biggest name who collaborated on Mondo Beyondo is Fred Schneider of the B-52s. He sings on the second track, “Hey You.” Gimeno says they both had a mutual friend who wanted the two to meet. It never happened but, during one fateful airplane trip from a gig in the Midwest, Gimeno noticed him on board. Gimeno says he gathered the courage to approach him in baggage claim after landing in New York, and he introduced himself dropping their mutual friend’s name. When Schneider asked Gimeno what he did, Gimeno told him about Ursula 1000. “Oh, I think I have all your albums!” Schneider responded.
Gimeno could not believe it. “I was shocked. How crazy. So we just swapped info,” he says, “He has this side project called the Superions, which is him and two guys from Orlando. They do this weird kind of electro-pop stuff, and I did a remix of one of their tracks, and that’s kind of how we broke the ice.”
Schneider happens to live in Manhattan, and Gimeno offered him a track of instrumental music that needed vocals. He came over to record it in Gimeno’s home studio. “It was great,” Gimeno says. “It was real super easy to work with him. He had this great book of lyrics. It was all so super quick, just right in the pocket.”
Gimeno says he and Schneider continue to work together. “I’ll be producing some tracks for the upcoming Superions album,” he says.
Collaborating on projects beyond his own albums is nothing new for Gimeno. He also will be producing music for the Japanese pop singer Izumi’s forthcoming album, and he recently finished a remix for an an upcoming compilation from Waxploitation called Future Sounds of Buenos Aires.”
Despite his international exposure. Gimeno still comes across as the down-to-earth music and comic book geek I first met as the owner of Bam! Comics and Graphic Novels in North Miami, when he lived in South Florida, back in the early nineties. The cover art of Mondo Beyondo harkens back to his love of comic books, as the illustrations come from an obscure comic book called “Mod Love,” by French pop artist Michel Quarez (he was then uncredited) written by Michael Lutin. “I’ve always been a comic book nerd,” Gimeno says. “I love the genre and stuff, and there’s this comic book that I heard about called “Mod Love,” which came out in 1967 or something like that, and it was this very psychedelic, Peter Max, Yellow Submarine kind of groovy art thing. Totally impossible to find. It was like from some weird, small publisher. I finally found one on eBay last year, after years of hunting for this thing. When I got it, it was just page after page of really beautiful art. As I was working on the album, I kept thinking to myself, this is the artwork for the album, but how the hell am I going to license this stuff because I don’t think the publisher exists anymore. And then I finally tracked down the writer. He does astrology for ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine, and he must have done this comic book when he was like 20 or something. It turned out he had the rights for it.”
Gimeno approached Lutin and told him what he had planned for it, expressing his love for sixties mod culture and psychedelia. Lutin asked Gimeno for his astrology sign and then granted him the license to use it as cover art. “He saw that my intentions were true,” Gimeno says, “and he was super cool with it. It was nice to have something that wasn’t a fourth generation or fifth generation. It was like an artifact of that era.”
Though the album first came out on CD and MP3 back in August, it was not until December that a large format, double LP, gatefold vinyl release saw the light of day to do the art proper justice. “It’s so weird,” Gimeno says, “the physical world is kind of diminishing right now. To get CDs or vinyl pressed nowadays is like pulling teeth. I really wanted this out, even from a limited kind of standpoint.”
Only 500, hand-numbered vinyl copies saw release, and two months later only a few remain at select shops (Amazon seems to still have a few in stock, as of this posting). “It’s weird because 500 now is like 3,000 from like six years ago. When I first got on the label [ESL Music] vinyl was very healthy. To press like 2500 or 3,000 of a 12-inch single for me, it’s like not a problem at all. Now if you do that, it’s like ‘Wow!’”
Gimeno also notes that he recently heard of Neil Young’s rant regarding the loss of sound quality in the digital sound of MP3s, which seems to be the preferred format of the music industry nowadays. “He broke it down in a weird way,” he says of Young. “He had broken it down to decibels and how like even good quality mp3s are like some kind of weird decibel, and there’s this whole body of sound being lost because of it.”
As a DJ, Gimeno is very sensitive to vinyl, and he’s noticed audiences do not seem to care, especially in the clubs. “It’s almost like how loud can you go than the subtleties of the track,” he says. “It’s not even about sound quality anymore. It’s completely like who can be the loudest,” he says with a laugh, noting that it is all about rattling the speakers over the sound of the music. “It’s always like how far can I push this subsonic bass thing.”
But now he is concerning himself with how to recreate his recordings in the purest way possible: a live setting with a band. Besides only two “pseudo live shows” Gimeno has never performed the music of Ursula 1000 in a band. “One was at the World Trade Center,” he says, “at the Windows of the World that used to be at the very top of the building. There was this really cool party that was going on when we first moved here. It was kind of like playing a lot of that J-pop that was around at the time, like Pizzacato 5 and a lot of this lounge revival mixed with a lot of the clubbier [music]. It was interesting. Then Marissa [Gimeno, his wife, who also appears on Mondo Beyondo] and I did a live thing recently in Washington DC in October. But it was very stripped down: bass guitar and beats that were prerecorded, kind of like the Kills.”
If he is going to perform Ursula 1000 music in a band setting, Gimeno says he wants to do it right and also stage a proper show. “I just want to do something cool,” he says. “Like some visual revue thing … A lot of times when people do a live thing, especially when they are in the same boat as I am, they might be this one-man-band that’s electronically-based, sometimes they’ll do a live thing where it’s just them and a laptop, and I really don’t want to do that. I feel like it’s kind of cheating. I really want to do something where I’m stripping everything away and rebuilding it back live … It’s going to happen.”
So far, Ursula 1000 has the following DJ dates lined up, including some dates in Miami
- Feb. 24–Moondoo/Hamburg, Germany
- Feb. 25–Lila Eule/Bremen, Germany
- Mar. 13-18–South By Southwest/Austin, featuring Ms. G
- Apr. 20–Sweat Records pre-party in the garden at Vagabond/Miami
*He only recently returned from the Green Plugged Red Festival in Seoul, Korea. It was his fourth appearance there over the years.
February 13, 2012
You can now hear the entirety of the newly remastered Weed Forestin album, the debut recording by Sebadoh. OK, for the sake of historical accuracy, it has been re-attributed to Sentridoh, what was then the solo project of Lou Barlow. Either way, it is the debut recording of the Sebadoh mastermind, recorded at home in the late 1980s, during the early days of Dinosaur Jr., the more famous band for which he also sang and played bass.
You can now stream the whole thing here:
As Barlow promised in my interview with him (Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow talks beginning with ‘Weed Forestin’ (soon to be reissued on LP): an Indie Ethos Exclusive [Part 1 of 2]), there is also a limited edition vinyl record. He had told me only 500 would be pressed, “because no more than 500 people want that record,” but that number has now increased to 800. There is an even smaller run of cassettes (only 100). You can also buy a deluxe edition that includes both cassette, vinyl, MP3s and Child of the Apocalypse, a cassette of outtakes from these sessions, recorded between 1986-88. It can all be ordered here, at Sentridoh’s bandcamp:
Finally, if you want to hear the whole remastered package, including Child of the Apocalypse, you can do that as well. Sentridoh’s bandcamp site is also offering a stream of that “second” album featuring many interesting outtakes, including a faster, more countrified “I Believe in Fate” and alternate versions of “Poledo” the catalyst of this album, which first appeared on the Dinosaur Jr. album Your Living All Over Me:
Or you can just download the MP3s, another purchase option. But as this is mastered straight from Barlow’s first generation master tapes, the vinyl should prove to be the most interesting difference as far as reproducing the analog sound of the source. But that will not head out until the end of March (the 27th, to be exact). You can pre-order everything right now, however.
But just listening to the live streams proves a revelatory experience. There are some instantly noticeable differences. As Barlow said during my interview with him: the hiss has been virtually erased. But the character of the album’s lo-fi quality has not been compromised, even if it does sound different. The vocals are clearer and words jump out that seemed obscured in the earlier versions of this album. Still, “Jealous of Jesus” has that weird sound quality shift at the center before the collage tape coda, an idiosyncratic but important mood element to the album’s organic quality. You can hear birds in the background of “More Simple,” something I had not noticed until now. As “Brand New Love” starts, the tape has picked up the sound of crickets, adding to its moody, nocturnal quality. Heck, I just heard a car horn briefly blaring in the distance during “Feeding Evil.”
There are also a few surprises in there as far as true changes to songs. “Ride the Darker Wave” has some extra percussion during its coda. The crazed ending of “Brand New Love” featuring remnants of a trio of widely varying songs from folky country to death metal has disappeared. Yes, this Weed Forestin is different, and there is more to notice by anyone who feels they know the album like the back of their hand. However, the soul of the album remains intact. It still has a youthful, pseudo-intellectual mentality that preceded Bright Eyes’ pioneering of the “emo” scene.
I shall close this post with one more bonus included in the deluxe package. According to the press material, more than a decade ago, Barlow received a VHS cassette from a fan featuring an animated video for “Brand New Love.” You can watch it here: