Throughout the myriad works of
Toronto-based musician Sandro Perri, the
exploration of melodics have been a constant. This new album,
Impossible Spaces, picks up on the minimalism of
his solo debut- but frequently has more in common with Perri's 2005
release, the 28 minute electro cover of Arthur Russell's 'Kiss Me
Again'. And while initial listens may find you put off by some
melodic imprecision, multiple spins reveal Impossible Spaces to be an
album rich with composition and nuance, one that draws from Perri's
dance-past as much as his avant-folk leanings. The result is a
smashed palette of an album, one that zips and collects as it does
After a four year composition
and recording process, Impossible Spaces is by
far Sandro Perri's most technically accomplished work. Whereas
previous albums under the Glissandro70 or Polmo Polpo monickers have
been interesting, rounded wholes- their aesthetics (the reinvention
of disco and a meditation on drawn-out melody respectively) seem
smaller than the statements laid out here. This is an album that is
musically and thematically broad, contradictory, abundant with
varying voices and styles that over the records seven tracks find a
unifying sense of itself. The album title hints at something
conflicted and a call/response structure to many of the song duos and
transitions between play off the sense of dichotomy very well. Album
opener 'Changes' exemplifies this dualistic structure, its first half
comprising ambling song, the second relenting to dance-prog noodlings
that build and build. The album is sequenced wonderfully, as
demonstrated by the pained and awkward musings of 'How Will I?' - the
kind of track that Flaming Lips might have used to end an album, here
used to round off the first epoch before moving into the beautiful
simplicity of 'Futuractive Kid Part 1'.
That's a phrase I keep coming
back to, for while the composition is rich with detail- the
instrumentation and recording is just sublime in its simplicity. A
limited scope of three or four base instruments are accentuated by
the subtlest and most precise of studio effects. Impossible
Spaces sounds low-fi and high-tech all at once, and
beneath the albums semantics there are some stunning pieces of
musicianship here. There's a lot to take in, a broad scope for styles
across the record's 38 minutes- fans of Hot Chip and Nick Drake's
Bryter Layter may find a lot to enjoy distinctly here, but those are
but approximations. Impossible Spaces is the
sound of an artist making his most crucial statement yet. For those
who have followed Perri from his days inaugering Constellation, this
album feels like the artist stepping beyond his own back catalogue.
For newcomers, this marks an ideal point of entry, but there's a
wealth of recordings that have led the artist to this very
would play their first London gig at Electrowerkz, an idiosyncratic
venue renowned for its goth nights and clubbing. Given their hiatus,
it was perhaps a wonder that the band were here at all- but Esmerine
enjoyed the breath of new life in 2011 when expanding from a duo to a
five piece. Here, perhaps suitably, the material found an appropriate
embellishment in the fuller ensemble. The tour came on the back of a
new record, the excellent and indeed surprising La
Lechuza- an album which became a personal favourite this
year. Drawing from chamber music as much as ballad and folk, the
record moved Esmerine's sound beyond the 'post rock lite' and into a
more rounded whole. Lyric and vocal contributions (including a
performance from the late Lhasa De Sela, for whom the record is
dedicated) tinged La Lechuza with bittersweet,
knowing memories, a sense of time and place and loss. If the record
is sad, then it is also profoundly beautiful.
We'd gathered in the dark second
chamber and were sat cross legged on the floor before Esmerine walked
through us from the venue's rear and took their instruments. There
was no 'backstage' area to speak of, and it was lovely to meet the
group before the gig, hustled by the merch stall. I've long been of
the belief that a band should never employ roadies, that in doing so
you kiss goodbye to any punk rock sense of authenticity, and there
was a similarly unpretentious atmosphere here. Between songs, cellist
Beckie Foon (also of Godspeed You! Black Emperor,
formerly of A Silver Mt Zion) would speak to us
without a microphone, and in truth the stage setting seemed more of a
formality than a theatrical necessity.
Esmerine played for just under an hour,
a set comprised of numbers taken mostly from La
Lechuza but the group pleasingly paid dues to their strong
back catalogue too. Indeed, their debut album If Only A
Sweet Surrender To The Nights To Come Be True was
represented well, the stunning drawn out beauty of 'There Were No
Footprints In The Dust Behind Them' given an early recital in the
billing. But it was the material from La Lechuza
that resonated strongest, in particular the absolutely joyous
'Trampolin'. A jangly ditty; centred around harmonised marimba and
harp notes and underpinned by rising, trembling cello chords-
'Trampolin' is by far the most uplifting moment on La
Lechuza and it lost none of its power in the live setting.
Elsewhere, harpist Sarah Page gave an excellent sung performance on
the Lhasa De Sela cover 'Fish On Land'.
Throughout the concert, Esmerine seemed
perfectly enthused to be here touring, and delighted with the warm
responses their performances would elicit from the crowd. Smiles
abounded, and although the stage was small and the band hustled in
between each other- there remained a closeness between the musicians
that was evident in the reflected expressions between them onstage.
For such meditative music, Esmerine made for a charming spectacle as
a band. This visual impact was accentuated by the work of visual
artist Clea Minaker, who resided side stage broadcasting live
graphics and images on the rear stage canopy. These deserve a special
mention, as they were performed live and with good grace. An overhead
projector made for a canvas as Minaker blew leaves and feathers
across the light, or patchwork translucents- all making for a
beautiful real-time animation that would adorn the music. A live
reaction to it, then- painted in colour and mood, occasionally
awkward but endearing throughout and a lovely element to accompany
the band on tour.
Esmerine left once, but quickly
returned- an unending torrent of applause humbling the band into
performing two encore pieces. A sense of humour and eccentricity
pervaded their stories throughout, Sarah and Beckie frequently
introducing the lengthy chamber pieces as 'pop songs'- but it was the
concert closer that perhaps played the biggest double-bluff of the
night. Entitled 'Glock Rock', it was perhaps exactly that- an
otherwise out-of-character foray into high-tempo glockenspiel action,
ramped to eleven and accompanied by some frenetic drumming. If you've
never heard glockenspiels used as rock instruments before then you're
missing out. This was Esmerine's first UK tour, and for many in the
crowd it marked an opportunity to see a beloved band- this much was
clear from the response and by the number of people who hung around
afterward to converse with the group, who were clearly taken aback by
the warmth in the crowd.
Esmerine played their first European
tour recently, performing material from their acclaimed third album
La Lechuza. The 405 was afforded the opportunity to speak with
founding member Beckie Foon and we jumped at the chance. As a member
of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Set Fire To Flames and A Silver Mt
Zion- Beckie Foon has been at the centre of some of my favourite
music and has consistently upheld a recording and publication ethic
that puts localism and creativity above profit making and careerism.
It was a real pleasure to sit with her and have this conversation
before Esmerine played at the Electrowerkz venue in London.
Amir Adhamy/the 405: Evening Beckie.
It's lovely to meet with you.
Beckie Foon: You too. Hope you enjoy
the show tonight!
405: I'm looking forward to it a great
deal. Esmerine has gone from being a duo to now incorporating many
members. How has that evolution been?
BF: Bruce and I were very interested in
exploring the world of melodic percussion and cello when we started,
especially based with our groups, our punk rock groups and also
because we were in loud bands. And so it was nice to think about
stripping it down and really thinking collaboratively about using
these wooden beautiful instruments that we might not have got to
fully explore their potential in our loud rock bands, so initially it
was borne out of that- we wanted to try something different. And so
that's kind of how Esmerine was born. For this album, well- we were
never actually planning on recording a third record. Not that we
'weren't planning' a third record, we just hadn't thought through it,
or were too busy with everything else going on in our lives- even
though we'd always stayed vaguely active, doing performances in
405: And jamming yourselves, as well?
BF: Yeah. But we would actually do a
lot of shows in Montreal, we just never took Esmerine on tour before.
It was all Silver Mt Zion or Godspeed, the other commitments. So what
happened was that we'd started playing live with Lhasa De Sela, she'd
asked us to open up for her as a duo in Montreal. So we did that
show, and we met her band and we all really connected. And from
there, Bruce and I became more and more interested in the some of the
instrumentation that she had in her band, drums and harp for example.
We all got on, so we just started playing together. We played a show
and Lhasa sang with us- it became this very natural evolution. It's a
little difficult for Bruce, I mean- we still play duo shows- because
for us, it's kindof this whole new world to have harp and drums and
these extra musicians, because certainly on record, Bruce has always
overdubbed the marimba and drums, playing them both. So now we can
have all of those parts live.
405: It's interesting to hear that you
still play duo shows. When I think of how A Silver Mt Zion has grown
and grown over the years, I wonder if it would be nice to take that
back to a three-piece, and play some shows as the first album had
BF: Yeah, I totally agree.
405: I guess you have that with
different incarnations of bands though, right. And Mt Zion isn't your
thing anymore! Have the extra members here influenced or changed the
way you write songs?
BF: Yeah, it's definitely more of a
band thing now, we're more collaborative. It can be a bit more
complicated at times writing music with more people, or easier when
things evolve naturally. There's different people, more minds, more
energy and opinion to deal with.
405: How did this album come about
then? You mentioned that it wasn't planned, but not not planned
BF: There were some Esmerime songs that
we'd reworked together, after a show in Montreal we played as a four
piece. And as we reworked the songs, Sarah and Andrew also had some
ideas, sketches of songs, that they brought to us, and we
incorporated those into the set. And then when Lhasa passed away, we
wanted to write a special lullaby for her as she'd brought us all
together- so the entire composition really came about very
405: You really breathed new life into
the band with the album.
BF: Yeah, and it's fun to do that,
shake it up and grow as musicians and people.
405: So your first two records, put out
on Resonant and Madrona respectively...
BF: Yeah, Madrona was the label Bruce
and I started.
405: I think I bought the Aurora vinyl
direct from the Madrona mail order. How did working again with
Constellation come about?
BF: I guess we have a long term history
with Constellation. We gave them the record and they were amazed by
it. Bruce and I had retired Madrona! We were very happy to work with
405: It's led to collaborations with
label artists like Colin Stetson (http://vimeo.com/29119122)
BF: Yeah, that was from our opening
show in Montreal. And Clea Minaker, who did the projections, will be
with us tonight.
405: How does this LP compare to the
BF: This record has a completely
different meaning behind it, due to where we are with our lives and
the history we have together, and so there's a different element in
it. There's a lot of symbolism in it for us, and musically where we
are now is so different to where we were five or ten years ago. We're
older, we have kids. We've grown as artists and as human beings. The
first two Esmerine records are still very close to my heart though.
405: It's nice when you get to a stage
and think, well they could only have made this record with a certain
level of experience and maturity, at a certain point in their career.
BF: Yeah, I agree- it's a very strange
thing, but also quite a beautiful feeling.
405: How does it feel to be part of
such a now-noted and successful community of musicians?
I learn a lot from the musicians around me and am very happy to be a
part of this community. I've had the pleasure of playing music around
the world, and that's something I can never take for granted.
405: What does the future hold for you
as a group, or indeed as an individual?
BF: For Esmerine, this is our first
European tour and we were excited about trying this out. I also don't
play in Silver Mt Zion anymore and I'm excited to see where this
goes, and I'm also working on a solo record built from looped cello
and singing. I've just finished that record. It's totally different
to everything I've done so far, it has electronic percussion! That
maybe should be out, hopefully in the Spring, but we'll see.
405: I have to ask, will we ever see
another Set Fire To Flames record?
BF: (laughs) Who knows, man. We worked
on a soundtrack for a short animation film, and that was the last
thing we did. I would love to, but there's 13 people in that group!
405: And I imagine you all have to be
in a similar, very particular mindset while recording.
BF: Exactly! But thats how Bruce and I
met, and how Esmerine came about initially.
Some people live and breathe their
music, as if they could be recast against any environment, any
colouring particulars- the only constant their necessity for
compelling music's making. Carla Bozulich is one such artist, her
career having spanned 3 decades now and reincarnated in upwards of
seven bands. Whilst her back catalogue is as diverse as it is long
(dig out some Ethyl Meatplow if you can find it), it was pleasing to
see her picked up by Montreal-based label Constellation in 2005.
After flirting with success after covering Willie Nelson's Red Header
Stranger in it's entirely, Bozulich largely fell off the radar until,
quite out of the blue, she announced her new project on an entirely
new label. Better known for it's work with the city's then-blossoming
avant-garde scene, 2005 saw Constellation move beyond both its city
wall and the genres it had pioneered. Carla, from Los Angeles,
represented a canny move: In Animal Tongue is her fifth album for the
label, her fourth under the Evangelista banner that has allowed yet
another artistic and critical reinvention, as well as offering
Bozulich a creative renewal.
The Evangelista band, comprising
bassist Tara Barnes (formerly of the excellent thrash-nihilist
Duchesses) and sound-artist Dominic Cramp, was itself borne of the
road. Having released her debut for the label, also titled
Evangelista, a touring band was formed. Herein, Barnes and Bozulich
set upon a creative unity that would last to today and bear its
increasing influence on the music. Gone are the dream-set, ominous
samples that would mark her Constellation debut with an unruly
tension- throughout this band's existence, their has almost been an
insistence on it resonating exactly as such: a band. People in a
room, playing instruments through amplifiers.
On album opener 'Artificial Lamb', you
can hear the crackle of guitar leads and electricity. Clean
recordings and few (if any) overdubs- the track's timid
instrumentation gently imposes itself whilst Bozulich moans with
desperation- it's final lines delivered with a cracked, aching high
pitch. Its a telling introduction to what is a very restrained and at
times sombre album. 'Black Jesus' barely awakens, the vocal delivery
passes off like a spoken word against which the music, the repeated
riff, picked from a sea of reverb. On the title track, as the track
reaches a climactic moment with chorus and thumped drums, repeated
calls of “she sung in animal tongue” are delivered at once with
pride and sadness.
This is not an album for mornings or
shining July days, and it is appropriate that Constellation has
chosen to release the album in the midst of Autumn. Everything here
sounds live, and is cast against the kind of very loud silence that
is only present in the very late hours at night. Frequently
performative, sung seemingly ad-lib- there's a creeping feeling that
pervades In Animal Tongue, only increasing as the record reaches the
nostalgia-psychosis of 'Tunnel to the Stars' and the schizophrenia of
closing number 'Hatching'. There's an inexplicable beauty to the
maddening frequencies and drumming that abounds here, and this is how
I feel about the entire record. It is deeply focused, recorded and
performed with care- but it sounds like it was recorded in the wood
cabin from Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. This album is certainly not
for everyone, but unlike that film- In Animal Tongue is, you get the
impression, entirely for real, serious and committed to the notion of
extraordinary listening spaces. That's enough, for me. Whilst it
might not have the strike out value of Hello Voyager (which was,
let's face it, largely a pop album)- In Animal Tongue is a profoundly
interesting album that I'll treasure in my collection. It's weirded
me out frequently and significantly enough to merit the 7 stars I'm
giving it, though newcomers to Carla Bozulich might want to start
It's hard to know where to begin with
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's third album. The conventional narrative up
until now reads that the band sprung out of internet fame, a DIY
aesthetic almost synonymous with their debut- and seemingly everyone
was an overnight fan. The jangly, retro-infused, charming and
defiant songs of their eponymous start united the entire indie scene
in appraisal, much in the same way a Tumblr-borne artist like The
Weeknd aims for now. But in 2005, weren't we all that bit more naïve?
The band seemingly second-guessed the audience backlash with their
follow up record, the 'difficult second album' monicker being more
appropriate of an audience expectation than the band's composition.
Some Loud Thunder was to some, unlistenable- but this reviewer found
it to be a rewarding album of hidden depths and studio trickery.
Yeah, that bass was consistently fuzzing, the drums were awkwardly
panned and as far as I can tell, the vinyl and CD have different
versions of the title track- but can't some mistakes be deliberate?
That it came wrapped in so many interviews, vocalist Alex Ounsworth
telling half-believable yarns that he never listened to music
produced after 1980, that vinyl was his mantra- the album might have
made you work for it, infinitely more than their debut (a record
which dared you not to like it)- but it was overwhelmingly composed,
its confusing studio mix clearly deliberate.
If Some Loud Thunder led some of their
fanbase up the garden path, then Hysterical could be considered an
even more disturbing WTF moment. From the moment it starts spinning,
you are made aware of something different here. Namely, it sounds
fantastic. Not in a compelling, interesting, sucks you in and can't
get it out of your head way, but rather in studio sound. Everything
is well mixed, well recorded- this is the sound of the professional
recording industry, of money and 'maximising' technique behind each
note- it could be a Kings of Leon record for chrissakes. This is all
down to the hiring of St Vincent producer John Congleton- but frankly
it comes across in an instant like a disavowal of everything the band
have stood for. So their first record was marked by whimsey and
charm, and the second was criticised for being too esoteric and
bloody minded- but to my mind, the manner in which to respond to such
criticisms is not by becoming the most arena-rock sounding,
mainstream version of yourselves that you can be. It's like they're
negating all that made them unique in the first place, and in doing
so- you're left wondering whether you only ever liked them for their
quirkiness, or whether the songs held true.
Fortunately, I firmly believe in the
latter. I only have to remember old numbers like 'Tidal Wave of Young
Blood' and 'Yankee Go Home' and I'm smiling giddily. Even the
stronger moments from this record, like 'Ketamine and Ecstasy' or
'The Witness' Dull Surprise' find themselves drowned out in a sea of
mediocrity. It's as if the album's sonic mastery undoes the
possibility of anything truly becoming memorable here. It all bleeds
together, and the band sound as if they're going through the motions.
And I realise that it's unfair to review an album by comparing it to
previous works, that an album should be reviewed on its own strengths
and weaknesses- but Hysterical sounds so 'post' its preceding works,
so conscious of the (unfair) criticisms that followed Some Loud
Thunder, that it rarely has opportunity to exist in its own space.
For me, the biggest question is why we
ended up here. Clap Your Hands took a five year hiatus, a
soul-searching mission, and this album was preceded with the
inevitable PR that the band had discovered themselves, found their
sound, etc. But if this is the sound of the band being true to
themselves, then the album makes it abundantly clear what a dull and
disappointing prospect that is.