A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Everybody is inspired by the past. We’ve all got to start somewhere. And yet, while many claim to take inspiration from classics like Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, The Zombies, Jacqueline Taieb, or Galaxie 500, very few make records as good as those classics.
Now imagine having them smooshed onto one slab of vinyl…
Similarly, too often in the underground, lo-fidelity techniques like distortion and reverb are used to mask a lack of originality, and a dearth of songwriting ability. This is unfortunate, as fuzzed, scuzzy recordings are excellent at creating a sense of age, approximating the warped weft of antiquated documents, making you feel like yr watching an old movie. Or better yet, falling through time.
The tendency seems to be that artists start off “lo-fi”, due to limited resources (look at the careers of Iron & Wine or Grizzly Bear, for illustration). The recordings inevitably accrue gloss & shine, as they achieve success, essentially making records just like anyone else. It’s a rare bird, who chooses to refine rougher recordings into high art. The imaginative possibilities are endless.
That’s not to suggest that 8 is lo-fi, it’s just warm and rough and analog. The two bands set up a makeshift recording studio in a snowed in discoteque in the sleepy mountain village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in the Auvergne, after sharing some brief songwriting sketches via the internet. These tape documents were polished into a truly timeless document by the detailed production of Arnaud Boyer. The careful production lets the songwriting and musicianship really shine, making both bands sound better than ever before.
It’s a little ridiculous that these bands haven’t been playing together longer, they’re so tight and sharp and focused. Unison riffs on guitar and Farfisa Organ reveal the bands as consummate professionals, flawlessly rehearsed and lovingly laid to tape.
It all starts off with a twang, a journey into David Lynch’s spectral roadhouse, on “Coeurs Croises” (which translates to heart crusaders). The bottom drops out, as demented organs grow more chaotic and infernal, raising the intensity. Romance and remembrance meets lysergic bittersweet insanity, setting the pace for what’s to come.
The instrumental gives way to “Rot Inside”, one of the most potent allegories of unhealthy relationships that i have ever heard, portraying the lovers as atrophying zombies, with the line “I rot inside/but I don’t die.” It’s strong stuff, visceral and effecting, but infectious as hell. It’s also the first appearance of the duetting prowess of Tara King Th’s Béatrice Morel-Journel, and Halasan Bazar’s Fredrick Rollum Eckoff – truly a match made in hell, with Eckoff’s downer baritone offsetting Morel-Journel’s effortless soaring. The pair are a modern day Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, with all of the substance abuse and sadomasochism made explicit. By all that’s unholy, i hope that this record is not a one off. These two are made to sing together!
On “Cover”, Rollum Eckoff Journel is the near spitting image of Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, and will be a godsend for everyone who dearly misses that band. It’s also the first evidence that this record is not all doom ‘n gloom and spooky organs. “Cover” is high and pure and sweet and clear – the perfect soundtrack for the tremulous gentility of mid-October.
Speaking of dearly missed bands, the phantoms of Broadcast and Stereolab hang heavy on 8, most explicitly on “Ventolin”. The track is thick with vibes, quite literally, as the skeleton of the track is comprised of vibraphone and spartan chanteuse vocals, which are held together by a “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” waltz drumbeat. The tragic demise of both bands have been some of this century’s greatest losses, and we lament daily. Thankfully, Moon Glyph has been doing more than anybody to bring those haunted library grooves back to sparking life, with Tara King Th and Death And Vanilla. They’re bringing vitality back to the realm of baroque pop, which is a textural godsend for those of us who are burned out on the cro-magnon trinity of guitar, bass, and drums. We still love those things, but that’s not all there is to life, and a paprika spritz of organs, flutes, and chorale vocals are all that it takes to completely re-invigorate the feeling of possibility in music.
These first four tracks set the pace for the entire record, a perfect microcosm of everything that is good and right and holy with this record. It’s a grand slam quartet of perfect songs, the strongest opening of any album i’ve heard this year. Thankfully, they never fuck it up or drop the ball. 8 is a strong record from start to finish, a perfect 10.
Both Tara King Th and Halasan Bazar may be hauntological, in that they are like cross-sections of the past, alive in the present, but they are also an example of the phenomenon i have coined hyperpop, which are people who have distilled what they love about past art, and created a kind of Giger’s Alien of pop or lounge music, or whatever they’re into, and differentiate themselves from the pastiche of things like the swing revival or the rockabilly scene; people who are using music, scene, and lifestyle as an escapist fantasy, akin to civil war recreationists or people who want to live like it’s 1890. This phenomenon explains how bands like Belle & Sebastian, or even the aforementioned Stereolab and Broadcast, along with films from Ben Wheatley, Quentin Tarantino, or Ti West are often better than the works they were inspired by and adore.
And lastly, Tara King Th and Halasan Bazar reveal The Secret about making art in 2014. Wherever you are starting from, it’s all about the songwriting, or the story, or whatever yr trying to do. It’s the raising of substance over style, and from there, you can filigree and format to yr heart’s content, creating bizarre and beautiful mutations in the process, creating skewed dreams.
Both bands have never sounded better, so this is a fine place to begin, and you’d be advised to delve further into both ouevres, particularly Tara King Th.’s damn fine Hirondelle & Beretta EP, or the sunny pop of Halasan Bazar’s How To Be Ever Happy. If you dig this, you’d also be advised to check out Death & Vanilla and Lightning Dust, as well as some of the classics mentioned at the beginning.
Moon Glyph are quickly becoming an indispensable go to, and one of our favorite imprints, fine purveyors of beautiful and strange visions. Keep up the good work!
Check out Sebastien Tixier’s beautiful, kodachrome trailer for 8