Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Night songs

One of the most painful occurrences in the otherwise wondrous realm of music is when an act that you absolutely love teases you with a few choice words and measures, this glittering confinement hinting at a greatness that you know will consume you, lead you to other locales and times where both the mundane world around you and your memory, verifiable moments usually banal, and imagined ones always scintillating, mingle in a delicious, heady stew, burning your tongue as you begin to get drunk on that aural elixir -- then disappears.

So, after releasing an introductory three-track single a few years back and assorted songs, some originals, some covers, on various compilations since -- okay, so I was being a bit melodramatic; a little melodrama never hurt anyone, you ironically jaded postmodernist, you -- the team of Black Tape for a Blue Girl mastermind Sam Rosenthal and raven-haired chanteuse Nicki Jaine, under the guise of Revue Noir, has gifted to us a compilation of everything -- well, everything that isn't sitting half-finished on a roll of tape or in a Pro Tools file -- that they've ever recorded, Anthology Archive, for posterity, mom, apple pie, fuzzy little bunnies, though hopefully not the final nail before the coffin is lowered into the cold, hard ground as they move on to other projects.

The album -- compilation sounds so greatest hits only available at big box store! -- starts off with the five songs that have previously graced our ears. The sparse rhythm, sexy and languid, of The Gravediggers, originally recorded for Black Tape's last(?) album, Halo Star, blows the doors off the excellent original for two reasons: the incorporation of a theremin, an instrument that seems to have been created specifically for this song, and Nicki's sultry, Marlene Dietrich-esque vocals. Strangely, there seems to be, beyond a slightly different mix that augments the stray violin progression, an added keyboard line during the penultimate fifth of the song that didn't appear on the single version that, if not exactly off putting, shoves the strings into the background a bit more than I'd like. Either that, or my hearing is shot.

A track that Mademoiselle Jaine pulled off her solo album is next, and not all that sonically different than the original -- though this seems to be a different mix as well, you sneaky bastards, but I ain't selling my original on eBay -- the beautifully wistful Amsterdam, whose tale over a gentle piano line has nothing to do with either of the two things most associated with that European metropolis but something far more universal, that most desired and loathed of emotions. The darkly uptempo A Girl, A Smoke swings chords and lines like 'a year, a night, a get well card/a book of dirty poetry/forgetting me can't be that hard' until a jazzy flurry of piano notes and the lamentation about 'the way that we come back asking for more' ends the performance.

A slow, mellow cover of Bowie's Rock 'n' Roll Suicide is next, stripping away a few layers of classic rock bombast -- not that the original was the thunderous Suffragette City, bien sûr -- and turning it into the signature piece of Aristide Bruant -- if he had been a rock and roller. The clothes may have changed, but the soul is the same. This soul might have once wandered into an old cabaret lost on some unmapped street, now found, its rotting planks being torn out one by one to help expedite a complete modernization, and behind the agèd wall, a dust-encrusted worker finds the sheet music for Sometimes, Sunshine. At times jaunty, depressing, danceable with some Zeppelin-esque, stop/start piano riffs thrown in for good measure, you can't help but want to tap your foot while you sip on your overpriced drink.

As for the unreleased tracks, there is a less fleshed out rehearsal version of A Girl, A Smoke, professional live cuts of the Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties, the Weill/Brecht standard Alabama Song, and Black Tape's Halo Star. The new/old originals are wonderful, starting with the gently undulating, downbeat I Have No More Answers, the piano punctuated with an ominous organ riff before the black and white keys return to close proceedings on a haunting note.

Strange Little Show and its concoction of melancholy, yet propulsive, trappings provides a memorable apéritif -- a lithe, husky-voiced singer bitter as unsugared absinthe? Whew -- before the album's double-barreled closer, the nearly instrumental Sunshine IV, a happy little bridge (curse you, Bob Ross!) laced with somber, echoing vocal undercurrents weaving sentimental motifs from both the previous track and the album finalé, the monumental She is the Madman. This eerie, disjointed journey has us steal through the singer's head, cries for help voiced through single notes plucked on the guitar writhing in restrained agony within Sam's ethereal, electronic swells that have crawled up from the chthonian abyss, painting this eternal conflict between the illusion of sanity and that cold, dark place we fear to face, refusing to turn around to see the source of its shadow perpetually engulfing our own, a crash of cymbals, thicker chords, before a respite and the slow, quiet acceptance of our descent into the depths of the creative process, into madness.

It would be a crime if we were to not hear anything more from this duo, but if that ends up being the case, they've left behind a document worth remembering and hearing during those evenings awash in spent adrenaline and empty pages, of which there are far too many it seems, where pain and regret, not a joyful smile, are what we see reflected back in the liquid mirror of our glass.


Je ne regrette rien said...

I'd love a link to snippets of this music for a preview...nice love letter from an obvious fan, btw.

FranIAm said...

Yes - me too! Link that is. I guess I could google but I am so damn lazy and have too many blogs to read.

Randal Graves said...

JNRR and fran, that was kind of dumb of me to leave off a link, huh. I just assumed my purple prose was so prodigious in plumbing the parameters of perception that potential priests of these polyphonic paragons blah diddy blah. It's fixed. And if you don't like them, you can all go to hell. ;-)

Dean Wormer said...

I said it before- you should write reviews for some rock magazine. I wanted to say Rolling Stone but I'll assume hipsters are reading something else these days.

La Belette Rouge said...

Your reviews of music always inspire the agent in me( even though I am not one). You seriously need to be writing for a music magazine, mon ami.

And, your comment at 11:28 makes me want to call you P-Daddy. Never have so many p's been used with such perfect...em, perfection.;-)

Border Explorer said...

Sir, you could sell flies to picnickers. This music is seriously beautiful. I appreciate it all the more for your prose.

Missy said...

You do have a way with words. Silver.

As for the music--not bad. But I don't like the Bowie cover. Nothing can match the emotion of his wail, "Oh no love! you're not alone"

"burning your tongue?" I think okjimm spilled a little hot sauce...

Randal Graves said...

dean, thanks, but the question is, since RS is downsizing to regular magazine size, does that mean it loses some of its hipsterness?

LBR, but that stuff is done under a deadline and I'm, as you know, quite lazy. P-Daddy? Well, I suppose it's a better nickname than the ones my wife lobs in my general direction.

BE, funny you should mention that, this particular specie of fly is quite wonderful, able to annoy at a very high rate, providing just enough texture to your watermelon, cantaloupe and ham sandwiches.

Thanks for checking it out, I was hoping at least one person would!

missy, I will admit that I prefer the original, but I'm glad they didn't do a straight, carbon copy take on it like so many artists do. I just love her voice, yum.

okjimm can keep his hot sauce, I like to actually taste the food.

susan said...

I saw this post earlier and in between stupid stuff I've been googling without result. I'll keep trying since you've made their work sound fascinating.

(I even got bargains on black tape from Amazon. Unless I wanted to start my own Gitmo, why would I need it by the pound?)

Anonymous said...

Quick question: I'm still on the undead list roll... i'm alive damnit, i'm alive!

Randal Graves said...

susan, just click their name in the post. Well, save the black tape for when the inevitable attack from Chemical Ali happens.

FOT, yewwwwwwwwww.....are....heeeeeeeeeeeeeeled!

Tom Harper said...

Sounds like some good music. Probably won't go anywhere commercially -- bland mediocrity seems to be a prerequisite. But I'm glad they're out there.

DivaJood said...

Okay, I think the real tease is yourown self for not putting up links. I posted this early this morning, but internet went down and so I left for work (and actually worked.) So, dammit, I would like to hear the muzik.

Randal Graves said...

tom, a lot of the greats in the old days sold a lot, but I look at the charts now, and aside from the oddity like The White Stripes, nearly everything that sells is soulless tripe. Damn kids.

diva, click on their name, I fixed it - wait. What? You? Worked? The head of the ticket that champions slack? I'm not sure I can believe in anything anymore!

okjimm said...

// evenings awash in spent adrenaline and empty pages, of which there are far too many it seems, where pain and regret, not a joyful smile, are what we see reflected back in the liquid mirror of our glass.//

All right. If I buy this and do not like it, I will comeback and rant about hockey FOREVER. FOREVER.
That will teach you to write eloquent reviews of shit I will probably not like but buy anyways.... just 'cause you write well&shit.

Just saying, is all. Ain't no deal.

susan said...

Okay, got to hear it this time around and decided I'd like to witness a live performance. Some things you just have to experience in person.

Her voice and delivery reminded me of Marianne Faithful.

Tengrain said...

Dood -

You seriously need to get a gig writing reviews. Plus, I like your taste in music.



American Hill BIlly said...

Funny you blogged about music today; I was talking with my girlfriend about Hotel California, and another...DOA? I know the Eagles made it big before telling everyone what the song was about. Big enough that it wasn't easily censored, but DOA got shut down. I will definitely look this stuff up.

psychic alert: I am seeing a a position at Rollingstone open up for you!

United In Peace And Freedom

Randal Graves said...

okjimm, then I will counter your rantings with post after post of hockey! "Hey, did you see who the Winnipeg Jets took in the 38th round?"

susan, I know she does solo shows on the east coast, so I don't have all that much of an excuse for not checking out at least one. And that's exactly who she most reminds me of, smoky timbre, been through hell and back.

tengrain, thanks man, but you might not say that the next time I review some death metal, heh heh.

AHB, man, that's one overplayed song I could never get sick of. That chord progression to finish the song is fucking magic.

okjimm said...


ohhh, what a world! What a world!
I' meltining!!!

Liberality said...

Ok, you sold me. I am going to have to check this group out. Any group who will do a Bowie cover as well as Velvet Underground deserves a listening.

DivaJood said...

Revue Noir is amazing - did click and love the sound - now I have to get them.

aoc gold said...

Bed In Summer


In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light. 。

In summer quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.


I have to go to bed and see

The birds still hopping on the tree,

Or hear the grown-up people's feet
Still going past me in the street. 。


And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
-----by wow powerleveling