Art Appreciation – Nigel Evan Dennis for Clair de Lune’s Marionettes

Marionettes’ art features high-contrast monotone collages exploding in layers wrapped around the case, complementing the band’s high energy.

Clair de Lune's Marionettes Album CoverNigel Evan Dennis began designing as Electric Heat the same year that Clair de Lune formed and released their first album, Marionettes (2004). He has done album artwork for bands including another Minneapolis band Pomegranates and rapper Common. Dennis’s other commercial work includes shoe advertisements and magazine spreads, such as Playboy layouts inspired by Tron:Legacy and Back to the Future, Part II. On his website, there are also links to his fine art prints and mandala-like hand-painted records. Dennis is a musician as well, composing a score and playing in the band, A Lull.

The album artwork for Marionettes is a bit rougher, but still has the energy of his other work. The main design in brown is an bursting collage of the band members, animals, trees, and towers.  Many birds, a gazelle, and a zebra are in the mix. while an elephant stands apart next to an Olde English “Shadow.” A water tower, bell tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and antenna towers peek out. There are also some odds and ends mixed in — an old camera, cassettes – (“CLAIR DE LUNE” on Side A and “MARIONETTES” on Side B), orange slices, a crown, and a windmill. Swirling cords, arrows, and stars ornament the imagery.

The base layer is a two-tone orange on the front and faded shades of blue and purple on the back. The are mostly splashes of paint, but there is a cityscape and skyscraper in the orange. The faded colors are mostly splashes, too, but there maybe a phone and “1982!!” in there. The inside of the booklet is even more faded behind the credits and likely just splattered paint.

The disc has a cassette labeled “CLAIR DE LUNE” that looks like it is falling across the disc, but the drops are birds and streaks are towers. The band name and album title appear vertically in the spine on the tray card. “Your body cant carry the [indiscernible] anymore!” is under that, ornamented by a skull and crossbones, hearts, and a spray paint spot.

Check out more Art Appreciation posts. Please e-mail me suggestions for artwork you’d like to see in a future post. And if you find value in Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Click “Continue reading” to see a poster showing the artwork on the outside of the disc, and watch the “Passenger View” music video in the same style as the album art. Continue reading “Art Appreciation – Nigel Evan Dennis for Clair de Lune’s Marionettes”

Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "The Last Straw"

The band is almost set to hit the recording studio. This big show will put them over the top, but can it reignite the guitarist’s interest?

In “The Last Straw,” the band is nearing their big show that kicked off Washing Away‘s EP series with “Welcome”. They’ve got the songs and almost have enough money saved up to record an album, but it’s hard to tell if everybody is on board. The guitarist seems uninterested, but hopefully a successful performance will reignite his passion.  The lyrics are bit different from the original demo and now have the same chorus throughout the song and references the song title. I changed “money” to “savings” in the verses, because it sounded a little less silly. I also replaced “washes out to sea” with “fades from memory” in the last verse, because the line didn’t fit with the song even though the project is Washing Away.

Musically, there’s a strong rhythmic emphasis that goes with “break” at the end of the chorus. Also, the interlude is a reprise of the bridge to “Welcome”, referring to the big show, and climaxes violently before subsiding softly. I wanted the song under four minutes and the bridge was a bit long. I cut the interlude in half and took out the intro part that was after the first chorus. The introduction and last verse are a little different, too, with the bass and drums coming in after two measures of the intro and longer notes held out in the verse.

Check out more Songs of the Month and posts about Washing Away. Please e-mail me suggestions for my songs, too. And if you value Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Click ‘Continue reading’ to see the lyrics. Continue reading “Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "The Last Straw"”

Web Appreciation – Song Exploder

Podcast blows up a song each episode so the musicians can dissect the parts and provide insight into their influences and creative processes.

Song Exploder Twitter AvatarSong Exploder (2014 – Present) is a one-man podcast, where a different musician talks about a specific song. It singles out different tracks and songwriters — drummer, guitarist, bassist, singer, etc. — share their thoughts about creating it.

The podcast 99% Invisible (2010 – Present) introduced to Song Exploder, both part of Radiotopia,  It shared Episode 28: The Long Winters, which is fascinating and got me hooked. “The Commander Thinks Aloud” is a good place to start, because the Long Winters’ songwriter is an excellent storyteller. He talked about the subject of the song, including his experience flying, hearing about the space shuttle disaster, and imagining impending doom. He also speaks eloquently about the different instrumental parts and their progression in the music.

Looking back in the archives, I found songs from other good bands, like Blonde Redhead and the Album Leaf. Older episodes play the full song first, but it’s nice that they’re at the end of the episode now. Recently, Song Exploder covered a new song from HEALTH (whom I’ve written about here) and introduced me to bands I haven’t listened to, like American Football. The website has a lot of links and visuals you can’t get in a podcast, so I recommend both.

Check out more Web Appreciation posts and e-mail me suggestions for other sites to cover. And if you value Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "Keeping Up Appearance"

In the second song from Part Four, there are awkward feelings between band mates & it feels like there’s an elephant in the practice space.

This month’s got a somber yet sharp song from Washing Away. Suspicions arise when there’s a new guy playing with the guitarist and their regular rehearsal is cut short so he can go out on a date. The bouncy intro gives way to a plodding verse. The chorus picks up the energy with punctuated chords and the ending takes an intense turn. The bass, guitar and keyboard were recorded as they were written years ago. The background vocal line originally had sort of carnival quality to it, so I dialed that back and did the chorus an octave higher instead. I got to make good use of the “follow” drum pattern in GarageBand to get the kick drum on the off beat with the bass. I hope you like it.

Check out more Songs of the Month and posts about Washing Away. Please e-mail me suggestions for my songs, too. And if you value Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Click ‘Continue reading’ to see the lyrics.

Continue reading “Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "Keeping Up Appearance"”

Album Appreciation – The Velvet Teen’s All is Illusory

The band’s 4th album displays a range of good qualities, but its variety makes it feel like just a collection instead of a cohesive whole.

All is Illusory CoverI discovered The Velvet Teen (2000 – Present) when Elysium (2004) came out and loved it. They seemed quiet since their No Star – EP (2010), so it was a surprise to see they were playing a show in Minneapolis. No, Songkick wasn’t mistaking them for Minneapolis’s the Velveteen. They were even releasing a new album! Here’s a summary of my impression and descriptions of the stand-out songs from All is Illusory (2015).

Each song on the album is fairly straight forward and consistent in itself. The more mellow songs outnumber the upbeat ones, making this seem like an album of ballads. There are moments of dynamic intensity where the music bursts and then pulls back or slowly builds, though these moments don’t payoff on every song., I liked the rocking ones listed below.

“Eclipses” is the first fast-paced song on the album. It’s short and sweet, but sounds really full with multiple guitars constantly strumming. It’s a got a syncopated hook, dissonant chorus, and key change in the bridge. The drums are crazy as usual and the singing and music reach a nice climax near the end.

“Pecos” has an upbeat keyboard hook and soaring vocals. The guitar strumming and bass fill it out, but keep it light.  The song builds after the second chorus with a keyboard solo and some “woah, woah”s. It releases into a soft bass solo among arrhythmic finger-picking that sounds like harps. They kick back into the song for a strong finish.

“The Giving In” was streaming on NPR before the album came out.  It’s got bass and drum triplets partnered with atmospheric guitars. Another guitar provides a simple lead.  The song builds into the first chorus and after a guitar solo the drums build in the second chorus to basically a drum solo.  

“You Were the First” has a tricky rhythm drum, but fun breaks and guitar lead. The vocal lines go up and down octaves and have some shouting from the back up vocals. The second verse starts off with short, pointy notes before going back into the strong sound it started with through the second chorus to a quick ending.

Overall, the variety of keyboard sounds are interesting, ranging from harpsichord and classical piano to vocoder and catchy synth hooks.  The vocal harmonies add to the impression that these songs could be ballads.  Guitars vary from main accompanying instrument to atmospheric layering, from acoustic strumming to distorted shredding.  The bass blends into the background mostly, but does offer some interesting swells and harmonics.  The drums come off as bit too complex, but pound away in new and interesting ways with lots of fills. It’s generally good with some great moments.

Check out more Album Appreciation posts. Please e-mail me suggestions for albums you’d like to see in a future post. And if you find value in Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "Archers"

The main character is focused on building the band, but the guitarist has seemingly checked out in this first Washing Away song from Part 4.

Here’s another Washing Away song, the first song of Part Four EP. Though “Archers” structure is straightforward, it is unlike the literal storytelling of the past songs – there are metaphors. The metaphor of a vacation to show relational distance was good, but it doesn’t quite fit into archery as a metaphor for goal-setting. Working it into an archery metaphor probably wouldn’t have made sense, so it stayed in. I also thought to use a better word than ‘rift’ in the first verse, but it works out in terms of a ‘break in friendly relations’ like a ‘split’ in a broken bow. The song uses the same combination of instruments and ending intended to transition into the next song, as in past Washing Away songs*. The accents that don’t fall on the downbeat were a bit tricky to get the GarageBand drummer to hit, but ‘Aidan’ is still pretty solid. Since I’m a bit out of practice, I did a lot of editing to get the timing right on the guitar in the verses and transition.

Check out more Songs of the Month and posts about Washing Away. Please e-mail me suggestions for my songs, too. And if you value Write to Remember, consider buying my music.

Continue reading “Song of the Month – Washing Away’s "Archers"”

Video Appreciation – Pale Honey’s "Youth"

Swedish female rock duo let their hair fly loose in this high-contrast black and white video that highlights the quite verses and loud choruses of a simply cool single.

Pale Honey’s debut full-length album, Pale Honey (2015), popped up on iTunes’ Indie section in May. Their bouncy beats, simple riffs, and smooth vocals made it the best on the list. Their video for “Youth” shows off their music’s best qualities – it’s just generally good, minimalist rock. The video is stark black and white with the two women playing music and playing around. The band is in black and their instruments are white. The house is pretty empty except for an upright piano ornamented with a globe, but you’ll also see a lot of the amp and guitar.

The singer may shift in and out of focus as she murmurs the lyrics, but you can’t miss her hair. Their shiny locks were the highlight of the video. In almost every scene they’ve got hair in their face, are flipping it around, or just letting it fall all over – unbound, it just goes everywhere. This could totally be a hair care product commercial, but I’m glad it’s not. It’s just an attractive, straightforward music video.

For further viewing, check out Pale Honey’s video for “Fish” or more Video Appreciation posts. Feel free to e-mail me suggestions for other music videos you’d like to see covered. And if you like these posts, consider buying my music to support Write to Remember.

Video appreciation posts this year highlight and seek female musicians to inspire diversity in our music playing and listening pursuits.

Click ‘Continue reading’ to see the lyrics. Continue reading “Video Appreciation – Pale Honey’s "Youth"”