For nearly 30 years, Elefant Records out of Madrid has been refuge for musicians out of step with the present. Whether it’s Brill Building throwbacks like The School or disco holdovers like Fitness Forever, Elefant artists more often than not feel as if they’ve been plucked from a different era.
Take Me All Over the World, the latest from The Yearning, finds multi-talented songwriter and instrumentalist Joe Moore looking back into the past, finding inspiration in the age of Getz and Gilberto. The six tracks on Take Me All Over the World are well-steeped in all the hallmarks of the bossa nova era while occasionally veering off for a dalliance with French chanson.
It is not simply the instrumentation which draws such an easy comparison to the classic bossa nova recordings of the early 1960s. It was an era when easy lyricism and reasonable melodies were considered assets (decades before we decided that singers who looked like they were in extreme pain were superior musicians). Maddie Dobie’s vocals perfectly recall the star turns of Astrud Gilberto whose landmark recordings, you may recall, sound more like a wistful sigh than a pop star with something to prove.
Music-making is a universal human impulse, singing as natural as speech. There is no sin in intricacy or complexity. Neither is there any shame in effortlessness. All too often, we forget that. The Yearning have not, eschewing the laborious shouting often mistaken for singing in favor of approachable melodies that actually allow the lyrics to do the talking. For those of us hoping against hope for a return to an age before “more notes more loudly” became the dominant philosophy of Pop Vocalism, The Yearning may be exactly what we’ve been—well—yearning for.
Here it is! The first of my three most anticipated albums of 2009 is here (or at least it will be on 14 September). If you want to know more about Piney Gir, read this post, because there is so much to cover with The Yearling (16 tracks totaling about 50 minutes), that I don’t want to waste space regurgitating old information. So, to begin with, let me say this:
The Yearling is even better than I’d hoped it would be.
This is a far cry from Piney’s first album, Peakahokahoo, but those who, like me, fell in love with her early electronic tinkering, will not be disappointed. Blended alongside folk, twee, and jazz elements are shades of that retro Casio keyboard sound (a PT-20, to be exact). Mostly, this manifests as a sort of undercurrent, riding beneath and propelling forward about a dozen tracks, but in other places, such as “Early Days” (which bears a stylistic resemblance to “Janet Schmanet” from Peakahokahoo), it plays a more prominent role.
The album opens with “Hello Halo”, a sort of slowed down, gypsy-less hot club jazz ditty with guitar and violin supporting the simplest lyrics on the album, and the first of three miniatures that provide some of the most endearing moments on the album. The meat of the album begins with the second track, “Say I’m Sorry”, which also happens to be one of the highlights of the album for me. This is more straightforward C86 than I ever thought Piney Gir could get, right down to the handclaps and jangly guitars (all that’s missing now is the glockenspiel). “Say I’m Sorry” flows right into “Blithe Spirit”, which you may remember from that old entry I mentioned earlier. And whilst, in listening to the two songs in succession, one may be inclined to believe that, whoever this girl is, she must have died of twee fever, the sentiment is still a wee bit creepy. I love it.
A few tracks down the list, comes the next (and my favorite) miniature, “Blixa Bargeld’s Bicycle”, ostensibly about a bicycle for sale. Yes, perhaps it sounds like a simple vocalise and maybe you don’t need a bicycle, but “say you have a toothache / and you need to see a dentist / and you don’t know how to get there. / You could always ride a bike”, and wouldn’t you like to know Mr. Bargeld was selling his before moving to Shanghai? I thought so. The last of these miniatures is the a cappella “199 to Elephant and Castle”, a tiny, textless interlude opening with a bit of bus driverly wisdom and bridging beautifully the gap between “Abelha – Bumblebee” and “Lion (I Am One)”.
Speaking of which, “Lion (I Am One)” is an interesting number and another one of my favorites. With its opening Beat era cool jazz walking bass groove, it sets a chill, stalking tone for the track to come. With the introduction of some extra noise about halfway, this track becomes something akin to a shoegaze version of Audrey Hepburn’s café dance scene from Funny Face. Also of note here, is what could possibly be considered a bit of involuted songwriting: “I walk the forest across the floor / A piney forest / A piney floor”. Lewis Carroll would be so proud. “Oleanna”, which follows, about a man scouring the country searching for the woman of is dreams, is probably one of the more radio-friendly tracks on this record. (Incidentally, it features some fine Spanish diction on Piney’s part.)
The album closes out beautifully with the flute and harp accompanied “Love Is a Lonely Thing” (which reminds me, for no good reason, of Chet Baker’s “Born to Be Blue”), the considerably folksier “Weeping Machine” (one of the darkest Piney Gir songs I know: “I clean my house the best I can / discarding every hair and flake of skin, / so I can start again in a space that’s mine”), and ends on the more lilting, sing-along style of “For the Love of Others”.
Yes, it’s true that I still haven’t heard Piney Gir’s second album, Hold Yer Horses, but somehow, after having listened to The Yearling, I don’t feel so bad about that. Yes, I’d still like to hear it, but this album is so good, I am inclined to believe those who are calling it her masterpiece. It is more focused than Peakahokahoo and consistently entertaining. Having listened to this album eight times already today, I am about to get back in my car, where it is sitting in my CD player, waiting for me and it is likely to stay there for several days. Kristin says the mark of a great album is the inability to pick one favorite song. My favorite track from The Yearling has changed three times over the course of writing this review. It is just that good. It will be out on Hotel Records in the UK starting Monday, 14 September with a US release planned (I think) for some time in October. You owe it to yourself to buy this record and listen to it on repeat until you die.
I was going to post about Dear Reader tonight. I told Kristin I would. But I have changed my mind. (Besides, I plugged them on Facebook a fortnight ago.) There is something I’ve been wanting to tell you about since we started this blog, but I decided to hold off until we had a larger audience. This is one of those artists I always tell people to check out even though I know they won’t. (These are the same people who interrupt a trip-hop DJ in a posh martini bar to request Sum 41 or Lady Gaga or whatever the kids are listening to these days. Yes, it happens. Yes, they are my friends. Yes, it is embarrassing. No, don’t remind me.) So, anyway, I can’t hold it in any longer. I hope Kristin doesn’t beat me up at the company picnic.
Piney Gir is from Kansas. Let me rephrase that. Piney Gir is from Kansas in much the same way that T.S. Eliot was from St. Louis. Granted, she doesn’t insert Ovid, Dante, and Shakespeare into her work with quite the frequency or fluency of Eliot, but she does play the accordion, which is at least as hot as historico-poetic allusion, perhaps more so. (For those who lost me after Kansas, she lives in London now.)
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you why I love her music so much. Chalk it up to the accordion, if you like. Or maybe it’s the fact that “Jezabel” from Peakahokahoostill ranks in the top two on my list of the sexiest songs I’ve ever heard, in a disconcerting Joan Jett kind of way. Or it could be because we both love 50s frocks. (Though I tend not to wear them. Kristin and I did, however, visit the Golden Age of Couture exhibition at the V&A two years ago whilst I was on a layover, bound for Scotland). Perhaps it is the very indefinability of her music that makes it so alluring. The first album, Peakahokahoo was highly influenced by electronica and those Casio keyboards she loves so much, and included a(n absolutely) fabulous take on “Que Sera, Sera”. The next album, Hold Yer Horses, by The Piney Gir Country Roadshow, I take to have had a distinctly more countrified flavor. I haven’t heard it, unfortunately, because every time I try to track down a copy, everyone tells me it doesn’t exist. Then again, maybe that’s it. Every dead end makes me want it more. And exclusivity is the sexiest thing of all.
And there is a new album coming. The Yearling, this time by Piney Gir & the Age of Reason, will be out sometime soon, I guess, I am having trouble finding a date (don’t worry, I’m used to it by now). If you can help, let me know (that goes for the other thing, too). The limited edition lead single “Of All the Wonderful Things” featuring Eamon Hamilton and beautifully twisted lyrical moments like “as much as I would like to see you die, I never find the strength to strike you down”, is out now in the UK (buy it via the link here) and will be released in the States on 30 June (with a different B-side, so buy them both).
Speaking of 30 June, Piney Gir & The Age of Reason will be playing the Lexington (in London, not Kentucky). Check the Facebook event page for more details. Sadly, once again, I will not be there. Piney, I promise I will hear you play someday, you just never have gigs when I’m in your country. (I am getting the distinct impression that an Indie Handbook field trip is in order.)
Oh, and one last thing. Her MySpace postings are precious. If we ever decided to expand The Indie Handbook, I would want her to write for us, though I’m sure she has better things to do.