Welcome to the third in a series of musical snap-shots, entitled: La Musique des Sons. Unable or unwilling to expand on the whys and what-fors of a particular artist/project, etc, two for one seemed like the way to go. Less is in no way more, but maybe less is enough.
Travelling the musical landscape from the Psychedelic Folk-Rock of Livonia, Michigan - To the Experimental Dubstep of London, England. Or words to that effect.
First up is His Name Is Alive, followed by Various Production. Enjoy...
His Name Is Alive are a difficult band to describe. I became aware of Warren Defever and his HNIA project, from the 4AD released Livonia, onwards. I consider it would be reasonable to assume that this was the entry point for the majority of HNIA fans. The 90's saw the then controversial Americanisation of 4AD. Laughable now, as The Breeders, Red House Painters, Throwing Muses and Pixies, are as much a part of 4AD's history as they are part of the general musical landscape.
Having come from where I'd come from and listened to what I'd listened to, HNIA seemed to come from another place altogether. Much more-so than the previous bands mentioned. Other-worldly, in many ways. Which in fact, is the most adequate/inadequate way I have of describing their musical out-put, before, during and after the 4AD years. Although there have been numerous line-up changes, with only Warren as the common thread, this otherworldliness remains.
Back in 1993 my wife and I attended the 4AD/ICA event The 13 Year Itch. HNIA had played on the second night, of this six day event. We attended the fifth night, so as to see/hear The Breeders and The Wolfgang Press. However, much to our surprise, Warren appeared, with acoustic guitar strung around his neck, throughout the evening, as a kind of impromptu host, introducing the bands and offering up non sequiturs. The guitar was never played.
What follows is Heather Phares excellent overview for allmusic.com. Heather's article finishes in 2005; a comprehensive, yet incomplete discography brings you a little further along. A more up-to-date (yet still incomplete) discography is provided, as well as links to many of Warren's other interests, and the timeSTEREO website.
Named after history class notes on Abraham Lincoln, the Livonia, MI-based sonic manipulators His Name Is Alive formed when multi-instrumentalist/producer Warren Defever (also of shockabilly group Elvis Hitler) was still in high school. Defever, former schoolmate Karin Oliver (vocals), and drummer Damian Lang released self-produced cassettes of their music, one of which made its way to Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of the pioneering art label 4AD. Intrigued with His Name Is Alive's blend of spectral vocals, poetic lyrics, and textural guitars, Watts signed the band.
The group recorded its first release for the label, Livonia, in Defever's home studio. The album features Oliver's shivery vocals along with tape loops, samples, and guitar blasts, for a noise-damaged, ethereal collection of songs about ghosts, reincarnation, and dreams. By 1992's Home Is in Your Head, the band's lineup and scope expanded. New singers Denise James, Karen Neal, Melissa Elliott, and guitarist Jymn Auge added depth and breadth to the band's original lineup. An epic 23 songs long, Home Is in Your Head ranges from folky ballads to electrifying guitar maelstroms and tape collages. That year also saw the release of The Dirt Eaters EP, named for Defever's other, more rock-oriented group, of which Elliot was also a member. In 1993, His Name Is Alive released two albums: King of Sweet, a limited-edition release that mixed tape effects, samples, demos, and unreleased songs, and Mouth by Mouth, which added more pop structure into the group's inherently experimental and dreamy sound, resulting in its most accessible and diverse album to that date. A new drummer, Trey Many, took over Lang's duties.
As Defever's reputation as an innovative producer spread, he lent his skills to bands like Grenadine, a side project of Tsunami's Jenny Toomey and Unrest's Mark Robinson, other 4AD acts like Liquorice (which featured Toomey, Dan Littleton from Ida, and His Name Is Alive's Many) and Tarnation, and other Detroit-area bands like Godzuki and Outrageous Cherry. Defever also worked on other projects, including the folky ESP Summer (with former Pale Saint Ian Masters) and the electronic Robot World and Control Panel, and founded the Time Stereo art collective with a childhood friend, artist/musician Davin Brainard. Some of Time Stereo's projects included films, coloring books, and cassette-only releases from bands like Princess Dragon Mom, the Crash, Godzuki, New Grape, and Noise Camp.
Defever's diverse interests influenced His Name Is Alive's next release, 1996's Stars on ESP. Very little of the group's original ethereal sound remained, augmented instead with touches of dub, folk, gospel, and early- to mid-'60s pop like the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. At the time of the album's release, Defever claimed that he was so fascinated by the group's "Good Vibrations" that he listened to it for months at a time. The following year's Nice Day EP reached to garage rock and '60s R&B for its inspiration, and featured some of the gospel singers from Stars on ESP, including Lovetta Pippen, whose singing also gave His Name Is Alive's 1998 LP, Fort Lake, an earthy sensuality. Fort Lake also marked the first time the band worked with another producer, recording engineer Steve King. King, another Livonia native, had also worked with Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin, and his touch meshes nicely with the funk, soul, and classic rock allusions His Name Is Alive makes on the album. In preparation for recording Fort Lake -- named after a waterlogged Civil War fort in Michigan -- the group played monthly shows at the Gold Dollar, a tiny Detroit club. At this time, Pippen, bassist Chad Gilchrist, and additional drummer Scott Goldstein debuted as part of the new lineup.
In 1999, His Name Is Alive released a U.S. compilation of tracks from their first five albums called Always Stay Sweet; at the time, those albums were only available as British imports. Like the rest of the band's work, the compilation highlights their mercurial, unique nature. Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth appeared two years later. Released in 2002, the darkly soulful Last Night ended up being the group's final album for 4AD, but His Name Is Alive found other outlets for their music, and were actually busier than ever... Read on.
Discography, albums: Livonia (1990) (4AD), Home Is in Your Head (1991) (4AD), Mouth by Mouth (1993) (4AD), Stars on ESP (1996) (4AD), Ft. Lake (1998) (4AD), Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth (2001) (4AD), Last Night (2002) (4AD), Detrola (2006) (Silver Mountain/ Sony BMG), XMMER (2007) (Silver Mountain/ Sony BMG), Sweet Earth Flower (2007) (High Two), The Eclipse (2010) (Silver Mountain Media), Silver Family (2012) (Silver Mountain Media), Silver Dragon (2012) (Silver Mountain Media).
Singles & EPs: The Dirt Eaters EP (1992) (4AD), Universal Frequencies EP (1996) (4AD), Nice Day EP (1997) (4AD), Melody Farm EP [split with Little Princess] (1997) (Shaolin Temple/timeSTEREO), Pets Farm EP [split with Little Princess] (1997) (Motorway/timeSTEREO), Drugs Farm EP [split with Little Princess] (1998) (Rocket Science / timeSTEREO), Woodstock/Mothers Day" 7" included with LP of Fort Lake (1998) (4AD), Can't Always Be Loved (1998) (4AD), Happy Blues / One Year (2001) (4AD), Nothing Special (2001) (4AD), Raindrops Rainbow EP (2005) (Silver Mountain Media), Silver Makeup EP (2007) (Silver Mountain Media), Firefly Dragonfly (2007) (Acuarela Discos), Dream Rememberer (2010) (Silver Mountain Media).
Video: "Are We Still Married" (1992), "Can't Go Wrong Without You" (1993), "Peace In Detroit" (2002), "Who Has Seen The Wind" (2006), "Come To Me" (2007), "Demons Come While You're Under" (2008), "Dream Rememberer" (2010), "St. Michael" (2010), "Vanilia" (2010).
Come To Me - Silver Makeup EP - Silver Mountain
No More The Moon - Silver Makeup EP - Silver Mountain
I Am Going Home With You - Silver Makeup EP - Silver Mountain
Silver Makeup - Silver Makeup EP - Silver Mountain
Further information here, here, here & here.
Dubstep is a difficult genre to describe. It encompasses and combines many different genres, as any decent genre should. However, I'm often disappointed to see it so easily dismissed by so-called intelligent and musically experienced individuals, as thoughtless dance music.
Well, that's some sweeping generalisation there. This is clearly not the case, so why people would go out of their way to appear to revel in their own self imposed ignorance, is beyond me.
Akin to a Daily Mail reader tilting their head slightly to absorb and critique the emerging neu music of the late 70's. As they say in Yorkshire; Think On.
So, what do Various Production bring to the Dubstep table? Over start/stop skittering yet hypnotic rhythms, they often evoke a ghost like, haunting melancholy. I find this a very pleasing combination. What I also find pleasing is their corporate ID, for want of a better term, their audio/visual work and their apparent desire to go under the radar. Every once in a while they find favour beyond those in the know, such as the interest surrounding their track Hater. But for the most part, they stay hidden. Lets try and find them...
Michael Crumsho's article for Dusted may help us:
The call came late one night – me, on the couch, Dusted Impresario Otis Hart at home on his computer. "Ever heard of Various Production?" blinked the IM.
"Not a peep," I shot back.
"They're pretty big into being anonymous. The records are amazing. No one knows anything about them. Think you can do a piece on them?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. "No problem." Readers take note: this is not the first time I have regretted my own words.
The next day I was in possession of three 7”s and two 12”s, all attributed to this Various Production collective/label/group with little information outside of catalogue numbers and track titles. The music didn't give any more clues. As I spun through them all I heard Missy Elliott cut-ups, slothy grime riddims, queasy abstract electronics, shots of quaint Brit-folk and doses of electro-funk, wispy female vocals, and even a track that sounds like it could have been some old lost soul number. A few clicks later and the website popped up – nothing there, really, save for a drawing, some mp3's, and an e-mail address. I fired off a quick note in my best professional journalese requesting an interview and called it a night.
No response ever came. Nor did it come with any subsequent emails on my part.
A couple of days later I spun the tracks again, and this time out they sounded different. Nothing stuck hard the first time, but with a second turn the claws began to dig deep. First there was "Cogmac," a lithe skip, a shoulder shrug beat, high female vocals pitched into the rhythm. But then came "Queen Bee," the B-side with Var. Prod. making their best effort at blowing up Stock, Hausen & Walkmen's game. Nipped from the Rotary Connection, this one channels the original's dewy vocals over broad orchestral sweeps – a deep and penetrating sadness in the chorus, a sleepy set of pipes nursing a drink and a busted heart. The "Foller/Home" single played next – the A-side all queasy seasickness, a low end throb pouncing up and down matched by yet another female voice and a harp. The flip got off on Shirley Collins, a banjo, an incantation, some old folk song I thought I had heard a million times before that sounded fresh and alive here.
Back on the internet I googled. I emailed. I hit the web boards and the blogs, posted messages and asked around. Every time the same response – "Oh yeah, I've heard of them. Good stuff. No one knows anything about them, though. I hear they signed to Warp/Leaf /[insert various other big time labels here]." An unending refrain, it would seem. The leads were hilariously slim – a friend of a friend on a message board had tea with them and said they were quite nice. A whois search on the website domain turned up a generic hosting company. Glowing reviews on Boomkat, another review that mentioned this being the newest production from Adam Phillips and Ian Carter. The Carter thing was a false lead, instead giving way to an Ian Cotterell. Either/or, it didn't really matter in the end – all roads led to the same blank cul de sac.
And still – more tracks. On to the 12”s, a different beast entirely, terse funk, twisted R&B moves and dance floor stunners. "I'm Really Hot" rips Missy apart over twisting percussive moves, somehow sounding much rawer than Misdemeanor ever was on the original. Again, though, it's the flipside of the single that burns. "Where I Belong" opens with a furious drum salvo, the rhythm all akimbo, the cymbals flaring, and the synths building steadily. Another anonymous female comes on the mic breathing sweet nothings into the air, a touch of menace circulating her winsome voice. A new 12”, another curve ball – "Too Lost in You/What About Them?" mines the Sugarbabes and Brandy for source vocals, ultimately popping limber funk in directions the originals never dreamed of. One final 7”, this one "Hater/Byker" and yet another shade of Various Production. The lead is glinting dubstep, the percussive hits giving off a metallic gleam as the female vocalist warns off the titular menace. But then when we switch sides, what comes up? "Byker," a version of an old traditional English folk song (although for the life of me I can't place the one they sampled, if it even is pinched) given the once over, the strings drawn out to cascade, the tension palpable, a work ballad transformed for the right now.
Various Production like to plunder, that's for sure. And maybe for some that's a bit problematic. Then again, so adept are they at transforming their source material into wholly new pieces it doesn't even feel like a theft. Rather, they encompass all of these sounds and disparate vocalists into their own distinct brand that they capably switch before anyone can even remotely get a handle on them. Then today, at the last minute another lead, this time a blistering, hazy mix for the BBC’s Breezeblock show incorporating bits and pieces of everything they seem to do so well... Read on.
Abridged Discography - EP's & LP's (extended discography here):
European EP (12", 2002) - "Cogmac"/"Queen Bee" (7", 2003) - "What About Them"/"Too Lost In You" (12", 2004) - "Turn it Up"/"No Win No Fee" (12", 2004) - "I'm Really Hot"/"Where I Belong" (12", 2005) - "Hater"/"Biker Walk" (7", 2005) - "Foller"/"Home" (7", 2005) - "Sir"/"In This" (7", 2005) - "Today"/"Go Beat" (12", 2006) - "Mr Clever"/"Lost (dub)" (12", 2006) - "Bruk"/"Home (edit)" (7", 2006) - "13" (12", 2006)
"Phortune"/"Limbs" (7", 2007) - Chief EP (12", 2007) - Diver (12" EP, 2007) - "Meskman"/"Wot You Say" (7", 2008) - Various Production Remix EP (12", 2009) - Keep Her Keen (12", 2009) - Trycycle EP (12", 2009) - "Learn Faster"/"Air" (10", 2012) - "Moving On"/"Bolts (12", 2012)
The World Is Gone (XL Recordings, July 17, 2006) - Versus (Various Production, July 7, 2008) - The Invisible Lodger (featuring Gerry Mitchell) (Fire Records, February 23, 2009)
Further information here, here & here. Video content here, here & here.