Thursday, June 16, 2016

incidental lightshow

The Armoires reveal a great big musical world with the haunting heartfelt harmonic convergence of this eclectic power pop diary.   Originally brought together as part of a Talking Heads cover band that never happened, lead singers Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko began to work on songs that Rex had written over the years.  This 'coffee house' duo expanded when Christina's son Ian began helping them record a demo.  As the sessions progressed, the band gained confidence; but after their first public performance, Ian was killed in a car accident.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, the band decided to continue with the recordings in his memory with Christina's daughter Larysa contributing viola and vocals; her bandmate Sean Barillas from symphonic metal band Mantis (referenced in "Playing With The Lights") on drums; multi-instrumentalist Nate Myer adding guitar, bass, keys, drums, and vocals; plus Derek Hanna and Clifford Ulrich who played with Rex in Skates & Rays (who get name dropped in "Doubtful Sound") on drums and on bass (and vocals) respectively.  Three of the songs ("Fort Ashby", "Unhaunted", and "Norma Corona, What Have You Done?") retain performances by Ian on drums.  Christina plays keyboards and Rex plays guitar, harmonica, and mandolin.  Recording took place at Burbank Music Academy Sound Studio, Causality Studios in North Hollywood, Roundhouse Recording in Encino (where producer Glen Laughlin sat in on guitar and bass), and "at home" in Burbank.  Much of the final mix for 'Incidental Lightshow' was done in Toronto by Alan Fraser.  

The Armoires have developed a network of likeminded musicians in the Burbank area with their monthly showcase “Big Stir: Power Pop and More” at the California Institute of Abnormalarts in North Hollywood, featuring some of the folks that helped to create their debut album and who share their genre defying mindset.  Christina considers: “We didn’t know how to start, and we didn’t know if we could go on after losing Ian.  In the end we had to. And now we’ve found ourselves welcomed into this beautiful community of amazing musicians and songwriters who get what we were trying to do all along. We’re flabbergasted, humbled, and happy to be home.”

The myriad musical styles in this mellifluous wardrobe run the gamut through Americana, sunshine pop, garage, throwback psychedelia, blue eyed soul, surf rock, new wave, shoegaze, and country.  Sometimes within a song. 'Incidental Lightshow' gets its title from the emotional centerpiece of the album, "Playing With The Lights", a touching tribute to Ian and the synchronous signs that the band experienced after his passing.  Mysterious dancing lights and mantis appearances leading to the question:  "Are you laughing in the stars and playing with the lights?".  Christina helped to compose the lyrics and Nate contributed the song's exploratory bridge.  

Each song has an emotional resonance that ties a thread through the entire album.  What are obviously very personal references seem somehow universal.  Although the lines are often blurred with alternately poignant and priceless phrases, there is a sense of a grieving process.  There is denial ("No one is to blame because no one is responsible at all") in the new wave powerpop of "Responsible", anger ("Violent revolution on behalf of the non-famous people!") in the surf rock complaints of "Norma Corona, What Have You Done?", bargaining ("Hearts might heal, but you can’t unbreak a home") in the domestic drama of "What You Don't Wish For", sadness ("Doesn’t get much lower than the waterline at Doubtful Sound") lurking under the surface of a doomed romance (or perhaps a new musical venture?) with a Mustang-less Sally, and acceptance ("Sometimes you feel like you get what you’re wishing for; sometimes you don’t even know") in the fleeting pop of the sweet album closer "Double Blades".       

Rex reveals:  “Our songs are stories.  Whether they’re dreamlike or straightforward, they always revolve around some kind of narrative, and above all, characters. The way Christina and I trade off lead vocals and come together for harmonies really allows us to bring those characters to life. There’s so much untapped potential in that male/female vocal approach. For all the classic duets in pop music, you don’t hear it much in bands. The New Pornographers are a big inspiration. Fleetwood Mac and X, as different as they are, both did it brilliantly. Those bands dig into multiple perspectives within a single song, and do it magically. That’s the starting point for The Armoires.”

In case you don't know, an armoire is a type of fancy cabinet with lots of drawers and compartments.  The songs themselves are thick with metaphors and layers of meaning that reveal more with each listen.  Although you can look too deep.  Is the "Wire Girl" an art piece, an old sketch, or a dilapidated ship?  I originally thought "Newberry Spectacle" was a reference to the matching glasses that Rex and Christina wear (instead of some kind of art contest?), or that Norma Corona might be a reference to the murdered Mexican activist.  I still like to think that the crass countrified capitulation of  "Live And Direct" could be subtitled "The Chronicles of Ventura".  And that line "he can't keep it up, she can't keep it down" is too perfect.  

The first time I ever heard of an armoire was in the famous "Soup Nazi" episode of 'Seinfeld'.  As with the many wonderful recipes that the titular character had stashed away in his armoire, you'll be amazed at the variety of musical flavors; and like armoire-stealing "street toughs" Bob and Ray, you'll be intrigued by the gorgeous inlay and insist on taking it home for yourself.  And that's all there is to it.


"Fort Ashby" opens the album with a flood of childhood memories of the Mineral Country Fair in West Virginia.  

Out-of-tune piano, cylinder gramophone
Katydids, calliopes, big machines that buzz and groan
Down at the County Fair
There’s music in the air
It’s like a Tom Waits tune but with a different singer
It’s a great big world and it seems to me (it’s coming back to me)
It’s much bigger and it’s so much smaller than it
Ever used to be
In my grandma and grandfather’s backyard
They built a forty-foot slide
All I remember is the light
There’s a funhouse called Star Warz, it’s spelled with a “z”
Copyright infringement, it’s all coming back to me
Here comes a big bass drum
To rock my skeleton
There’s candy in the air, it’s slipping through my fingers
It’s a great big world and it seems to me
It’s much bigger and it’s so much smaller than it
Ever used to be
Now they tell me that it’s monster trucks and
Tractor pulls in the night
All I remember is the light
Put me in the moonwalk, I can’t even stand
Take me to the stage to see Daddy in a country band
Some kid who’s half my size
She won the livestock prize
She had a little lamb
And then the lamb got bigger
It’s a great big world and it seems to me
It’s much bigger and it’s so much smaller than it
Ever used to be
Got my baby beside me going eastbound
On a cross-country flight
All I can think of is the light
It’s coming back to me…

"Unhaunted" describes someone obsessed with the memory of a departed love.  

Empty house on my street with the doors chained up tight
And a window with candles that burn late at night
Children quicken their pace as they walk on by
From all the stories they’ve heard and they’re too young to die
And I miss her so badly I wish I were there
To see the spectral lights and feel the chill in the air
Empty bottle of wine and nobody to toast
I’m so jealous of other people’s ghosts
When I want her to haunt me she leaves me alone
No creaking floor, no flickering flame
Black candelabra and black cat bone
No disembodied voice to breathe my name
Got a box with a lock of her hair that I saved
And a bag filled with dirt that I took from her grave
Halloween once again and I’m here by myself
While her ghost is out haunting somebody else
When I want her to haunt me she leaves me alone
No creaking floor, no flickering flame
Black candelabra and black cat bone
No disembodied voice to breathe my name
She’s leaving me
Don’t want to be
And she had such faith in the world beyond
But I’m truly afraid that she’s truly gone
She won’t come to me as some tender wraith
In a column of vapor with her face
When I want her to haunt me she leaves me alone
No creaking floor, no flickering flame
Black candelabra and black cat bone
No disembodied voice to breathe my name
It’s November the First under a hangover sky
She’s bound to leave me unhaunted whatever I try
All my breaking and entering won’t raise the dead
And I’ll still be unhaunted tonight in her bed
All the leaves on the ground blow around in the wind
Like a family of rodents relieved of their skin
Halloween on a dirt road, 1983
I believed it was real, it could happen to me

The careening groove of "Caterwaul" could fuel a rave.  

Come down, catercorner
Carry me across the square
Come down, catastrophic
Crushed and quite beyond repair
Come down, calla lilies
Cold and lovely in a vase
Come down, cantilever
Can you lever me in place?
But if it’s not your time
You can’t make it your time
If it’s not your time
Come down, cat o’ nine tails
Count again, it’s more like ten
Come down, catatonic
Cannot wake her up again
And if it’s not her time
You can’t make it her time
Can’t make it her time
Come down, Cosa Nostra
Clarity and Claritin
Come down, catalytic
Car exhaust to do you in
Come down, cantaloupe and
Honey, do it while you can
Come down, caterwaul and
Honey can I be your man?
And if it’s not your time
You can’t make it your time
If it’s not your time
Caterwaul, catewaul, caterwaul

'Incidental Lightshow'
full album:

Fort Ashby
What You Don't Wish For
Playing With The Lights
Wire Girl
Doubtful Sound
Live And Direct
Newberry Spectacle
Norma Corona, What Have You Done?
Double Blades

Velvet Ties interview:

1 comment:

  1. Greetings from the UK.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.