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Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Brett Spaceman  



This is a hard review for me to write. I have been listening to this music, albeit in a live setting, for almost 3 years now. I have seen Envie perform with many different lineups, from an early cello and harp version to the rock band version that recorded this CD. To make matters more complicated, i have become friends with the band members and am specifically thanked in the liner notes. What is a Minion to do? How can i write about this while maintaining at least a veneer of impartiality?

The answer is rather simple, really: i asked Brett Spacemen (who lives in Belgium, by the way, and who had never heard Envie before) to add some commentary. Let's see what he has to say.

Brett Spaceman:

There’s a real demo feel to this record. Okay it may be my shitty PC soundcard and speakers adding to this vibe, but it still sounds like a live mix, and Envie sound like a thousand support acts you watch for a bit when you’re feeling charitable or don’t wish to lose your vantage point for the headliners. Your mates go for a beer and you quickly feel thirsty...


I feel i must add a disclaimer here. Due to the fact that Mr. Spaceman is halfway around the world (okay, only quarterway, but still!) the only way i could get him the music in time for this review was to rip the CD to (192 kbps) MP3 format and upload it for him to listen to. There are all sorts of limitations here, one being that in many cases the music only sounds as good as the gear on which it is played.

However, i can agree to a certain extent with his assessment of this CD as having a certain demo-ishness to it. I get the impression from talking to various band members that the CD was in production for about a year. During that time, layers were no doubt recorded and re-recorded. The end result doesn't always sound totally organic. And although i think Blake Long did a fine job of capturing the live Envie sound, i think that perhaps some more hardcore studio production could have made the record sound, well, less like it was played live in a practice space. This is no fault of the band, but rather a limitation of the low-budget local band genre. People who have been with them for a while, like myself, will be able to see past any limitations in the sound, just as i forgive the band a bad mix in a club on a given night. Those like Mr. Spaceman, with no previous exposure, are left wanting a bit more polish to the proceedings. I completely understand.

Brett Spaceman:

And yet what’s going on? Out of the standard alt-rock comes all manner of bizarre instrumentation. Harp, violin, piano…this is more interesting. A razor sharp guitar accompanied by harp! I’m racking my brains ….?

By the time we hit track 2 (John's Song) there’s more promise: odd lyrics and a nice melody. Think All About Eve meets Eraserhead! The fervent piano playing on Still Room threatens to go the safe way of Keane, but the weird bridge puts an end to that notion. Having not seen them live, I can only assume (and hope) that there is ‘leaping about’ a plenty, or at least some performance to energize these bizarre arrangements.


Well, i hate to disappoint you Mr. Spaceman, but the band (this lineup at least) all played sitting down. Granted, guitarist Chris Hoke did have the habit of thrashing around slightly in his chair on the more energetic moments, but not exactly the type of activity Brett is hoping for!

I also have to agree with him that the bridge on Still Room comes across better here than i ever remember it doing live. The song is a pleasant piano-driven number, and then at the end it just explodes with guitar in one of those moments during which Hoke looks as if he wants to stand up for a bit. This is a good version of that song.

Brett Spaceman:

On record, some of these odd arrangement are confusing, and wrong footing. Witness the metamorphosis of Trapped In Amber from piano and slide ballad into sonic tirade. Sometimes these songs simply get lost. An argument, perhaps, for Envie having too many ideas? (Sigh) Is it them? It could be me you know!

My Amelia is a toe-tapper with eerie violin, driving urgency and beguiling melodies that recall The Glove or Siouxsie’s Killing Jar. Plus there is real promise in evidence again on Spare Change as heavily effected drums pave the way for a standard gothic workout.

I really think they could do more justice to the ghostly vocal abilities of Renee Nelson, a mixture of early Natalie Merchant and, say, Alison Limmerick (This Mortal Coil). Yet every time I expect a track to bathe a little in unplugged acoustic basics, it tends to go in a different direction.

The actual singing and playing cannot be faulted. Most notable for me is the drumming which is powerful, yet controlled throughout. I sense somebody almost holding back from potentially swamping the rest.


Brett, again you nailed it right on the head. There were many times seeing Envie that it seemed as if drummer Kevin Wallace was just about to try and turn them into a thrash band! However, well, you can't really play harp that fast can you?

I think that this holding back is very noticeable on Home Free!, which has long been my favorite by the band. This starts with a long bit (almost 4 minutes) of harp, voice, and subdued drumming. Then it goes into full rock out mode with Hoke using all of his pedals and Wallace finally cutting loose to beat his kit as much as he pleases. The first part of the song has a tension to it that i think Mr. Spaceman is right in describing as a "holding back", and then there is glorious release… Another tune that i am very pleased with the recorded version of.

Brett Spaceman:

I can’t really judge the bass on my tinny PC speakers. But the vocalist is gifted with her range and scales. There’s a sweetness and clarity at play, which pulls her short of, say, Polly Harvey territory with perhaps a hint of Eastern influence. The ingredients are there, but the recipe is not yet perfected, leaving us with a cake that doesn’t quite work on the palette. Over sweet in places, too pungent in others.

Track 9 really has the spectral/middle eastern thing going on at the beginning before embarking on a demented call and response spiral. A good soundtrack, this, to somebody flaking apart at the seams. Play this at night and keep the cats off the garden, guaranteed! Maybe they should fully commit (pardon the pun) themselves to this direction of madness/horror? They seem on the brink of doing something almost Residents-esque on Track 9, and it works in all honesty.


Well, that is a slightly different tune for Envie. The vocals here are by Jarboe, formerly of Swans. Nelson is Jarboe's current touring keyboardist, and so Jarboe added some voice here. It is interesting and totally different from the rest of the music here. I think that Mr. Spaceman nailed it when he says that Jarboe's voice hints at madness -- a very apt description.

Brett Spaceman:

Overall this is an odd, scary, and rough record yet to settle into any readily identifiable personality. The variety that presumably keeps their live set fresh hasn’t translated into the album format. However there’s potential enough to hope they carry on and maybe one day deliver their In My Tribe.


And that is the real tragedy here: the version of Envie that recorded this CD is already gone. Guitarist Chris Hoke has emigrated to Alabama to raise his offspring, and drummer Kevin Wallace along with bassist Jared Welsh have become the rhythm section in The Jupiter Watts. Nelson is soldiering on with the band though, and time will only tell what happens.

My verdict is that there is a lot going on here: four years or so worth of musical ideas and collaborations. Perhaps it is too much to cram onto one CD. Perhaps Nelson should have recorded earlier, and with different incarnations of her band. (I remember seeing her and violinist Susannah Barnes do a chillingly beautiful version of My Amelia once at Eyedrum… That version should have been preserved!) Still, i am grateful for this CD.

We sometimes refer to a CD as a "record", and usually i think that implies "recording". Look in the dictionary and you will see another definition of "record": a preservation of time. This CD is a record in that sense as it keeps a record of where Envie were. I am happy with it by that definition, but then again i have watched the journey, and so this record makes much sense to me. Mr. Spaceman was previously unfamiliar with the band, and although he doesn't understand some of the odd song structures (which i maintain make sense from a developmental perspective), he can still see potential. I think that is a recommendation if ever there was one.

So, a final verdict: if you have enjoyed Envie to date, then get this CD. It will bring back good memories of fun shows. Also, these songs are interesting. Envie were/are doing some things that no one else in Atlanta has tried. Sometimes the songs work wonderfully, sometimes not so much. Still, the ideas are there. I hope that someone else (perhaps, even, the next incarnation of Envie) take these ideas and runs with them.

Related Links:
  Band website:
Reviews on EvilSponge:
   Festival Appearance: IG02 on Fri.2.Aug.02
   Concert: Sat.25.Jan.03
   Concert: Sat.14.June.03
   Concert: Wed.9.July.03
   Concert: Thu.28.Aug.03
   Concert: Fri.6.Aug.04
   Concert: Sat.31.July.04
   Festival Appearance: Corndogorama 2005, Day 1

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