When you get right down to it, i don't know anything about
music. I mean, i can't tell what key a song is in to save my
life. I have to strain to remember the notes that make up the
musical scale. I can't read music at all.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It hasn't stopped
me thus far in my calling as a Music Critic.
What i do know, however, is cooking. Not like i am a master
Chef or something, but you give me a basket of ingredients and
a kitchen and i will create something you will enjoy eating.
It's a skill that i have developed over time, i suppose.
One thing that i have discovered in the kitchen is that the
secret to good food is balance. Flavors and textures
need to blended together in such a way that they compliment
each other. There should be no war on the pallate!
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject of This
Is Not A Film. First, a few facts:
- Underwater are an electronic band, from Atlanta.
- They make a slow, somewhat melancholy sort of music, with
funky beats, beautiful female vocals, and distorted guitars.
I think the Bristish call this type of stuff "trip-hop". Think
Portishead, with more emphasis on guitar and less on DJ scratching.
- This is their second album. It is the follow-up to 1998's
I Could Lose.
I really love this album. I have been listening to it almost
daily since i got it at the
benefit for Underwater's wounded guitarist. It moves me.
It is, i think, the best thing i have heard in the past six
months or so. I like the album so much that i dragged Tracers
and Brillo (neither of whom
are exactly fans of electronic music) to see the band perform
in a record store.
It's really a well done album. The recording seems just right.
Melissa Mileski's voice whispers, wavers, and yelps at the appropraite
times. Jeremy Wilkins plays his guitar with layers of fuzz,
echo, and chorus. It flows in and out of focus, sometimes blurry,
sometimes clear and precise. Beats float around the dueling
melodic textures of her voice and his guitar. I can just sit
and get lost in this album
"That's all good and well", you say, "but what does this have
to do with cooking?"
I have been hard pressed to find something to say about it
here under the ever-watchful eye of Brendan. And then, last
week, i was blasting the album on my stereo (much to the annoyance
of my neighbors i am sure) and cooking a good hearty curry in
the kitchen. I was bopping along chopping veggies to the fast
dance songs. Swaying back and forth over the wok during the
dreamier numbers. You see i had this new jar of Patak's Brand
Hot Biryani Paste and.... Well, nevermind about that.
But as i was standing in my kitchen, tweaking spice additives
to get my meal just right while This Is Not A Film
played, it hit me: in a way, making music is like cooking. You
have all kinds of elements, and the secret is to get them balanced
just right. A little too much reverb can destry an album.
Vocals mixed too high can destroy the beauty of a song. Too
much cumin makes a curry inedible. It's all about balance.
Given that, Underwater are like master chefs. In the two years
since their last outing, the band have figured out how to get
all of their ingredients, voice and guitar and beats, mixed
I really cannot think of any way that this album could be improved.
It fulfills the promise of the entrie "trip-hop" genre: music
that is passionate yet has a mechanical undertone.
For example, there is a really nicely done (balanced) three
song sweep towards the front of the album. Track 3, Canada
builds tension through distorted beats and Mileski's relentless
chanting of "There is no safety in numbers". This flows into
E, a song of mournful keys, swirling guitars with a really
nice use of delay, Mileski's voice singing forcefully, and crunchy
industrial drum beats. This song builds to a nice drone and
then flows seamlessly into Melc, which starts off really
mellow and quiet with subdued vocal mutterings and then builds
to fuzz once again.
These three songs in combination are full of tension that builds,
builds, and explodes. Organic guitars, sultry vocals, and mechanized
rhythm combine fully here. It is what i expected Bowery Electric
to achieve with their last album.
Bowery Electric failed to fulfill their promise, but here, it
is fully realized.
In contrast to the complexity of some of the songs, Underwater
also offer us I'll Say Your Name, which is the band stripped
down to it's bare essentials: Mileski's voice and Wilkins guitar.
This song is all slow delayed strumming and layers of Mileski's
voice singing soft and slow. Truly Beautiful.
Now with that said, i can make another comparison to cooking:
no matter how well a meal is, there is always the subjective
element of the end-user's taste involved. That is, many of my
curries are too hot for some of my friends. Seeing a band perform
when the drum beats are pouring out of a box confuses Brillo.
Not too much you can do about it, but there you go.
I have rated this album so highly because i think, within the
confines of its genre, it is perfection. Not every song will
appeal to everyone, but i think that there is something here