So a few weeks ago I was going through my daily blog perusal and thanks to Music is Art, I found one of the most exciting musical discoveries I’ve made in years. I seriously haven’t been this enamored by a single band since Portishead introduced me to trip-hop back in 90’s. In a post dedicated to Sympathy for the Record Industry, I came across a couple of tracks by Scarling. (note the full stop as part of the band name) that were so intense for me I had to go out and buy the album the very next day. To further illustrate my enthusiasm, I had to stand outside Amoeba music for an hour to purchase it because there just so happened to be an in-store performance by “The Shins” which packed the store beyond capacity on the same day.
All I can say is it was well worth the wait. On the average day since I bought “So Long, Scarecrow” it gets at least three complete spins in the CD player. Considering how much new music I come across this is quite an accomplishment. To put it into even more perspective, I’ve had “Hip-Hop Is Dead” since the day it was released and still haven’t heard anything beyond the tracks I previewed on other blogs I read (this has done wonders for my street cred, let me tell you). I’ve also had “The Destroyed Room” staring at me for several weeks now and I still haven’t listened to that either (of course that has more to do with the fact that I refuse to give a Sonic Youth record any less than my full undivided and uninterrupted attention upon first listen).
So who exactly is this band? You may remember the lead singer Jessicka from her previous band “Jack Off Jill”. They had a pretty loyal following in Florida and gained a larger audience when they opened for Marilyn Manson on one of his tours. Some of you die hard Manson fans may know her as the “groupie” he spitefully referred to her as in his autobiography. I personally haven’t read the passage in question and I do know that she used to date Twiggy Ramirez as well as several other high profile men over the years, but I also know that mere groupies aren’t this talented. The thing is when you obtain at least moderate success in any field, you’re going to start running in circles that include higher profile contacts in said field as well. And who do you usually date besides those inside your social circle. Also given Manson’s penchant for running of at the mouth when he’s got a grudge with someone, I don’t find his comments surprising. Supposedly he and Jessicka are currently on good terms for the time being, so I won’t perpetuate this any further with my limited knowledge of the details.
Rounding out the rest of the band are guitarist and producer Christian Hejnal, additional guitarist Rickey Lime, drummer Beth Gordon, and Derek Snell on bass. To add a personal touch to this story and to show how small the world is, I found out that both Christian and Rickey both still have their day jobs over at Sony Pictures which means there’s less than 2 degrees of seperation between me and this particular band… eat that Kevin Bacon. Also fairly recently Christian and Jessicka have become engaged.
It is also worth noting that Mark Ryden serves somewhat as the Nigel Godrich-like 6th man, providing artwork for all of Scarling’s releases (You’ll have to get the limited edition vinyl to see his contribution to “So Long, Scarecrow”). He was also the person that introduced Jessicka to Long Gone John of Sympathy Records. While we’re on that topic, if you live in Hollywood once again, you can catch Ryden’s new exhibit “The Tree Show” running March 10th through April 28th. I plan to be at the opening reception next Saturday, so maybe I’ll see you there.
Now about this music… Deemed “nu-gaze” by the likes of NME and Alternative Press, Scarling takes concepts invented by bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Lush and The Jesus and Mary Chain combined with a harder crunch and stellar production that somehow manages to achieve the oxymoron of adding clarity in addition to more noise.
Now Jessicka… her angelic voice is one to be envied for sure. With Scarling you’ll find no more of the banshee screams you heard with Jack Off Jill (not that I didn’t like those vocals as well), but you’ll find more and more of those little moments where a single phrase will catch you and convey so much more than those same words would mean in written form. Life has been pretty good as of late, so I’ve evolved out of the dysphoria that permeated most of my early years, but I have to say this girl makes me miss the comfort in being sad. It’s quite fitting in that aspect that the post over on MIA which introduced me to Scarling included this Ryden quote:
“there is a very dark and painful side to life, but that is natural.
people in our culture think they shouldn’t ever be unhappy. they think being unhappy is unnatural. they try and make it go away. they take pills or they go to therapy to “fix” themselves. they blame themselves or others for their suffering. we need to understand that sadness is as much a part of this life as joy. it would be easy to just get bitter and cold while focusing on the dark side, but there is also an amazing, wonderful side of life. if you look for it, there is true magic all around us. maybe that sounds trite to the hardened self-protective modern ego, but there is magic in this miraculous life. if you open yourself, you do make yourself vulnerable to pain but the deeper pain you experience, the deeper joy you can have.”
I have to say that right now Jessicka ranks right up there with Roddy Womble in the distinction of being one of my favorite lyricists. (Keep in mind that this is a personal distinction and that Thom Yorke doesn’t count because I decided somewhere between “OK Computer” and “Where I End and You Begin” that Thom wasn’t so much writing lyrics as transcribing encrypted messages from God himself. And while we’re on THAT topic, check out Scarling’s cover of “Creep”).
These songs lead me to believe that Jessicka is the type of girl I would have fallen for back in school and would continue to hunt my dreams to this day. Of course while doctashock and Jessicka would have seemed like a great couple to those who would know us, Jermaine Whitely realizes that he and Jessica Fodera would more than likely be the couple you always assumed were dating but never actually saw holding hands or kiss. Besides, one of these days I’m gonna have to learn to quit trying to interpret peoples true nature through their art. I have to learn to fall in love with the person and not their pain. It doesn’t help that she’s incredibly hott, but she’s been quoted as saying she would much rather me talk about her music than “how her ass looks in jeans” so… here’s my breakdown of the album.
Hello London – Lately I’ve forgotten you/Though I know you remember me
First of all I must say that I love this song, but at first I questioned it as an album opener. It’s a downtempo ballad that is a stark contrast to the rest of the album, and I thought it might fit better somewhere in the middle. Upon further listens however I came to realize that this is the 3/4 warm up that is preparing you for the vigorous workout that is to come.
There is a point during the chorus here where Jessicka starts to coo and somewhere around the third “oooooo-aaaaaaa” the distinction between her voice and the guitar chords disappear, giving you a preview of the layering that will be displayed so aptly thoughout the rest of this album.
City Noise – It’s the final kiss, from a lover’s fist/It’s the reason why you can’t cry
Now that you’ve been warmed up, it’s time to break out full force. “City Noise” crashes in letting you know that these guys are gonna be coming at you hard and after the introduction riff, Beth’s thundurous toms lay a bed for some calculated bursts of guitar noise that interplay gently teasing you throughout the verse only to smack you upside the head when the chorus rolls around with a wall of layered sound that let’s you know Phil Spektor will die a happy man.
Broken Record – And if I’m so happy, why do I say/All of these things that linger, rot, and decay
Following a similar verse/chorus contrast as “City Noise” by the time this song rolls around, you’re just starting to realize how much Scarling can do within their unique style. I personally think Jessicka’s voice takes the lead on this song and when she starts to bellow out the bridge everyone in hearing distance is forced to turn around and take notice whether they were previously paying attention or not.
(Northbound On) Cahuenga – And I see you/Driving in her car
This cinematic song is that climatic scene in the movie where the main protagonist has that life changing epiphany and you know this will be the turning point in the development of his or her character. Things will never be the same.
While not necessarily the predominant element throughout this entire song, when Jessicka utters the words “Now I see” she hits a note that unexpectedly reaches out and taps a part of my soul that I thought I had finally cut off and forgotten about a long time ago.
Teenage Party Letdown – I threw a party, but nobody came/I had this friend, I don’t recall his name/ And we – we built a house where I couldn’t live/He broke a promise that I could not forgive/ And it was a…
The subtle and very apropos introduction for:
Bummer – Gave him perfection, gave all I could give/But what he wanted, was for me not to live
Here we start to get a glimpse at Scarling’s pop sensibilities. This song makes me nostalgic for hanging out at underground clubs in Detroit with Kira Suicide back in the day. I warn you that you may find it hard to sit still during this one.
Manorexic – I love him completely/At least for tonight
This song slides in right in time and brings up the intensity level just a notch. The layers don’t build up here, they come at you all at once from the outset and don’t let up throughout. The two lead riffs ebb and flow entrancing you into a dreamlike state during the verse, and then tweak out into controlled feedback whistles in the main chorus.
Lyrically, this is what pop songs are meant to be. A heartfelt sentiment that many people can relate to on some level. I don’t know who gave Jessicka access to my personal journal, but I’m glad she’s singing this song, because these feelings sound a lot more reasonable coming from a female compared to how malicious they’d come off from a male point of view.
In The Pretend World – You see I never loved you, no matter how you tried/In the real world, there’s no goodbye
Here you’ll be lulled in by the intro and then Chris, Rickey and Derik will drive you all the way home only to drop you off on the doorstep with mommy and daddy none the wiser to the adventures you’ve just experienced.
Stapled To The Mattress – You’re the people who just want me to notice/You’re the people I try so hard to ignore
Here Jessicka uses her phrasing to channel some of the more sadomasochistic sides of Maynard James Keenan. Once again Beth’s thunder drives the track and the the guitars stack layers on top of one another in an effort to build a tower to the sky.
Like A Killer – Oh, I would kill anyone for you
I love the way this song is pieced together. All of the elements get their time to shine here, taking turns in the spotlight. There’s not much I can say here that won’t repeat what I’ve said while talking about the rest of the album, but this one is definitely a winner.
Caribou And Cake – Jesus loves your mouth/Sugar, just not the things you say
I don’t know why, but this track reminds me of the Pixies for some reason. Maybe it’s just the fact that it has the word “Caribou” in the title, or maybe it’s because I know that Scarling also covered “Wave of Mutilation”. Another great track with a pounding rhythmic pattern that blossoms when Jessicka hits the bridge.
We Are The Music Makers – Consumed with just ourselves
It’s hard to pick a favorite from this album, but if Scarling had a theme, I think this would be it. It somehow manages a level of pop accessibility without watering down their overall sound. Check it out.
So Long, Scarecrow – Oh, we don’t care anymore
And now that the workout is complete, it’s time for the cool down. This is an awesome lullaby that thrives in it’s melancholy tone. The atmosphere on this recorded version is a lot of what makes the song, but I’d love to see what they’d do with this acoustically.
Other things I noticed in the linear notes were that Jeffree Star is credited with the makeup effects for the photoshoot of the albums cover art. Now my only previous knowledge of Mr. Starr is his interview with Rev. Mitcz from when I worked with M+ and the fact that we would still get people sending in questions about him 6 months after the show aired. Given that and my very public thoughts about Myspace, I found this to be rather interesting to note.
Now would be a great time to pick up this album from iTunes, since according to their website, Scarling has just recently gained the digital rights to all of their material from the record company. If anybody deserves to be supported in their artistic endeavors it’s these guys. They’re currently working on a third album which will hopefully be released within the next year and I’ll be among the first in line to grab tickets for the live show.
For today’s bonus, I’ll leave you with a video from Jessicka’s previous band “Jack Off Jill”. I’d like to think I have a few things in common with her cat… and I ain’t talking about eating a whole watermelon either 😉