Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Songs about the Mysteries of Housework and Nature

Usually, the type of stuff that floods my inbox is not even remotely related to the type of music I post on Eclectic Grooves. So, I was happily surprised when Yvette Perez of NYC's electro-jazz trio H.E.R. asked me to write a review for her band's stunning debut album on Persian Cardinal Recordings, "Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature".

H.E.R- Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature














You might be able to guess from the title, that this is a concept album about, well... housework and nature. But this album takes you on a mesmerizing trip into the psyche of a bored and disgruntled housewife who is tired of her mundane existence cleaning the house and tirelessly pushing paper at the office. She yearns to be close to nature again, but fears that going outside will destroy her perfect little existence in her head.

H.E.R. is a trio from NYC consisting of Yvette Perez on vocals and synthesizer, Peter Zummo on trombone, trumpet and samba whistle and Danny Tunick on vibraphone and percussion. Yvette and Peter were formerly in the avant jazz quintet Birdbrain whose first album "I Fly" sounded like a carnival jazz troupe tiptoeing on a high wire of complex harmonies juxtaposed with fearless no-wave style vocalising. Yvette has also studied with the pioneering avant garde flute player Yusef Lateef and Peter has worked with many avant garde musicians, but most notably with avant disco virtuoso Arthur Russell.

From the opening bars of "Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature", you can tell that this album is a completely different beast than Birdbrain's "I Fly." The mood created on opening track Owings Mills is transcendent and dreamlike with woozy trumpets and funereal organs providing a subtle backdrop to Yvette's hypnotic and breathy vocals. In the last few words of this track, Yvette's lyrics cut to the bone:

I thought I saw someone outside last night
I thought I heard someone park outside
Close the drapes
Dredge the marsh.


The protagonist of the song seems to be afraid of facing the world, and instead searches for solace by performing mind-numbing household tasks in an empty home. "The Office" continues in the same vein, but adds layers of jazzy ambience with subtle trumpet phrasing that evokes swimming through the haze of rain-soaked city streets.

The shortest track on the album,"Busy Day in the Driveway", is also the most experimental one with remnants of Birdbrain's creative improvisation. In under two minutes, the listener's senses are assaulted with an assortment of studio tricks including extended reverb, delay, muted trumpets and droning synthesizers.

"Unruly Place" features Peter pulling off a convincing Miles Davis circa "A Kind of Blue" muted trumpet style. This is the longest song and it is the best showcase for Peter's perfectly spaced trumpet phrasing, evoking a contemporary smoky film noir soundtrack. The aforementioned samba whistle serves as the only accompaniment to Yvette's strikingly beautiful accapella vocal on the old-time folk ballad "Nottamun Town". She successfully paints a vivid picture of the eccentric characters that inhabit this creepy old town with the poignant lyrics in the last verse:

So the king and queen and a company of men
Are walking behind and riding before
A Stark naked drummer goes marching along
With his hand in his bosom a-beating his drum, his drum

The end of "Nottamun Town" segueways perfectly into the hypnotic swirling synthesizers and upbeat vocal melodies of "Dusty Beach". Again, the lyrics about the housewife's obsession with cleaning appear here:

But, I'm indoors with my
Vacuum cleaner in my hand
Obsessed with a clean
Spotless floor

"Split Level" is an instrumental (except for Yvette's wordless sighs) accompanied by an array of layered and reverbed trumpets, vibes and synth. The final song, "This Migration Is Over", ends the disc on a mystical note with it's poetic lyrics about the inevitable change of season taking shape. Take this verse for example:

Butterfly covered grounds
With wings broken and dew
Goodbye to this year's migration

Throughout the last two minutes of the track, Yvette seductively whispers lines from a poem while trance-inducing harmelodics dance across your sunbconscience. "Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature" is a truly mellow late-night album that is reminiscent of the sound of Miles Davis "Ascensuer pour L’Echafaud", Amon Tobin and Stereolab. Think of this as like an electro-jazz version of Radiohead's stunningly crafted masterpiece "OK Computer". An astonishing debut effort that is continually rewarding after repeated listens.
From: Songs About the Mysteries of Housework and Nature

Please support the band and purchase the album here!

Also, for those of you who live in Portland, Oregon, H.E.R. will be performing live this Sunday at Valentines-9 p.m and will also be performaing on KBOO 90.7 FM on Friday, Jan 18th at midnight. Please show Yvette and company all your support.

2 comments:

Rich said...

I didn't get to see her in Pee-Town, but my friend Daniel - the godfather of KBOO's late-night freeform radio - had her live on the air, sort of. She played over the phone from NY with a band that was in the studio that she had never met before: , a flute, sax and clay percussion duo from Portland. It was amazingly surreal!

Kevin said...

Rich,

Are you Rich from Kill Ugle Radio? I saw this comment awhile ago, and meant to respond to it sooner. Anyway, what a small world huh? I met Daniel the night that I went to Valentines to see H.E.R. I heard about this performance with Cartridge. I wish that I had a copy of that performance. Do you think Daniel would have a copy, and be willing to burn me one? Anyway, take it easy man!

Best, Kevin