06
Jul
09

Painting Pretty Pictures and Falling Down Stairs: Morton Valence’s Bob and Veronica Ride Again

Morton Valence Bob and Veronica

Many musicians (and their labels) are trying to bolster their slumping physical sales by providing as many additional features and combination choices as possible, including bonus material, bonus DVDs, bonus MP3s, and bonus books (see U2’s latest marketing strategy to get an extreme example). While I can appreciate having the extra features for bands that really matter to me, I’m often quite cynical about the whole ploy and don’t bother buying any such bonus combinations for the escalated price. The reason I mention this tactic is so that I can contrast this sterile face of the marketing machine with that of the truly innovative independent scene. And my main example will be London band Morton Valence, composed of Robert Hacker Jessett, Anne Gilpin, Leo Fernandez, Camilo Parra, and Alejo Pelaez. I became aware of them via Anne Gilpin who was also part of Vanilla Swingers, the band who created my top album of 2008. Not only did Morton Valence join the likes of Patrick Wolf and frYars in opening up the funding of their record, Bob and Veronica Ride Again, to fans, but they created not only a record, but an experience. This experience extends to a soft cover book nestled next to the CD and several live “book club” performances, which all comment on and complement each other. The rather ordinary narrative of two potential lovers, Bob Young and Veronica Wilson, becomes extraordinary and three-dimensional and completely surreal in its reality.

The accompanying book begins with a quote from Syd Barrett: “Fairy-tales are nice.” It’s the fitting beginning and summary for a story that keeps itself brief in one-sentence paragraphs, yet at the same time, it foreshadows a happy ending – a happy ending that you’re not quite sure about until you get there, and even then, you’re not sure how it happened. But you find it quite nice in the end. You are plunged into the mundane life of Bob Young, who sees Veronica for the first time while trying to get a job. Through coincidence or fate, depending on how romantic your viewpoint is, Bob meets up with Veronica again, only to discover she’s an evangelical Christian. Despite several botched attempts at winning her heart, or at the very least her body, it seems Veronica, who is as humanly complicated as Bob, is still drawn to him. In spite of herself and in spite of life itself. Even Morton Valence make an appearance themselves as a “raucous hi-energy disco wedding band” in a club that Bob and Veronica are cajoled into going to by Bob’s junkie friend, Zak. The climax of the novella, and perhaps its crux, occurs when Veronica comes over to Bob’s flat for dinner. Their conversation ends up here:

‘Science doesn’t own the truth Bob.’

‘Neither does Jesus.’

‘Ok, but why should everything have to be proven or disproven? I have faith, as have the vast majority of humanity since the beginning of time, having faith is part of what makes us human, having faith is believing in something that cannot be proven, believing in love is a type of faith, how can you prove love? You can’t, but most of us know it exists as we’ve felt it at some point in our lives, just being able to trust and love something far greater than yourself, not something you can necessarily touch and see that needs to be proven and quantified by some egg-headed scientist in a laboratory.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And what happens when people lose faith?’ she asked.

‘Errr…dunno, tell me…?’

‘Their lives become empty, suspicion and anger come in to fill the void and they lose their humanity.’

After this rather informal dialogue about big philosophical questions, things take a rather absurd turn. An LSD-laced teapot hijacks the story for three rather psychedelic, paranoid chapters fillled with a skipping Van Morrison record and a swirling Van Gogh painting. The moment is both comic and tragic as Bob loses his reality and Veronica at the same time. However, in the muddle and the loss, Bob seems to step outside of his passive existence and to take charge of his reality from a decidedly new angle, culminating in that fairy-tale ending.

The album retains a lot of the ambiguity of the novella, and the band has the retro cool confidence and sweet pop of Saint Etienne. The record begins in media res, as does life itself, and amidst the general chatter, banging piano and crowd noises, a short song called Veronica’s Revenge (Continued) emerges. Gilpin sweetly sings that she would like “some souvenir of all the things we did” before the track starts skipping, a fantastic connection to the skipping record portion of the book. It is here that we seem to be launched back in time into a picaresque adventure, where each song becomes a fanciful episode. Chandelier, which I featured a few weeks back in my weekly mix for London artists, is a mesmerizing dream of a song with its enchanting xylophone and interchange of vocals between Gilpin and Jessett. It spirals through a haze of first date emotions before fading into light ballroom music, evoking the silly euphoria of first loves and lusts and the state of a mind drugged by endorphin overload. As much as the couple wants to “swing from the chandelier,” they want to hang onto these crystal feelings and the electric moment. Then Jesus and Mary Chain guitars buzz through the beginning of Sequin Smile while Gilpin’s lush vocals “pay homage to the goddess of the stairs.” The song’s title could be a reference to Veronica’s “silvery smile” as described in the novella. A gentle, pulsing cabaret feel enters the soundscape with Ordinary Pleasures, which reminds me of Black Box Recorder lambasting the ordinary and showing that it isn’t all that normal after all. Tambourine and laconic bass back Bob’s attempt to “unfurl” Veronica’s life even as the walls of the room start to curl in some meltdown of reality. As Ordinary Pleasures fades away in a wash of mysterious feedback and sirens, Funny Peculiar sidles in with pumping synthesizers and trippy electropop a la Pulp. The first lines are “We like to boogie/all night dancing/feel the world spinning round/while everything is so funky” before they start mentioning the people that “sing hallelujah” and how “they’ll make you laugh then disappoint you,” two points that remind me of the part in the novella where Bob attends an evangelical service to get closer to Veronica. The point at which Jessett starts singing “Let it rain all over me,” his vocals continue to echo an overwrought evangelical chorus while Gilpin’s cartoony “bah bah’s” add a frivolous, comic sense to the whole predicament.

The carnivalesque drifts into the rather bluesy, dark John Young, which slinks along behind Gilpin’s old-time siren-style vocals. The chorus takes on some Old West flourishes, prompting me to think that the maverick hero that the song is named after is what Bob and Veronica both wish Bob were. Or what they both can imagine him to be if they try hard enough. Despite the fact “their love is average” and “their treachery is pure,” the duo seems like play actors in a world of their own creation as the outside world threatens to spill in through more chatter by the end of the song. Cracks of thunder and synth chords signal the next track, Hang It On the Wall, which sees Jessett taking over slightly desperate, despairing vocals. The character, Bob, seems to beg for a way to forget their flaws and the cracks in their relationship by hanging a pretty picture over it; this song makes a clever tie-in with the fact that a painting of Gilpin and Jessett is featured as the cover art for both CD and novella. The song ends in a tannoy solo by Jessett.

The album takes a calmer, subdued corner with Nobody Understands. Gilpin’s hushed vocals are backed by minimal music that occasionally swells into a choir-like crescendo. Veronica’s inner turmoil and confusion over a wounded past is brilliantly displayed in the lyrics “They won’t hurt you/unless they have to/but they don’t really mean to.” Filled with pregnant pauses, the song culminates in a beautifully frail, small “me” after several repetitions of “nobody understands.” Sweet pop and xylophone return with Falling Down the Stairs, which provides a new wave sound for yet another metaphor of love: falling down the stairs. Gilpin’s vocals continue their perfect understatement as she asks that you “listen to my story.” Bob, Veronica and Some Crickets indeed feature cricket sounds along with more xylophone and disorienting, reverby vocals from both Gilpin and Jessett. Recounting such regular details of life as double-decker buses and fruit machines, the song also uses some less than typical comparisons for the lovers, including a pillow, a wineglass, sand and footprints. As the speeding heartbeat of the previous song fades away, a Spectorish beat and organ come in for “I Must Go” She Said, “But I Will Al…, a song that lulls you with calming vocals from both Jessett and Gilpin. Both characters are certain of the fact they will leave other, but are equally as certain that they will return. The song bursts into whizzes and fuzzy guitars after a trumpet solo, interrupting the suggestive moment of the earlier half and emulating the unfinished title. After a very brief interlude called Disco, which features as more of a sound effect and setting device than anything else with its garbled crowd noises, the tender Go to Sleep concludes the record’s story. The acoustic ballad becomes Veronica’s lullaby as she lightly croons, “hush now/fly on home.” It’s as though all that came before this was a waking dream, and the “kiss, don’t say goodnight” refrain from Chandelier takes on new meaning.

Since I ordered my copy of Bob and Veronica Ride Again, I’ve been getting e-news from the band, including invitations to “Bob & Veronica’s Book Club” at which Morton Valence play the record in its entirety. If you’re in London on July 9, they’re doing another rendition aboard the Battersea Barge on the Thames. These kinds of performances take the concept of a gig into far more creative territory, much the same way the album/novella stretch the idea of both artforms, and contribute to creating a full experience rather than single pieces of art. By refusing the temptation to have a parallel narrative running in both novella and record, the story becomes richer as the two forms of media present a different way into the same emotions. Morton Valence has managed to decant the messy dregs of life, love, and lust into a sweet, heady cocktail that provides lucidity through madness. Life is a funny, sad narrative populated by thousands of Bobs and Veronicas, who are all painting pretty pictures and falling down stairs…and hoping that their broken lives and unfinished sentences end in fairy tales.

Morton Valence’s MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/mortonvalence

Sequin Smile – Morton Valence

Falling Down the Stairs – Morton Valence

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

Photobucket

Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Photobucket

Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

Photobucket

I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

Photobucket

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

Photobucket

Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

Photobucket

Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

Photobucket

Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

Photobucket

And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

Photobucket

We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

Photobucket

Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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