For the last twelve years there has been a collaborative effort which has flown under the mainstream radar that can only leave us wondering Why hasn’t the world taken notice?
The musical talents of Lisa Papineau, who brings experience from M83 and the Watchmen soundtrack, and Juan Alderete, who has donated ripping bass lines to Racer X and The Mars Volta, have been experimenting under the moniker Big Sir for over a decade. This year they are set to grace us with Before Gardens After Gardens, the third release under their combined efforts.
Before Gardens After Gardens combs the landscape of dynamic experimental diversity with tenacity and expertise. Papineau’s vocals deliver grace and elegance that fits between Imogen Heap and Natasha Khan with a personality and attitude all of her own, putting her in a class of such greats, but most importantly aids in driving this release home.
The album begins unapologetically with “Regions,” an immediate intertwining dance of Papineau’s voice and Alderete’s bass. The mesh of progressive vocals and instrumentals established early on in the album garners the attention of anyone and everyone and should not be missed. Sure, Before Gardens After Gardens brings in a plethora of immensely talented musicians ranging from Money Mark Ramos-Nishita to Matt Embree and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, just to name a few. The true beauty within can be found in the compilation and vision established by the heart and soul of the album; one which could not be formed without the obvious passion from Papineau and Alderete.
As you transcend the plains of modern musical thought with Big Sir, there is one glaring disappointment with the album. It is less than forty minutes long. When looking at an album of such great songs and composition we have to find something to keep it in check.
The last twelve years have brought two musicians to this point. It is a culmination of superb entertainment thrown into eleven tracks. This is the kind of album we’ve waited for to kick off 2012. The bar has been raised for albums this year and at this rate, it’s going to be a great one.
One thing that makes the arts so fascinating is the social stratification between the audience, the artists and the people who bring the two together. Every person views a piece differently and various things speak to them or draw them in. Ask someone “what’s your favorite album?” If the person works in a cubicle inAnytown,USA, the album is generally something that universally speaks to people. If they are a singer, chances are it is an album with astounding vocals. If they are a drummer, they will probably say a hip-hop album but secretly it is a Neil Peart venture. Ask a sound engineer and the answer is an album no one has heard of because they “really enjoy the sound editing and the mix.”
The thing is the sound engineer is the one who has the most qualified opinion and their favorite album is one you probably should have heard of and should be in heavy rotation in your library. There should be an annual award for “Best Album You’ve Never Heard Of” at the Grammys and it should be handed out by a balding guy with a pony tail, plastic frames and a black Zildjian t-shirt. In fact, we’re going to start one right now.
2012 has received its first entry for the BAYNHO Award in the form of Before Gardens After Gardens by Big Sir, a duo featuring Lisa Papineau (best known for adding her vocals to M83) and Juan Alderete (bassist for The Mars Volta). The album, in all of its lo-fi minimalist splendor is meant to be enjoyed in its entirety, not to be cherry-picked for individual tracks.
The album lurches out of the gate with an awkward drunken stumble as “Regions” starts immediately with a funky bass line and Papineau’s smoky voice. After the initial awkward step, the album settles in its stride with expertly timed peaks and valleys of emotion. Each track is a svelte bed of drum machine and synthesizer sounds overlaid by haunting vocals and quirky, catchy rhythms. Through the 38 minutes, the music paces itself like a long con and nestles into your subconscious. It rears its head at times like in “Old Blood” just to let you know it is still there, coloring in your day. By the time the penultimate track, “Our Pleasant Home,” rolls around you realize Big Sir has snared you with their lo-fi groove and you are hooked.
The sounds of Before Gardens After Gardens are rich and funky, but are niche enough that it’ll be a tough sell for mainstream consumption. On one hand, that is unfortunate because everyone should have a chance for Big Sir’s music to permeate their consciousness. On the other, it gives me another fake award to hand out.
I love my job.