Monday, December 7, 2009

Venice Is Sinking (SCQ Year-End Questionnaire Part V)

2009 was a year of redemption for this Athens, Georgia five-piece. Facing the strain of calling it quits, Venice Is Sinking released the catalyst of their potential break-up, AZAR, and through its slowcore beauty, rediscovered their united passion. Vocalist Daniel Lawson and drummer Lucas Jensen speculate and gush on the year’s finest moments. (Photo by Ian Darken)

SCQ: What have been some of your favourite records of 2009? Gush away.

Daniel: I don’t think this album comes out in the states for another month or so, but I’ve had a copy of El Perro Del Mar’s latest, Love Is Not Pop for most of the year and it's been in constant rotation ever since I bought it while on vacation in overseas. For some reason it’s a record that I only listen to at work. Her simple lyrics are never distracting and the stark production allows me focus on whatever task is at hand while still enjoying the music. You know, I’ve probably heard that record a couple hundred times this year but never really listened to it – which is kind of weird. I love it though.

The Blue Depths by The Odawas hit me pretty hard a few months ago, especially the last couple of songs. They combine the worst of Windham Hill synthesizers with the best of Bruce Springsteen’s slower ballads to create these surprisingly organic, warm and compelling compositions. I also listened to Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev for the first time this year. I have no idea how I missed that album when it came out. It’s just such an astounding sonic accomplishment and it sounds like it was recorded yesterday - not 11 years ago.

Lucas: Hmmm...I'm not as up on current stuff this year as I'd like to be, and I must admit that a lot of big-time records this year left me nonplussed (Girls?! Really?!). Okay, yeah, I like the Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca like a lot of people, but mostly when the women sing. He just needs to cede control to them. Of course, Camera Obscura keeps cranking out near-perfect gems, even if I like the new one a tad less than the last one (it drags a bit in the early middle, and they really just need to stop trying to be country). Circulatory System's Signal Morning was a welcome return. It's so great to have them back around to remind me why I loved the Elephant 6 in the first place. I think that Megafaun's Gather, Form, and Fly is monstrous. It reminds me of what the Dead would have been doing if they followed their American Beauty muse ("Box of Rain"=so good) and then went on to work with Eno and Charlie Tweddle. Does that make sense? I really loved Keri Hilson's debut In A Perfect World... I liked her guest appearances, particularly on "The Way I Are", but I had no idea that she could put together a debut that solid, even if most tracks could be trimmed by about 30 seconds (autotuned melisma ain't my fave). I finally discovered Jay Reatard this year (Watch Me Fail). Listen, I saw the guy live a couple of times and I thought he was a joke, just a sub-Lookout! pop-punk dude headbanging around and acting like a jerk to his audience. But I love his records! They've got hooks galore! They couldn't be more different! Hermas Zopoula's Live in Ouagadougou is a neat little record, and I use the word "little" by design. It's just Hermas with a guitar recording in his backyard in Burkina Faso, and it's totally charming. If he wasn't from Africa and you could understand what he said, I'd be he'd be this year's Bon Iver! Burn! Oh! The Super Furry Animals' Dark Days/Light Years was the best they've done in some time, I thought. I finally bought Tracks and Traces by Brian Eno and Harmonia '76 (why did I wait so long?), and it's just as fantastic as a collaboration between Brian Eno and Harmonia seems on paper.

SCQ: Be it from the radio, lost on Myspace or from your roster, what song(s) could you not stop spinning?

Daniel: I’ve been pretty obsessed with the song, “Hand’s Up (Give Me Your Heart)” this year. Admittedly, it’s terrible. It was written by this French/Caribbean disco group called Ottawan and released in 1981. It sounds like a bad impersonation of ABBA and it's the kind of song that you picture elderly people dancing to at weddings in New yeah, it’s pretty bad. I couldn’t escape the song when I visited a friend in Stockholm earlier in the year (which is where I heard it for the first time) and have not been able to stop listening to it since. It’s a catchy song and I kind of love it, but I don't think it's actually very good.

I've also been into this old country song called "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" by The Kendalls. It has all the hallmarks of a classic country duet - a memorable chorus, male/female harmonies, religious overtones, clever lyrics about cheating and a predictable mid-song key change. I think that part of why I like it so much is because it's being sung by a father and daughter duo instead of by people who could conceivably be romantically involved, which makes lines like, "way down deep inside / I know that's it's all wrong / your eyes keep tempting me / but I never was that strong" undeniably creepy.

"Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley is another one that I can't seem to get a way from this year. After a show, when the band is somewhat drunk and we're all loading out our equipment, inevitably someone (usually me) will start singing the final chorus over and over again until the van is packed up and we're safely on the road. I am positive that it's an annoying experience for almost everyone involved.

Lucas: I can't stop listening to Hall and Oates records on headphones...they sound great! The drum production is so...present. It feels like that dude is right next to you. So I'd have to say "Out of Touch" and "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and similar. I still listen to those Cut Copy jamz from last year all of the time. The Rotary Connection's "Burning of the Midnight Lamp". I went through a Beatlesaissance with all of the hooplah and I listened to "Something" about six times in a row and it never failed to give me chills. I love the Jackson 5's version of "It's Your Thing". And I jam "Boogie On Reggae Woman" about once a month, for obvious reasons.

SCQ: Seldom celebrated but crucial to The Album’s identity is cover-art. Can you offer any shortlist of personal favourites from the past year?

Daniel: I haven't actually heard the record, but the album cover for Beck's Modern Guilt looks fantastic. Oh wait, I think that one came out last year...

Lucas: I thought Bitte Orca was just beautiful. I also thought that Veckatimest looked great, too. It's nice when the big hype records also have great covers. Oh, man, Will Hart's painting on Signal Morning is just heartbreaking. That's my favorite.

SCQ: When you look back on what transpired this year, what will stand out as your most memorable professional moment(s) of 2009?

Daniel: I am extremely happy that we got to put out our second album AZAR this year. That one took a lot out of the band personally and we were all very proud and relieved to finally see it released.

Lucas: I think getting to put out AZAR was the end of a long struggle for us, and we're glad that people care about it enough to write about it. It's a personal record for us and kind of everything we ever wanted to do. Everything after this is just gravy!

SCQ: Most of us probably haven’t thought as far as New Years Eve plans but still, looking forward, what do you have on the horizon for 2010?

Daniel: Well, we recorded our third album a while back here in Athens, Georgia at the historic Georgia Theatre, which has since burned down. The album was recorded live, directly to tape using just two microphones with the wonderful David Barbe overseeing the entire process. It wasn't a live record in a traditional sense; instead it was more about capturing the sound of a band playing in that huge old room. There were no overdubs at all and we just rolled takes and drank scotch for a week while the theatre was closed for renovations. In a lot of ways it's the exact opposite of our last album AZAR, which was a very good thing for us at the time. Honestly, my feelings about the record (which is tentatively titled Sand & Lines) fluctuate between pride, uncertainty and occasionally even shame. But, I am very excited about finally seeing our little experiment released in 2010 on vinyl and donating all of the proceeds to help rebuild that amazing old theatre.

Lucas: Well, we are going to release our third album, recorded live to tape at the dearly departed Georgia Theatre in 2008. We hope you like it. We're also writing album #4 and we hope to put out more EPs and stuff. Black-Eyed Peas covers? You bet!

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