Friday, September 3, 2010

Petits Fours - Grand Duchy

Black Francis’s vocals have been called a lot of things, but in all likelihood, they have rarely if never been called: calming, heart-warming and comforting.

And yet, 35 seconds into the opening track on Petits Fours, the delicate echoing keydoards creating a freefalling sonic landscape for the first 34, Black Francis and a telecaster start in, upsetting table and chairs and kicking over, with intent not volume, all the tables and chairs. And as a listener who had a healthy dose of Doolittle and Bossanova during my college years, hearing Black Francis again is like putting back on that coat and getting out of the house for a drink.

It matters not that Petits Fours lacks the sonic fury of The Pixies, after all, few things come close, but that on Lovesick, in comes Violet Clark sounding like a more stable Kim Deal giving us charming pop with a menace and edge to it. Don’t stop that breathing/leave it when you’re older/listen to that devil on your shoulder she sings on the code, the band quietly chugging along.

"Fort Wayne" keeps Black Francis’ toes into ‘50’s pop, like that strange bald uncle that gives you the creeps when you look at him out of the corner of your eye. He’s disturbing like that. His falsetto striking even as he sings about teenagers listening to, gasp!, rock and roll. But it is up to Violet to come in during the breakdown and add the fury to the song: I can’t decide/do I confide/these things in my heart. And then, in true fashion, backs off to the delicate chiming background vocals while she whispers in French over the beat. It is a song about Indiana and children who might have been lost, or stolen, by the demon rock and roll. Black Francis may be singing about himself.

What then, to think about the lounge act that opens up "Seeing Stars?" I’m getting a vibe of Violet in a sequined dress, holding a Patsy Cline microphone and a lot of Highballs on the bar, despite this being recorded in France. Black Francis never feels the need to run roughshod over the song, instead it inhabits its time and place utterly and totally. And yet, 2:41 in, when the bass starts to chug along, the rest of the band dropping out, it is to allow the keyboard and Violet’s vocals “I guess I’m seeing stars again” to build, not to the manic fury of Gouge Away.

We leave that to the next song, "Black Suit", which quicly overwhelms its pathetic little drum sample with the bassline, and the guitar on the edge of losing it, and Black Francis’s vocals, deep and resonant and forceful, counterpointed only by Violet’s echoing angel. The two combine is a scary, deep, duet that rips the song to shreds: The soul keeps slipping down the coul shoot/into the alien mind/the boy looks good in a the black suit/we all know he looks divine sings Black Francis, while Violet sings Deep in my mind/I am the light/I am the light - holding her own.

How to follow the most powerful track on the album? To keep up the tempo: quick drums and submerged bass under Violet’s vocals and its not too long before the guitar is careening drunkenly down the front porch steps, cascading to almost out of control while Violet holds the center, calm and quirky and with more than a little menace before losing herself to the swirl of sonic violence around here. And its in your hair/and its in your mind/and its in your eye sockets which is a deliciously Black Francis line. The 10 seconds of guitar solo you get at the end of"The Long Song" is all you’re going to get. Enjoy it.

Break the Angels"" has a loose, improvised feel that matches Violet’s letter of intent on their website, which was the simply go in to the studio, stripped down and open to what ever came out. "Break the Angels" is having a rave up with Violet and Black Francis and, unlike the heaviness of "Black Suit", is the lightness and fun that helps to create the dark shadows that songs like "lack Suit" hide in. Violet’s sweet vocals, “And as the years go by/bye bye!” her background self sings to them, belie the chugging bass and drums that keep the song moving.

The pounding drums of "Volcano" belie Violet’s “is the song starting? I’m a bit confused.” Because when her vocals start on the next measure, she knows what she’s doing. A song as much about being married to Black Francis as anything else, “move the party because we’ve got to go/that big volcano is about to blow.” Rave it up and rave it down, Violet and Francis, because we’re all in your world, hanging on for a ride.

Looking good in MY black suit - The fearless rock iguana

buy here: Petits Fours

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