Blow Up Hollywood
I feel honoured to call Steve Messina a friend, for that is what he is. I am therefore even more honoured to be thought of as someone who warrants advance copies of his band's future releases. I was privy to Collections as early as November 2009 and have had the 'album' for a full 16 months. Steve sent it to me for an article I was going to write for a website I used to write for, in a series of musical interludes and because he wanted a transatlantic prespective.
When Steve sent me the disc, which until last week was filed under BUH 2009, he asked me if I had any suggestions as to the order it should run and explained that some tracks were versions of existing songs, while others were experimental. He offered me a vague reason for why the forthcoming album would be called Collections, but for me the reason it is called that is because it collects the wide array of styles you find in Blow Up Hollywood's music. There's everything from prog to rock to soul to jazz to ambient noodling stuff. The band, of which Messina is the principal songwriter, don't do labels; of the 6 'albums' of theirs I own, no two are alike, although the eponymous titled Blow Up Hollywood and its follow up Fake are probably the most similar, but even then it is just Messina's vocals that connect the two.
For my benefit more than anyone else, I'm going to review the album as I hear it, rather than revised order that appears on the release.
Collections is good. It, as they say, floats my boat. It kicks off with two really powerful prog like instrumentals - NCK and JCK, both of which show some of the influences that have helped define this vastly underrated band. It is followed by the atmospheric DDK - possibly my favourite instrumental track on the album; it reminds me of early William Orbit, but with a depth and gravitas that Orbit's early stuff seemed to lack and it has a layered guitar in it that makes you want to pick up an air guitar and noodle along with - well, it does me...
Sweet Memory is a lovely love song about loss; it combines piano, Steve's voice and a subtle use of strings to convey an almost 1930s feel. I didn't like this much on first few listens and now I find it's been put right at the end of the release I think it's a great way to end the album. This is followed by When It's Over, another love song that seems to examine the break ups in relationships and who ends up taking the blame; it's also got a sing along quality, something you could argue BUH are not renowned for.
Then we're treated to the cover version of Kite; Kitty Kite is in many respects the best track on the album; but this might be due to the fact that Kite is one of BUH's best loved songs. The female vocalist, Kim Wayman (I believe) has a fabulous voice, all croaky and soulful and she really gets to use her ability on Slow Down - a song that Messina tends to sing at live shows, but Wayman really makes this a soulfully beautiful track. Her final input is Crash, another painful sounding song that seems to describe the affects of a full on affair has on people.
In many respects, the version of Collections I own is split into sections; the modern rock instrumentals; the middle section of vocalising the impact of relationships, of love and loss, and then there's the final section; the jazzy experimental stuff; where BUH's love of cello, John Cage and the avant garde really shines through.
For Jessica is a deep, rich and almost sad piece of music that has a feel of Take Flight, the last BUH album. It also reminds me of the early instrumentals from the eponymous album and the original reason why I fell in love with Blow Up Hollywood's unique style. This also acts as a sort of bridging point (on my copy) for the full on weirdness of Caged, More Caged and Cello/Piano/Radio/Woodwinds which explore the dark side of the band's love of the unusual and the uncommercial. While Blow Up Hollywood have never been commercial, they do have songs that you could play at parties; these 'weird' pieces of music are the kind of thing you put the headphones on when you're in need of a self-analysis moment or are feeling a wee bit introspective. You can understand why a sideline of the band is to produce soundtrack music and you can see why they also have a love of the freeform - whether it's jazz or modern classical. This is wall of sound as far removed from Phil Spector as is earthly possible.
In many respects, the three avant garde pieces don't sit naturally with the rest of the album, even when they are at the end of a CD like mine are; however, mingled with the rest of the album they almost throw down a gauntlet, suggesting to the listener that what they're listening to isn't your standard fayre.
The album is only available as an MP3 download at the moment and would cost you a measly £6.99; which by today's standards is a great price for an album that defies description in places. Do yourself a favour and buy the album and remember something, with the release of the band's last album Take Flight, they gave the proceeds to a building program in Nicaragua, to help the homeless there have some place to live. this from a band that are barely known outside of their native New York. You don't find the U2s, Arcade Fires and Radioheads of this world doing such a charitable and altruistic gesture and that alone make this a band worth speculating on.
I score Collections a monumental 9 out of 10