A Vertical Mosaic
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A Vertical Mosaic

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


""A Vertical Mosaic""

A Vertical Mosaic

A genius I know once described Montreal's A Vertical Mosaic as "the greased pig of Montreal pop bands" with "a patina of playfulness in their style-defying musical fuck fests." That kind of whip smart mastery with a metaphor is, well... useful only up to a point when it comes to breaking down the component parts of a band that's as philosophically layered as the music itself. Something about 'dancing about architecture' I've been told, and hence the inherent fallacy and, one might presume, failure of all music journalism. I'll get over it, I'm sure.

But will Ali Rahman? A sometime writer himself, A Vertical Mosaic's programmer, percussionist, co-songwriter, co-vocalist and principle propagandist, mouthpiece and proselytizer, he's the kind of artist that music journos lose sleep over, one who won't accept a lazy generalization or irresponsible characterization of something that he and fellow band members Heidi Donnelly and Edmund Lam have devoted heart and soul to refining. The tunes, man, the tunes. And if A Vertical Mosaic's continued evolution from off-centre, band-format experimentalists to avant-electro-pop engineers isn't making things any easier on my end, well then that's my problem isn't it?

On the trio's latest, a split eight-song EP with Le Monochrome (headed by multi-instrumentalist Sylvain Aube) on Toronto's Noise Factory Records, the group's planned departure from the realm of conventional pop song structuring almost sees them moving in two different directions concurrently, as at the same time they bridge into a more expansive and open-ended songwriting aesthetic they're also attentively looking back to the basics of what a song is.

"Sometimes I think we're fighting with ourselves," speculates Rahman. "There's a disparity in what we do. I really want people at any level of interest in music to be able to get into what we do. That would be great. That's an idealistic view, but if there's something meaningful in there for them that's great, and that's part of pop, or the conventions of pop. And that's weird because it sounds so condescending to think of pop as a formula. The thing is that it's not, and I think that bands like The
Unicorns prove that."

Doubtless, A Vertical Mosaic stand to benefit directly from the fact that many people, particularly younger generations of music fans, are listening to music differently than they did 15 years ago, much of which has had to do with the permeating influence of techno and other parallel electronic music forms. Rahman nods. "I think patience is on the rise in the sense that repetition is getting more acceptable."

The repetitious character of his own band's writing is mitigated in large part by the inclusion of many shaded variations and unobtrusive nuances that work between the careful melodic vocal lines steering the tunes, keeping them from meandering or straying too much. Deciding how many of these delicate bells and subtle whistles to keep proved to be the major challenge on the new EP.

"Before we went to the mix, it was everything and the kitchen sink in the recording," recalls Ali. "We laid down, like, 25 tracks for it. Some of them were pre-sequence, some of it was computer tracks with massive sequences, almost songs on their own. We just piled it all in there and began subtracting. It's a lot of editing."

Moreover, the band has found that their increased dependence on technology, as opposed to live instrumentation, presents its own set of problems. "Due to the highly mechanized nature of the band, we're pretty aware that we're slowly programming ourselves out of jobs. So there's got to be something we can do to make up for it. I hope that we can become better performers with better stage presence."

Always much easier said than done. Any theories as to how one might go about doing this? "I've been talking to the audience a lot, so has Ed..." says Rahman before stopping and thinking for a second. "Did you go to The Flaming Lips show at Métropolis? Wayne Coyne, the singer, is the most loving individual you'll ever meet... As I said to people afterwards, the two most moving shows I've seen in my life were Godspeed at Theatre Olympia - but it threw me into this four- or five-year bleak depression - and then there was this Flaming Lips show that turned it all around, it was so positive and optimistic."

"There's an element of cheese in it all, to walk away with such intense feelings, because that's not what an indie kid does. You're supposed to walk away and go 'Fuck, yo, that was alright, yo,' but I was deeply touched and moved by how loving and affectionate this singer was to his audience."

"He's the kind of guy that makes it all worthwhile. I've had my share of fights with bands..."

No! Not you! (Rahman is, let's say, noted for his expressiveness when confronted with less than a full effort by his musical peers.)

"Um, yeah. So this is one of those rare times when I walked out of a show and thought 'That was cool!' and not 'What the fuck! Why did I waste my money on a bunch of jerks.' (Sloan! Sloan! Sloan!) Anyway, I think I came away with an understanding that if you do slightly obtuse music, or music that requires a bit of intelligence or patience - actually I'm not going to say intelligence, 'cause that's mean - it's important not to get so
self-absorbed in it that you forget you're playing it for people. And not just in front of people. They're paying money and you want to make sure they have a good time."

And a good time is yours to be had when A Vertical Mosaic launch their new EP at Casa del Popolo, March 25, with Noise Factory label mates Beef
Terminal and Naw.
- the HOUR


"Hook, line & Synthesizer"

Hook, line and synthesizer

>>A Vertical Mosaic love you and think you're smart

by RUPERT BOTTENBERG

"I love the audience," says A Vertical Mosaic's Ali Rahman in a fit of uncharacteristic philanthropy. "I think a lot of avant-gardists don't give a fuck about the audience. It's art for art's sake, and it's self-indulgent."

Avant-garde navel gazing is, to be fair, one element of the Montreal trio's sound, sitting pretty at the crossroads of post-rock, sound art and electro-pop. But their navels are there for all to gaze at, just not in the manner of Britney Spears' admittedly adorable belly button. AVM can't help but stop short of pure pop.

"I think it might be a failing of ours, in terms of songwriting. The way we do it, for the most part, consists of infinite layering, getting out as many ideas as possible. We kitchen-sink our recordings - everything goes in, and then the editing process is all subtraction, pulling stuff out. There's this notion that every song has to be gold, has to represent all these different things. It's gotta be a pop hit, but also expansive and kind of trippy - it's got to function on all these different levels, and that's impossible. You can never make the perfect song, though we're always trying to."

For their efforts, AVM now find themselves on the Ontario label Noise Factory, former home to Broken Social Scene. While the EP that AVM are launching tonight (a split, or rather interwoven, release with solo artist Monochrome) is only distributed by Noise Factory, it does ease them into their new family. "I can't think of a better label for us to be with. After BSS left, they were left with a hole in their roster where they didn't have a more pop project,  just this intensely downbeat ambient techno stuff. It was all sound artists, and they needed a pop band to fill the void. We're not stupid pop, so they liked it, and they liked the fact that it's electronic."

That, and the aforementioned love for the paying customer. "It's like fishing. We're casting a lure and hoping somebody bites. And that's not to say the audience is equated to sea life or anything! They're a lot smarter than fish."

With Beef Terminal, naw and DJ Cyan at Casa del Popolo tonight, Thursday,
March 25, 9pm, $7 - the MIRROR


Discography

"no nation no blues" EP - 2000 (independent)
"not even the creator of the universe..." EP - 2002 (independent - wibi records)
"a vertical mosaic / le monochrome" EP - 2004 (noise factory)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

from an article in "the Hour" by Jamie O'Meara. March 2004.
---
"On the trio's latest, a split eight-song EP with Le Monochrome (headed by multi-instrumentalist Sylvain Aube) on Toronto's Noise Factory Records, the group's planned departure from the realm of conventional pop song structuring almost sees them moving in two different directions concurrently, as at the same time they bridge into a more expansive and open-ended songwriting aesthetic they're also attentively looking back to the basics of what a song is.

"Sometimes I think we're fighting with ourselves," speculates Rahman. "There's a disparity in what we do. I really want people at any level of interest in music to be able to get into what we do. That would be great. That's an idealistic view, but if there's something meaningful in there for them that's great, and that's part of pop, or the conventions of pop. And that's weird because it sounds so condescending to think of pop as a formula. The thing is that it's not, and I think that bands like The
Unicorns prove that."

The repetitious character of his own band's writing is mitigated in large part by the inclusion of many shaded variations and unobtrusive nuances that work between the careful melodic vocal lines steering the tunes, keeping them from meandering or straying too much. Deciding how many of these delicate bells and subtle whistles to keep proved to be the major challenge on the new EP.

"Before we went to the mix, it was everything and the kitchen sink in the recording," recalls Ali. "We laid down, like, 25 tracks for it. Some of them were pre-sequence, some of it was computer tracks with massive sequences, almost songs on their own. We just piled it all in there and began subtracting. It's a lot of editing."

Moreover, the band has found that their increased dependence on technology, as opposed to live instrumentation, presents its own set of problems. "Due to the highly mechanized nature of the band, we're pretty aware that we're slowly programming ourselves out of jobs. So there's got to be something we can do to make up for it. I hope that we can become better performers with better stage presence."