Melomane
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"Glaciers album review"

CD review: Melomane - Glaciers
June 3, 2007 · 2 Comments

Their best album. These New York art-rockers have made the quantum leap from being a good band to being one of the best bands around. Their sound is lush, orchestrated and somewhat Mediterranean-inflected with meticulously arranged layers of guitars, strings, horns and keyboards. If you wish the Shins had some substance, if you’re wistful for Pulp at their mid-90s peak – or Roxy Music circa Avalon – this is for you. And while it’s a truism that this era’s musicians stand in opposition to the Cheney/Halliburton regime, Melomane have never shied away from taking a stand, as they do here more passionately and courageously than just about anyone else out there.

The cd opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy art-pop song that evokes Crowded House. Frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely comes on to a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. The next cut Unfriendly Skies has to be the best anti-entertainment industrial complex song written since Elvis Costello did Radio Radio almost thirty years ago. It’s a driving song, set to an ominous, driving beat, a fiery shot across the bow of corporate radio:


From unfriendly skies comes a dull monotony
To conquer and divide, entertainmentopoly
We drive so fast, we get so lost
I’ll turn it off
The channel’s clear, it gives me no alternative
One day soon I know
we will break the stranglehold
Hack apart the snake and
Take back what they stole


The cd continues with the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The next track, The Little Man’s Castles - a big hit at live shows - opens with a gorgeous, Byrds-style lick into a propulsive, backbeat-driven verse with trumpet and keys. There’s a nice bridge right before the outro featuring an all-too-brief, tersely melodic bass solo from Daria Grace (who also plays in her husband Jack Grace’s country band, and leads a charming old-timey outfit called the Prewar Ponies). The following cut This Is Skyhorse starts out totally early 80s new wave, with an acoustic intro into something that sounds like Turning Japanese by the Vapors, then bass and percussion, then back to the lick with distorted, processed vocals. And then it morphs into a bluesy 70s rock song. It’s a weird series of permutations that would do the Skyhooks proud. Could the song title be a cleverly veiled reference?


The high point of the cd, and instant candidate for best song of the year, no contest, is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, 6/8 rallying cry to any one of us who might find the courage to stand up to the traitors and thugs who brought us Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act:


You’re fodder and you’re grist
I think you get my gist
And you know these people don’t like you
They walk without souls
They’re turning our green world into a black hole
They’re out of their minds
We’ve run out of time
In the occident and the orient
Please assassinate the precedent


“Precedent” is what the lyric sheet says, anyway. Major props to Melomane for articulating what most of us never dare to speak. Out of the second chorus, the song builds majestically with a starkly powerful minor-key climb from de Gaillande’s guitar, then the organ kicks in with a desperate, furious crescendo. The song then takes a bitter, depressed climb down to the intro and ends on the somber note where it began. And while de Gaillande makes it clear that “We’re in love with love/That’s why we’re singing this,” it’s clear that this song is not about turning the other cheek.


Welcome comic relief arrives eventually with the pun-laden, tongue-in-cheek, Pistolla di Colla. It’s a clever postmorten for the end of a relationship, evoking nothing less than artsy 70s Dutch satirists Gruppo Sportivo:


Some Roman gallivanter gifted in soothing banter
He’s cooing his sticky catchphrases while life decays in phases
She washed her hands and toes beneath the Caesar’s frescoes
With who, God only knows


Then they segue into a theme which will remain nameless here: you have to hear it to fully appreciate the joke. The following cut Thin Ice is a ballad: mournful harmonies fly over the quiet, reflective verse:


Plumbing the depths of the sadness that springs from confusion
And skating on thin ice.


The album’s last song is anticlimactic to the extreme, but they saved it til the end so you can just stop there if that’s your preference.

Throughout the album, de Gaillande’s writing is more direct and hits harder than ever, and his voice has deepened, revealing a welcome, newfound gravitas. This is a terrific headphone album, a great road album and a shot of adrenaline for any disheartened freedom fighter. Five bagels. With arugula, prosciutto di Parma and capers. The cd is available online, at shows and one would think soon in better European record stores, http://www.melomane.org Melomane plays Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn at 9 PM on Thurs June 7 - Lucid Culture


"Solresol album Review"

Lets begin with an alphabetized list of bands and artists that NYCs Melomane has been compared to: 10cc, Lou Barlow, Beck, Calexico, Can, Leonard Cohen, Donovan, Duran Duran, Fugazi, Joe Jackson, Ennio Morricone, Nirvana, Pavement, Pixies, Spiritualized, Stereolab, Tindersticks, Tom Waits, Wings and Yo La Tengo. Yup, you counted right -- thats twenty separate musical entities, none of which has much to do with the others. Is this an act of extreme sonic hubris? Rampant overpromising? PR run amok? The funny thing is, as I listen to Solresol, none of the above name-checks seem to be all that egregious. So how does a band manage to evoke so many musical forebears at once? For starters, by jettisoning any pretense at having a core sound. Melomane is an eminently mutable combo, flitting from ye-ye pop to loungy cabaret without even a raised eyebrow. True, its all delivered with a dark, smoky vibe imported from the decadent jazz clubs of Paris (lead singer/songwriter Pierre de Gaillande is a native), but that could hardly be described as a unifying feature, especially after sampling the quirky, wildly eclectic offerings on display here. 'The Fighting Guitars' evokes the American West with weepy pedal steel and brushed drums, 'Far Out' dives in with crunchy guitars, and the title track seems beamed in from a Euro-Pop variety show circa 1966. For those of you playing spot-the-influence, check out the Pavementisms in 'Aria in D' and the Leonard Cohen-gone-jazz of 'Complicated Melody.' In truth, there's more to Melomane than globetrotting, pinch-of-this/dash-of-that fun. Both de Gaillande's literate lyrics and the band's tight musical chops elevate Melonmane above their peers, who so often treat genre-hopping as an end, not a means. Listeners seeking elegant pop that walks a fine line between high seriousness and goofy kicks will be nicely surprised by Solresol. At the very least, it's an excellent primer for the vast musical universe that Melomane calls home. - Ben Hughes - Splendid zine


"Resolvo album review"

It's not difficult to love Melomane. You'll love songs that feature on the vibes live-from-the-tiki-lounge chord progressions played at slinky tempos. You'll love tracks that are arranged deliberately, yet played with an amiable looseness and allowed to amble forward like Lou Barlow singing a Tindersticks song. You'll love the male/female vocals, the emotionally charged cello parts, the honey-toned, minimal guitar figures and lyrics such as, 'You fell asleep with a beautiful smile on your face / Under weeping vines on a pauper's grave.' But the Melomane are at their best when most tender and relaxed; the six musicians play lovely, understated, articulate melody/harmony lines. This sort of spaciousness keeps the mix from sounding crowded and protects important song elements from becoming overshadowed by trigger-happy players. - All Music Guide


"Live Show Review"

06/09/2007

Living proof that epic grandeur can be synonymous with great fun. This well-established New York art-rock unit is part eerie 60s garage band, part meticulously orchestrated symphonic rock. As much as it was a little incongruous seeing them in these surroundings – Hank's is a wonderfully inexpensive, friendly, old-school place that usually features country music – it was a blissfully good show. They bookended the set with a cover of the old Lou Reed chestnut We're Going to Have a Real Good Time Together, the only song on which the band lacked tightness, and in fact the only really lighthearted moment of the night. Melomane translates loosely from the French as "passion for fun," and there was no lack of either, although since 9/11 they've become a very dark band with a remarkable political awareness, even for an age where pretty much everybody is united against Bush & Corp. Foremost among the songs they played tonight were a trio from their ongoing "disaster song cycle," as frontman/lead guitarist Pierre de Gaillande put it. One of them was a bouncy pop song about the Vesuvius eruption that essentially cast the Romans as a bunch of fascists. Another was about a meteorite. Their global warming song, possibly titled This Celestial Orb was the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, minor-key number that began with de Gaillande's guitar playing fast, biting broken chords while keyboardist Frank Heer did the same. It built to a haunting chorus, "gravity reverses and the sea and sky trade places." After a spur-of-the-moment interlude in 7/8 time, they tacked on a sarcastic, poppy finale with a tricky false ending that caught the audience completely off guard.

This is a talented group of musicians. Heer doubled on lead guitar, and at the end of a slowly unwinding, overtly political number, played a perfect dual guitar solo with de Gaillande. To their credit, it sounded absolutely nothing like Hotel California. Keyboardist Quentin Jennings played haunting cello on several numbers. It was also good to see nimble, inventive bass player Daria Grace (also of the Jack Grace Band and the Prewar Ponies) singing harmonies again. There was a time when she'd pushed her voice too far, and it took a long time to come back. The good news is that it's back and as bright as ever.

The biggest hit with the audience was a request, Going Places, a spot-on parody of trendoids:

Let's get stressed out to impress and then let's go out
You have the best high-fashion bedhead to go with your sleepy mind
And if the night should segregate us you go your way and I'll go mine

The song went doublespeed after the second verse and by the time they wound it up, it was completely punked out, de Gaillande screamingly hoarsely.

Otherwise, the band displayed a welcome gravitas, most powerfully evoked with the two keyboards going at once. They're playing mostly in minor keys, and de Gaillande has become an excellent lead guitarist. Melomane's show tonight was a reminder yet again of the uncontestable fact that the most transcendent, powerful moments of live music in New York aren't found at Madison Square Garden or Irving Plaza or for that matter even the Annex. The good stuff, the really great stuff is happening at cozy little neighborhood joints like Hank's. - Lucid Culture


Discography

Resolvo - LP - 2000
Thin Ice - EP - 2003
Solresol - LP - 2003
Glaciers - LP -2006

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Bio

New York's MELOMANE make smart, cinematic rock music. Their distinctive sound has been compared to such disparate acts as Magnetic Fields, Roxy Music, Elvis Costello, Calexico, Wings, and Stereolab. Some have called Melomane "the most European band in America," and others call them pop-noir. Experience the lush sonic textures, sweet harmonies, and biting yet hopeful lyrics and let your ears decide. “These tracks combine garage accessibility and boho poetry with an ingenuity that will win over intelligent listeners and show musicians just how far a band can travel…” (All Music Guide).
The band are currently mixing an EP of disaster-themed songs begun in a studio in the Pyrenees during a break from their August 2007 tour of France. It is their most rocking output to date, featuring the cynical/poetic/political lyrics of their first three albums, but wading into all-out guitar aggression, large-scale orchestral soundscapes, and bittersweet melodic heartbreak in turns. Or as LucidCulture.com puts it; “Living proof that epic grandeur can be synonymous with great fun.” The EP will feature a collaboration with LA-based singer/songwriter Eleni Mandell, who lends her vocal abilities to Melomane’s first French-only number, Allumette.
Glaciers (2006,Vermillion Music), Melomane’s 3rd full length CD release, expanded on the enormously appealing artful arrangements of the first two LPs. Most notably, the track I’m in Love with Love/The Ballot is the Bullet, is a timely and personal comment on the American political situation as it stands. From opening track Hilarious, a deft love waltz set against the backdrop of global warming, to final track Kill Kill Kill, a death-disco invocation against violence, this album thrills and chills throughout.
Melomane’s first two releases, Solresol (2003) and Resolvo (2001) received rave reviews throughout the US and Europe including Rolling Stone, Magnet, The Village Voice, Intro and more. These CDs are available in the US on the band’s Vermillion Music label via the band’s website www.melomane.org, myriad online distributors, and in Europe through Hamburg-based XXS Records/Indigo, Seahorse Recordings in Italy and Soyuz Records in Russia.
Originally conceived in 1998 by front-man Pierre de Gaillande, Melomane’s line-up eventually solidified to include bassist/vocalist Daria Klotz, cellist/synth-player Frank Heer, keyboardist Quentin Jennings, and drummer Kenny Savelson. Frequent additional performers include Eveline Feldmann (trombone), Jeremy Thal (trumpet, French horn) Jody Redhage (cello), Philippa Thompson (violin and saw), and Brad Stewart and Jesse Neuman (trumpet).
Over 6 years, Melomane have performed regularly in NYC at venues such as Joe’s Pub, Tonic, Mercury Lounge, BAM Cafe, Northsix, and many others. The group tours Europe each year and has appeared at festivals and venues throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and France. They were sponsored by the US embassy in Moscow in September, 2006 for a four-concert series in Russia. Melomane has appeared in New York, nationally and internationally with artists such as Wilco, Keren Ann, Luna, Arab Strap, Eleni Mandell, Fastball, and many others.
Songs by Melomane are regularly featured on TV shows such as HBO’s Real Sex, Discovery Channel’s Alain Bourdain No Reservations, and various programs on MTV and VH1.