Friday, September 25, 2009

Music: "Family" by Le Loup

What began as Sam Simkoff’s bedroom project on Le Loup’s debut album The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (named after James Hampton’s classic artwork) has now grown into a full-blown band. The debut album is filled with layered vocals, banjo, and a warm type of folk electronics that is difficult to explain. The second song on the debut “Plane Like Vultures.” has a repeated lyric “Oh this world was made for ending” that still gets stuck in my head at the most random times. Other stand out songs like “Le Loup (Fear Not),” “We Are Gods! We Are Wolves!” and “To the Stars! To the Night!” all showcase Simkoff’s unique songwriting ability. While both Le Loup’s debut and the new album Family, released on September 22, are strong and original, they are also quite different. The new album, the first with the full band, uses organic instruments and one can immediately notice the fuller sound. The most noticeable change in the songs on Family is joy (as Simkoff discusses below) – something that was largely missing from the debut album.

With titles like “Morning Song,” “Golden Bell,” and “A Celebration,” it’s immediately apparent that Family is a brighter album. “Beach Town,” the song that was released early to build anticipation for the album, is not the best track, but it fits in well in the second spot with its welcoming guitars and driving percussion. While Le Loup’s debut was a bedroom made album that mostly sounds best in the dead of winter or on a cool starry night, Family is an album for the warm outdoors – one to listen to while camping or just enjoying nature. Try to catch them live if they're in your area because they put on an awe-inspiring show. Sam Simkoff was nice enough to answer some questions for our readers:

Have you seen, heard, or read anything that you would like to recommend to our readers (film, art, music, literature)?

Well sadly, I've been really underexposed to the arts in general lately. All the books I've been reading have been pretty lightweight summer fiction, all the music I've been listening to is pretty well-known and thus not something that needs recommendation since everybody's already listening to it, and the last movie I saw was Star Trek, which was, well, superb. So there you go- Star Trek! This isn't part of the list, but here's a website I've been into recently. My engineer friend got me hooked onto it, because it had a huge special on space travel. It's kind of funny, because I know very little about engineering, and I think the site (and the magazine) is geared toward that crowd. So about 92 percent of what I read there goes right over my head, but the 8 percent that I catch really blows my mind.

The new album is completely different in that it was recorded with a large group of people instead of solo - what is the songwriting process like and what has changed?

A lot has changed in terms of the songwriting process. Given that the first album was largely a solo effort, I was able to record stuff as soon as I thought it up, and I could craft stuff pretty close to how it sounded in my head. Working as a whole band is a completely different beast. Everybody has different influences and different ways of approaching music and different ideas of how to use their instruments and talents.

We figured out pretty early on that if one of us came to the table with a set-in-stone idea of how something was going to sound, we'd just end up confounded, and stuff wouldn't sound natural. So I learned personally to develop only the most basic tenets of a song - melody, chord structure, tempo - before bringing it to the band. We ended up taking a great deal of pleasure in just seeing where things would go after the basics were laid out. I think Christian would agree- the songs that he brought to the table sounded a lot different in their demo form than they eventually turned out in the finished product. But that's fine- if it weren't for that whole process, I think everything on the album would've ended up sounding the same, and maybe really similar to the first album, and we really wanted to do something new.

In terms of sound and content, what has changed from the last record?

Well, the sound is a lot different, in part for the above reasons, and in part just because we used a different recording setup. This time around, we invested a little more in basic equipment - mics, software, a flash recorder - and that allowed us to record a lot more stuff in a lot more spaces without having to worry about any lo-fi hissyness. So in a very literal way, the sound is a lot different. Beyond that, we'd kind of discarded a lot of the production techniques used in the first recording - midi sound, extensive looping of minimalist lines, layering of several different vocal lines - in favor of a more organic sort of sound. A lot more live takes, a lot less circular droning stuff. Although we did manipulate most of the tracks a lot, and sampled as much original material (field recordings, drumlines, etc.) as possible, which is kind of a throwback from the first album.

Content-wise, there's a pretty obvious difference in tone. A lot of people picked out and focused on the darker, more pessimistic aspects of the last album. Not just the critical community, but like, friends and family. My grandma asked if it would kill me to write a happy song once in a while. I guess that kind of sums that up. I don't think we chose to write about more optimistic subject matter this time around as a reaction to any praise or criticism, we just felt like celebrating something. Music is such a joyful activity, especially when you get to play with people you enjoy, and when you get to play lots of live music for happy crowds. We wanted something that reflected that kind of joy. I'd like it if people could eventually see beyond the most literal aspects of the album's subject matter this time around - yeah, there are some songs very literally about family, but I wouldn't overplay it. The songs are also about places we love, moments in time, joys, anxieties, weather, the seasons, and just being young and able to do what you want for a while.

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