Want to hear about some nice Americana- or alt-country-tinged acoustic-based pop? Here’s the catch: it comes from Belgium. Really. This tuneful surprise of a side project with its acoustically rustic simplicity comes from the intriguing mind of Pascal Deweze. This multi-talented half of Chitlin’ Fooks has stepped out on his own as Sukilove for this folksy debut and it’s a wry smart one at that. With stacks of music headed my way each month (much of it formulaic and uninteresting), Sukilove’s Talking in the Darkis a relative standout, an EP full of musical charm.
To get an idea of just who Pascal Deweze is, ponder the logical progression of the following list of bands he has been a part of: Band on the Fun, ao, Dominus Scrotum, Questionmark, Helder Kelder, Metal Molly, Nemo, Mitsoobishy Jacson, Chitlin’ Fooks, and Sukilove.
Some of these bands proved less than successful. For example, Deweze describes Helder Kelder’s sound on good days as being a “strange collision between Doe Maar, Beatles and XTC.” “On bad days we sounded more like Sting being trod on by an overweight elephant,” he relates. “On second thought, that doesn’t sound so bad at all.”
In the summer of 1997, Deweze invented Sukilove when he recorded a 12-track demo in his living room in Antwerp. He gave the demo to a few friends and that was supposed to be the end of it. However, since his band Metal Molly was slowly drifting toward an end, he started to perform some new music with Stoffel Verlackt and Pieter Van Buyten. With the addition of Helder Deploige in May 2001, Sukilove became a little more electric (though no less eclectic).
Bettie Serveert’s Carol Van Dyk hooked up with Deweze for what was to be their personal attack against country music known as the Chitlin’ Fooks. When Carol and Pascal got together for the Chitlin’ Fooks sessions, the Sukilove crew was enlisted, along with Guy Van Nueten on piano, Herbert Lanckhorst on violin and mandolin, and Jeff Marinus on pedal steel. The whole time that CD was underway, Sukilove existed in the background. In fact, a decision was reached to record a small debut album at home.
In spite of such challenges, the resulting EP’s seven tracks are no worse for the wear. Deweze has a talent for writing amiable folk pop that is personal and simple, yet affecting, and makes one want more. Deweze never seems at a loss for an answer and his wry humor and attitude translate through to his music. He ascribes some of this to the somewhat surrealistic Ensor-like sensibility that comes from being Belgian.
The name Sukilove was chosen from a list with two columns. On the left side, were “good sounding but still nonsense to us, meaningless words” and on the right were the “big” words like woman, sex, money, soul and love. Deweze wanted to bring together a rarely used word with one that was used much too often.
“The words Suki and Love sounded and looked like a good pair,” Deweze explains. “Strange thing is, though, we didn’t know they were actually almost similar in meaning (insert Twilight Zone theme here). Very roughly translated ‘suki’ means ‘to like’, but in combination with other Japanese words could also mean (to) ‘love’.”
The music itself is quirky and casual and easy to love. “Talking in the Dark” escalates from simple folk confession into full-bodied pop complete with pretty string accompaniment. Pleasant and winsome, this is love music with a smirk on its face, a little bit cryptic and still overly charming: “Have no fear, I’m always near / I’ve been mumbling to myself for years / Remember when those days were slow / shop around but don’t let go . . . / I miss talking in the dark with you / And every single winter we just freeze away / We’re like sumo wrestlers on a violent ballet / And in summer, all the girls sing / in summer, all the girls sing - Shalalalaa!”
“Box-Shaped Lullaby” is a short musical mood piece, an electronic waltz on a toy piano that builds in volume and intensity, gaining edge and vitriol as it proceeds.
“We’ll Sleep Together Again” is a genial little ditty that confidently proclaims its title to an intimate other, but never in a very clear or straightforward manner. This soft reassurance in song is aided by nice Beatle-esque guitar touches. Yet try to follow this verse: “I’ll take you on a ride for days / but we will not leave the house at all / Unless you want me to / I’ll pretend I’m you / And if you don’t know me then / then you’ll know me when /we’ll sleep together again.” Still, it’s all very winning, I assure you.
On “Make Sure My Grave = Kept Clean” we get what sounds like an upbeat sing along of a song, and lyrics that contrast that feeling with acid success. The humble request of keeping the grave clean is no more than an extension of his desire to escape from the bullshit of a bad relationship. He proclaims “I’ll be safe when I’m down there” and lets loose with the hard-hitting confession that makes it all clear at song’s end: “She make me feel like a dead man.”
“White Boy Blues (Opal Moon)” is Deweze’s plaint about being treated by people like a snowman found inside a trashcan (actually a demo of his that he recorded years ago and decided to revive for Sukilove). It’s him against the indifferent yet demanding world, but always in an interesting, immediate, engaging way: “There can be such music as would kill a man / instantly / inner objectives rule under the opal moon . . . / Under the opal moon: white boy blues.” With vocals reminiscent of Ken Stringfellow, this is another winning song.
“Box-Shaped Melody” is a beautiful melody (regardless of its shape), played mostly on a solo piano, and joined on occasion by electric guitar. Deweze’s emotive pleas draw you in and make you want to be party to this intimate bittersweet intra-relationship confession: “We’ve been in better shape lately / whilst dragging the mud through the dirt / We were just talking ‘bout Chilton songs / and how we remembered the words / You hurt me not by your silence alone / but looking at you feels like I’m coming home.”
The EP closes with the slow ballad of “It’s Too Dark to Dream”, a veritable stutter step of a song that ventures forth hesitantly in a world of simple observations. This is a spare, almost plodding song that seems sung from atop a barstool at closing time, convincingly evoking the bleak feel of the hour when late has already become early, accordions lulling you into a dreamless limbo as you watch what’s going on and try to make sense of it.
Sukilove is Pascal Deweze on vocals and guitar, Pieter Van Buyten on double bass, Helder Deploige on guitar and mandolin, Stoffel Verlackt on drums and additional vocals and Guy Van Nueten on piano. There’s a lot to recommend on this EP. The seven tracks come with a number of great touches: a bit of lap steel here, a plucked violin there, a snare brush lurking in the corner. In short, this little bit (just under 23 minutes playing time) offers a lot.
Subject yourself to the personal musical charms of Pascal Deweze and his wry songwriting. Fans of Chitlin’ Fooks should love this one, but so should many, many others. Sukilove’s Talking in the Dark plays its acoustic music loudly, but this is wistful, winning music that deserves to be heard. Let’s hope Deweze and friends will not keep us waiting too long before Sukilove’s first full-length release.