[13 February 2011]
Any seasoned tourist will tell you that you needn’t spend your time studying maps and guides before traveling to a new city. In order to properly experience your chosen destination, you need to immerse yourself in that location’s music, literature, and film before, during, and after your visit. If your destination of choice is Los Angeles, however, you’ll require a lot of patience and maybe an extra lifetime or two to digest all of the art that the city has spawned. If you’re an artist who calls L.A. your home, whether you’re a full-blooded Angeleno or a short-term resident, there’s little chance the city hasn’t infected your work, if not engulfed it entirely. Even if you spend only a day in Los Angeles, you’ll still catch the buzz. It’s impossible not to be enchanted by a place that’s breathtakingly beautiful and grotesque at the same time. There’s always seems to be something in the air in Los Angeles…literally.
Jonathan D. Haskell, who records under the moniker Seven Saturdays, is the latest native to add his voice to the ballad of L.A. His seven track mini-LP The Snowflakes That Hit Us Became Our Stars is an instrumental tone poem about the city that was composed while the author was on holiday in Scotland. Haskell’s project is typically labeled chamber pop, yet the arrangements here are as sweeping as the city that inspired them. This is one man’s time-elapsed vision of the city blown up by an impressive cast of veteran performers.
If you’ve ever found yourself facing north on an LAX-bound flight, you first saw the city as a colorless, dusty expanse laid out at the foot of the ominous San Gabriel Mountains. The smoggy sky above L.A. is where Haskell begins his journey. As the static-laced “Early Morning Fog Bank” hums to life, broken bits of French dialogue and dispatches from air traffic control whir around the awakening city. Haskell has cited the twists and turns of Mulholland Drive as a major influence, and on the expansive “Au Revoir”, you find yourself transported to the lookout above the Hollywood Bowl, watching the traffic thicken on the 101 as the sun rises over downtown. With the exception of a few foreboding piano interludes (courtesy of one-time David Bowie sideman Mike Garson), the mood throughout is mellow and introspective, suggesting that Haskell is at peace with his hometown at the very least. He’s also apparently a fan of early ‘00s indie rock. The more straightforward songs here, particularly the title track, contain melodies that sound as if they were lifted from Death Cab for Cutie’s Something About Airplanes.
By the time the ten-minute “True Romance” arrives, Haskell has taken in all of the sights. Another soothing melody, accentuated by carefully placed lap steel, is there to play us out. Eventually, the arrangement gives way to the dissonant sounds of shortwave radio dispatches Haskell picked up at the Santa Monica Pier. Another day in Los Angeles ends as fitfully as it began.
There isn’t quite enough material here to help us predict whether you’ll see the name Seven Saturdays in the Essential L.A. section of your guide book. Still, Haskell is clearly a strong new voice, and his is the perfect music for you to zone out to while you navigate the city in your rented Prius.