[19 March 2006]
Remember the lo-fi revolution? Back in the early ‘90s, bands like Guided by Voices and Pavement were its minutemen, infusing the well worn rock idiom with their own peculiar aesthetics. Feedback was a harmonic device, ramshackle imperfection a political statement. Climbing further out on this stylistic branch, one might find Azalia Snail, clinging lackadaisically and fluttering in the breeze. This self professed “avant gardener” has been releasing home recorded or “bedroom psych” albums for 15 years now; Avec Amour is her first since 2002’s Brazen Arrows (Dark Beloved Cloud).
From the start, what is most noticeable about Avec Amour is that it’s a full studio production. Snail has recorded in professional surroundings before, but usually more in an overdub capacity. Here, she has a capable band behind her, and she’s working with Gary Ramon (Sun Dial) at his Third Eye Studios in England, where artists as diverse as Coil and Ramon’s own hyper-psychedelic Quad have recorded. If you haven’t gotten the hint: Snail likes her sugary melodies dipped in fuzz and her often multi-tracked vocals bathed in shimmery effects.
This gauzy quality, combined with the immediacy of her band’s performance, makes for a billowy rush on the opener, “Honeysuckle”, a mid-tempo, downy singsong with Snail’s glazed vocal sensual and all-knowing above her celestial keyboards. With “Alcazar”, Snail runs her voice through a bullhorn over shuffling guitars and loping casio-tones, invoking a nauseous nfectiousness. “Scenescape” is more minimal, with looped beats and plaintive keyboards swooning beneath an essay on the price one pays when he/she plays the scene game—cute, but hardly revelatory. Then again, if I was 15…
Fairing better is the dreamy drone wash of “I Praise You”, blown wide open with some spacious jazzy dissonance beneath Snail’s vocal mantra of the chorus. “Casuarina Trees” is a beautiful little instrumental bliss-out made up of acoustic guitars, twinkling electric bleeps and glistening distortion that probably should’ve been twice as long.
Avec Amour is not necessarily original. It’s not a profound. More than a few of the mid-tempo, soft pop numbers start to blend together from afar, but Azalia Snail albums have always been like this. That’s definitely part of their charm. Snail’s innocent, but equally world weary perspective, infused with her undeniable femininity and minimal pop smarts (she has obviously closely dissected the early works of Brian Eno) prove to be just what the doctor ordered in these uncertain times.
As Snail intones in a hitch pitched warble over a dense fog of distortion and canned beats on the album’s final, untitled track (actually a cover of the Giorgio Moroder disco classic, “I Feel Love”), the aura is one of confusion and exaltation fused with a heavy dose of the gooey good love. Avec Amour offers a potent dose of affectionate fuzz for the heartsick, daydreaming masses.