La Big Vic Actually

[Underwater Peoples; 2011]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: kosmische musik, hypnagogic pop, noise pop
Others: Julian Lynch, Air, Stereolab

The music writer’s life is a lot like wishing for Christmas every day and getting it: It can become tiring to scoff at and tear open your prezzies after a while. Sometimes it’s as if the knowledge that it takes to write decent criticism begins when critical instincts are bludgeoned to death by the sheer weight of the ‘stuff’ they have to carry. Thankfully, there are folks out there who are less weary and ill-informed than I, people like La Big Vic’s Emilie Friedlander, a music writer (Visitation Rites, Altered Zones, former TMTer) whose passion for and knowledge of experimental music (and cultural studies) is highly evident.

La Big Vic consist of Toshio Masuda, a former Japanese boy-band member; Peter Pearson, a serious music techie; and Friedlander herself, singing and playing violin. Fans of space rock, Krautrock, and noise will likely find much to love on their debut, Actually. I happen to fall into the former category, because my curmudgeon’s suspicion of art forms that seem ‘just too easy’ overreacts in the presence of soundscapes conjured mostly from ‘meditative’ drone synth stuff (a word that, for me, has become a lot like the word ‘riveting’ on the blurb of a paperback: one to avoid).

But I was proved wrong by an additional, precocious word: ‘Actually…’ For it seems that La Big Vic do in fact make big, beautiful, intelligent music, sounding like a lot of things 70 throughs 90s. It’s strange to hear similarities with 90s critical successes Air, when we’re used to the skankier/cheesier/outsider elements in 80s electronic music being resurrected in new, shiny robes or, more often than not, simply providing some canned authenticity. Ironically, the vocodered voice on “LYNY” places Air — who were considered a classy French band in their day — in the cheesy dress-up category. They pulled off the rehabilitation of the Moog and the clavinet in the 90s, so if you can do what La Big Vic have done to the vocodered voice, then you’re an innovator and not just a wannabe; if you can re-contextualize what others have seemingly exhausted, then you’ve clearly fashioned your own aesthetic. Make no mistake, that is considered A Good Thing around here.

It’s difficult to describe exactly how La Big Vic do this, though. Their sound is warm and fuzzy, not particularly demanding of the ear. With all the debate this past year about hypnagogic pop, it’s useful to return to the actual definition of the psychological state (on the authority of Wikipedia, but never mind). This state between waking and sleeping produces a variety of phenomena, which are diluted effects of the waking state: people are suggestible; they rehearse banal movements from their days, like swimming and driving; they see the unifying, regular patterns of the mind’s eye in checks, dots, the imprints of outside actualities; sometimes this clever semi-conscious reasoning even solves difficult problems that the serious waking mind can’t tackle. Thus, there seems to be a paradox in the reality of hypnagogia as well as the art-form: in this state, there is suggestibility, there is conformity, but there is also room for genuine innovation to enter in.

It may not be a particularly authoritative critical conclusion to reach, but La Big Vic seem to cruise through their debut largely on their superior instincts for beautiful sounds. The fact that they fit into the hypnagogic bracket is just an inconvenience, as their affections genuinely seem to extend to the subtler, more spacious avenues of noise pop. For example, they pull off a classy take on world/fusion in “FAO,” something I hadn’t imagined possible until I heard it. Although “FAO” displays all the hallmarks of relaxed 80s cosmopolitanism — the doodly bamboo flutes; the stadium guitars; the buoyant, filtered waves of synth — it somehow sounds unique. Friedlander’s violin certainly helps this and boosts La Big Vic’s aesthetic in general; on “FAO,” it poses as the kind of sax Rickie Lee Jones might have shimmied around during her big ballad 80s phase, whereas on “Chinese Wedding” it tunes up in a pastoral way à la Dirty Three. “Mr. Broken Bird” is undoubtedly the standout, and it’s more ‘noise’ than pop, more good ol’ wide-eyed kosmische musik than narrow-eyed, half-asleep hypnagoguery. Along with lyrics about gangsters and rock stars of the galaxy, it has what I consider a stroke of genius for a harmony, beginning with bendy organ synths over innumerable layers of sounds that I’m not qualified to identify. And then the violin kicks in…

To sum up in another non-critical statement: I could listen to this all day — which is fortunate because I did listen to it all day while I was writing about it. At its most ideal, the internet is supposed to allow us access to our better, collective natures. I am happy to say that La Big Vic have managed to reconstitute their own collective band-unconscious in a truly delightful way. It makes me feel like that’s possible from time to time. Aside from the fact that Actually is a calming, enjoyable listen, that achievement is itself a welcome relief.

Links: La Big Vic - Underwater Peoples

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