Two days ago, I wrote about Haunted Summer. It was about something beautiful coming out of a painful break-up. Two break-ups, in fact. Out of endings come new beginnings, and the results can be quite lovely. Today, I’ve been completely captivated by a new project called Many Embers. As with Haunted Summer, Many Embers was born out of sadness. After about 6 years of recording and performing, Eastside L.A. band Death To Anders called it a day. But instead of finding a a sensible day job, lead singer and guitarist Rob Danson, along with George Glass guitarist Nick Ceglio, embarked on an experiment. With no particular goal in mind, they started recording together.
In a relaxed creative environment, without any thought of putting together a band, rehearsing and booking shows, they laid down tracks. Nick on guitar and Rob overdubbing programmed drums, bass, piano and vocals, or Nick contributing piano and bass. In the midst of recording, they were contacted by Death To Anders drummer Anders Griffen, who now resides in Brooklyn. He wanted to be part of the project, so they sent him a USB stick with the tracks (ah, technology!), and he laid down drum tracks. From there, they contacted Kaitlin Wolfberg (Seasons, Fort King, and yes, Haunted Summer – see how this works sometimes?), and she added violin. The (gorgeous) result can be heard below on their debut EP.
The music centers around Rob Danson’s experience of being a musician in a band, with all the challenges that entails. The fear of rejection. The fear of following your heart, of playing the kind of music you want to rather than what may be more commercially viable. It’s about his friends, too, the many musicians in that musically vibrant section of Los Angeles who struggle to “keep the faith” while doing something they believe in.
As he explains in this wonderful interview with Radio Free Silver Lake, he blames these fears, and the the sorry state of today’s “popular music,” on our modern world:
“Digital technology has made everything easy and as a result, we are crafting a society of dullards. We’re crafting a society of people who don’t want to think, and who want to be spoon fed…. It’s as if the people have lost respect for their own intellectual capacity. Don’t be challenged. Don’t think. Don’t question reality. Be lazy… And as a result, the people in our modern American culture begin to demand art to fit their lifestyle. They begin to demand easily-digested and understood music. Music that is comprehended within one listen. Music that’s “fun” and nothing else. It’s sitcom music. It’s reality television music. It’s gossip music. It’s scum.”
Many Embers is a rebellion against blandness, against glossy sounds and sanitized thoughts. In a world where so often lyrics are plunked into a song as a mindless afterthought, here is music in which melody, instruments and vocals are in dutiful service of the message. In “A Lot to Learn,” the full orchestrated sound of piano, guitars, violin and close harmonies help create a very rich human canvas on which Rob speaks/sings his poetic monologue about the human experience of grappling with emotions, lost within the maze of modern conveniences and our technology which threatens to strangle us. The combination of quirky phrasing and the nostalgic whistling and simple acoustic backing works perfectly with words of wisdom from someone who has “been there, done that” in “Old Days.” Hold on to what’s important, and throw away the old insecurities that threaten to destroy you. It’s an advice column from a jaded, very weary soul, in a voice that sounds almost completely unhinged.
“Save it in your heart
save it like you would a work of art
save it so you’ll never fall apart
fall apart with time.
Don’t concern yourself
on past events that throw you on the shelf
they’ll make you useless in and of itself
they’ll cripple your own mind”
The layered harmonies that fade out the song gives an impression of a floating disconnection with reality. My personal take on “Counterbalance” is that it’s an examination of soul-destroying, knee-jerk emotional responses to events in our lives. “During these sad events / I’ve come to terms with all my cards / internal executioners / and villains are at large.” I can’t say enough about Rob’s vocals; on such a personal confession like “Tragedy Blues,” the rich orchestral melody swirls around his tortured voice that hangs on by a heartbroken thread. The effect is hypnotic.
The overall feeling through this startling and stunning introduction is that of vulnerability. Nowhere is this more evident than on the closer, “Slow Motion Camera,” which is exactly that, a slowed down film of stark disillusionment represented by a solitary sad figure against a backdrop of somber piano and violin. The disconcerting alien sounds mixed in toward the end adds to the desolation. There’s amazing breadth in this 6-song EP, and it plays like a concept album three times the length. It’s something you get drawn into, by its lushly layered melodies and plaintive voice, and by the familiarity of its emotions.
If you like what you hear (and I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t), go to their bandcamp page, download the EP, and leave them a little something to support this amazing project. For those who live in or around Los Angeles, there’s apparently a first public outing at Taix (I’m assuming in their lounge?) coming up within the next week or two. One of many, many times that I wished I lived in L.A., and surely not the last. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.
Rob Danson – vocals, guitars, piano, bass
Nick Ceglio – vocals, guitars, bass, loops
Anders Griffen – drums (via Brooklyn)
Kaitlin Wolfberg – violins