It all began with a heads-up from our pal Scott Matthews of Andromeda, who alerted me to the chewy goodness of director Tobias Perse’s extraordinary stop-motion animation video of NYC indie-rocker Sam Bisbee’s classic song “You Are Here,” utilizing polaroids and half a stick of gum, available for consumption and admiration here, and which I wrote about here.
Much to my surprise, we had a bunch of comments (including some very odd and obsessive ones – some so disturbing they had to be deleted) from Bisbee fans and heard directly from the great Bisbee himself, who then sent on his latest CD, High. I was finally able to wrest it away from my wife and daughter, who have been listening to it obsessively in the car for weeks now – it’s that good.
I’ve already talked about “You Are Here” (“a backbeat-driven rondo of pointillist obervations that seeks to confirm the very concrete nature of existence: everyone is somewhere, you are here. I love the arrangement as well, with some of most soulful cello you will ever hear in the presence of an electric guitar”), but the rest of the CD just keeps growing on me as well.
Firstly, Tobias Perse has directed yet another spectacular video for Bisbee, this one for “Breaking”, where Bisbee sings – a mixture of E, of the Eels, a young Lou Reed, and John McCrea of Cake – confidingly of loss and hope over a peculiar but perfect backing of bhangra percussion, buzzing sitar, strummed acoustic guitar, and a fading-in fading-out hip-hop beat. For the video Perse takes Bisbee literally at his word, shooting a performance of the song in one take, then “breaking” up the video into little squares which have been hand time-stretched to come in and out of phase, a mutating jigsaw puzzle.
The overall feel of the album is not unlike that of a New Order studio album, with some electronics for effect and atmosphere, but an emphasis on songs over beats, vocal shading and traditional instrumentation. Bisbee’s scenarios are so keenly observed that at times they border on voyeurism (much of these observatiions are of himself – is there such thing as “self-voyeurism”?).
“High On You” begins the disc and initiates the recurring theme of “love as drug” (shades of Roxy Music), with lush mellotron-like keys, wavery, treated vocals that reflect the exhaustion of addiction recovery, which Bisbee equates with the demise of a relationship (“I was high on you/And there was nothing I could do/Now I’ve come down, all I have is the ground”).
“Alltime Low” emphasizes a dry, percussive electric guitar figure in a travelogue of New England as the singer’s character drives and recalls SoCal, with images thereof lodged in his brain, with some of the sound and feel of a Sheryl Crow song at a 3000-mile remove.
“Big Field” is very “Going the Distance”-Cake-like in its quietly intense speak-sung, sharp rhythm guitar-and-backbeat propulsiveness. “Casualty” rocks most vehemently of the set, as Bisbee wails about always being just around the corner from the real action (“I never see the accidents/Only the wreckage”), simultaneously rueing his remove but also fearing that if he ever does connect to the action that he will end up nothing more than a “casualty” – another super song, perhaps second only to “You Are Here.”
An Eels-like weariness and tweaked space-rock backing contrast with the message of “You Make Me High,” which views love addiction not from the recovery phase (as in “High On You”) but from the center of the storm itself, admitting total abject dependency, not upon the other person but on the feeling that other person conjures (“You excavate my soul/When you blink your eyes I capsize/You bring my insides out”), a feeling that can’t – alas – last.
Other highlights are the lovely, strained upper-register lament “Hurricane;” the electro-strings and pounding Chapterhouse-type beats of “While You Dream”; the languid Latin-esque feel and pretty piano line of “Stay.”
Sam Bisbee’s High is a multi-layered, indelible experience that EVERYONE interested in modern rock should have the fortune to experience.
Click on the banner link at the top for more info on Bisbee band apperances in Boston June 18, and NYC July 1.