Bittersweet: bit • ter • sweet: [adj. Bit-er-sweet; n. bit-er-sweet] 1. Both pleasant and painful or regretful. (Adjective)
2. Pleasure mingled with pain or regret. (Noun)
If ever there were a more aptly named musical entity than the electronic/jazz/trip-hop duo Bitter:sweet from Los Angeles – I have yet to come across it. What else would you name something that makes beautiful music tinged with a slow seductive shade of melancholy?
Comprised of Shana Halligan (vocals and song composition) and Kiran Shahani (production and song composition), Bitter:sweet sound like something born of a melting pot filled to the brim with portions of Portishead, Bjork, Zero 7, Everything But The Girl, and Serge Gainsbourg. Or, to put it in simpler terms, Bitter:sweet sounds like an duo inspired by listening to angels doing endless hours of backing harmonies for Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald.
Honestly; sitting here typing this while listening to their debut album The Mating Game, I cannot help but get delicious goose-bumps on my ear drums. It’s beautiful.
What also comes to my mind is just how precocious fate is and how, but for an anonymous online response to a posting by Shahani, these two people might never have found in each other such a perfect musical fit, despite the fact that they lived quire near each other.
I shudder to think – or maybe it’s just a reaction to the current song playing? Either way.
Halligan and Shahani lived only a block away from each other, and recorded just one wall away from each other in the same building, but their lives had never crossed in such a way that they found themselves meeting. Until, that is, the posting by Shahani.
Halligan had just returned home from “having a beautiful experience” in Europe when she decided to answer her first-ever ad for a singer. She’d grown up with music in her blood — her father is eight-time Grammy Award winning composer Dick Halligan of Blood, Sweat and Tears — and had started her singing career at age seven by performing in films and television commercials.
“I can’t believe I answered an ad,” Halligan says now. “But, I just did it!”
As fate would have it, her call was the first to be answered by music producer and dance music enthusiast Shahani, who, as a founding member of the Supreme Beings of Leisure (SBL), was largely responsible for their self-titled debut (the one that broke the electronic/trip-hop group by selling more than 250,000 copies worldwide). After breaking away from SBL, Shahani had been toiling away in his studio doing remixes for artists like Marilyn Manson and Angela McClusky (Telepopmusik).
Although he had plenty of work on his hands, Shahani longed to collaborate with someone who “had the right chemistry” to match his globally-inspired, finely tuned and optimistic musical aesthetic.
And that’s why he placed the online ad.
“When we met, we agreed to just play some cool music together, while sticking completely to who we were as individuals,” the two later revealed. “The energy around what we did was so natural and fluid, we just kept doing it.”
The Mating Game, as a result, echoes of each musician’s past (and eventual future) is revealed in infectious songs like the sultry, exotic opening track “Don’t Forget To Breathe,” which sets the tone for the entire album.
Thank goodness for the title, by the way, as it is quite capable of leaving one sitting slack-jawed with headphones on and totally breathless.
“Moving Forward” is one of Shahani’s favorites “for its amazing vocal performance” and is a track that Halligan seems to have a deep emotional attachment to. Either that, or she can just “turn it on” and sing the hell out of a sing, at the drop of a hat.
Solid production and a “Vegas” cool is the calling card of the album’s title track. Halligan’s father helped to write, arrange and conduct the strings on this song (as well as the aforementioned songs, actually) as well as the angelic song “Bittersweet Faith.” It just — well, if ever a song came equipped with the sass of a big band and the brass of James Bond, then this is it.
The lovely yet quieted “Heaven” stands as a bewitching late-night ballad that bids a lover to “stay just a little bit longer.” If he’s anything like me, he/she stays put. No doubt. “Our Remains,” on the other hand, is just this super sexy and clean song that is accented by superb lyrics, rhythm section, and stellar production.
It makes it clear that there are two very talented halves of this wonderful whole, really.
Let me take a moment here to… well, I’ve been gushing and just talking about this band, even though I know good and well that it is just impossible for me to be able to put into words just how much I truly love this album. So, I’ll stop.
I’ll just say that it may be one of the most beautiful albums that I’ve heard in many, many years, and that I hope you will take my word on how worthwhile a purchase it would be. You will never find this leap of faith to be a bittersweet one.
Okay. I apologize for that pun. I couldn’t resist!