In The Valley Below-
As well as having a secular and Ecumenism curiosity; they pack a punch that will unify, enliven and shake your agnostic senses.
‘Hymnal’ is available via
The boy-girl/husband-wife/man-woman dynamic has not often been seen…
in musical circles. It seems to be- for some reason- an odd and underused combination. I guess if there is a relationship at the foundation, then it has a greater-than-average potential to break, thus disbanding the group (or duo). There are groups like The xx, Blood Red Shoes, and America’s The Open Feel, who have successfully managed to keep business and pleasure separate and make no bones or issue about the inter-gender structure. I suppose that it is quite uncommon to hear about any 2-piece groups at all. You either hear of a solo artist, or a 4 or 5-piece group. At a primitive and basic core, sex can cloud everything, as well as be unpredictable. It caused ruckus and explosion in Fleetwood Mac; a bizarre back-story and possible friction in The White Stripes, and anxiety and parallel lines in other, lesser bands. Of course, it is probably worth noting, that the best sounds can come from a male/female union. It can bring about some of the best an most informed lyrics, the strangest and most curious sounds, and a disciplined and focused band. It also means that the range of scope and material that the group can produce, is more varied and unpredictable than an all-male or female band, too. Just a theory I guess, but one can help but to wonder, what tricks and majesty is being missed out on and denied, but some rather inflexible and predictable ‘band rules’. I happened across HighFields recently, who managed to combine an inter-gender formation; as well as a multi-nationality aesthete; the resultant song that I reviewed, was magnificent, and I suspect made all the strongest because of the nature of their band set-up. I am also a fan of an all-girl group Fake Club, whom have a raw and hard rock sound; and are an incredibly tight and together band. That said, there is a bigger danger with all-female groups; it is not a cliche to say that female friendships become more strained easier than that of men, and there is an inherent likely-hood of tension and turmoil, should things go wrong. Circulating to my main thesis, acts and bands, in the past, as well as present-day are predisposed to fit into a pre-conceived ‘mould’ or ideal; one that seems to marginalise and subjugate any leanings towards mixing sexes, nationalities and ages. In the U.K. at least, there are a great deal of single sex, white bands; there is not a racist element, it has been the case that most black artists are solo acts, or part of a rap crew or seem to be stray a little from the mainstream. I would like to hear and see a lot more black bands and formations, as well as see bands whom are willing to rebel against old-age and outmoded ideals of ‘what a band should be’. When I can formulate and discover 4 like-minded figures to complete my band, I sure as hell want at least one female body in the line-up. I have a guitarist in mind, and will have to find a way to poach her or ‘borrow’ her; and I am also keen to find U.S., Australian and Canadian musicians too. In a perfect world I would have myself, a female lead guitarist, a male U.S. fellow-lead guitarist, Australian drummer and Canadian/U.K. bass player; picky and finicky, I know, but hey… a boy can dream?!
It may seem artless to deny the charms of American acts. I am not sure if there is a foreign policy that encourages a home grown domestication; rallying against any U.S. imports, but I have not heard too much from the world leaders in music, as of late. Historically, sure; they are- if not as great as the combined talents of the U.K.- always produced staggering and legendary talent, from Bob Dylan, to Nirvana, through to Ella Fitzgerald. Most of the U.K. music rags and respectables dedicate a lot of focus and patronage towards the sonic outpourings of home-grown talent, rarely venturing that far north of the M4 corridor, as it happens. The U.S. band, In The Valley Below, consequently, have come to my attention, via the rather undignified second-hand smoke or inconsequential Internet about-face. Through my association, with L.A.’s stunning, The Open Feel, that I ‘found’ the group. They hail from the, somewhat unfamiliar to us folk, Echo Park; a bustling and dreamy neighbourhood, lying to the north-west of Downtown Los Angeles, and to the south-east of Hollywood. It is situated away from the fake suburban Disneyworld of the latter, and the danger and unpredictable aroma of the former. The residents of Echo Beach play host to the Lotus Festival, are within a do-able commute of Sunset Blvd. and is a locality that Elliot Smith used to call home. If you stray from the nausea, smoke and avenues beyond one’s ken, you will hear of In The Valley Below, and the local pride that has been tattooed into the water supply, and has reached tributaries beyond the tri-county area. At their core they are Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail. Joshua Clair and Jeremy Grant provide fervent accompaniment, in a brilliant group made up of a lot of Js, Gs, Cs and an un-delinated alphabetical book of ‘Indie Dusk, ‘Post Ghost’, ‘Sex Prog’ and ‘Dark Duet’. Formed in 2011, and being poets of dark riddles, with a soceror’s apprentices of pugnacity and hypnotic fever dreams and multi-coloured cauldrons, they have been cementing their manifesto, as well as fighting fire with gasoline, for 2 years, which has seen them gain a gradual and unabated clan of international followers. To look at the couple in the press and profile shots, and one would be forgiven to thinking that they were models. Angela is raven-haired, gorgeous and striking, decked in black-and-white; often sporting a rather fashionable and eye-catching hat, to boot. Jeffrey, similarly, sports identical colours; and is similarly trim, and has the Hollywood idol looks, one would not normally associate with a Californian musician. Well, not a mature and credible one, anyway. In a sense, they seem to have the air of a revitalised and reincarnated The White Stirpes, about them. Whilst Meg White and John Gillis (away from the pantomime facade that they were siblings) stuck to a strict corporate band uniform; red, white and black. The group were students and musical recruits of Nikola Tesla: obsession with the number 3, quirky and closed-off, with a fascinating knack of being able to toss off siphoning and pernicious electric charges. Luckily, our modern-equivalents are less mysterious, and one hopes more approachable; but their music and potency does not suffer from comparable dilution or temporisation. They recently released their E.P., ‘Hymnal’: a 3-track collection that promises healthy returns and investment-grade bonds. I was struck by the band name. I have heard the words ‘the valley below’ used in Bob Dylan’s ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ (which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, covered by The White Stripes). I am guessing- but maybe wrong- that the band did not have fiery hell in mind when figuring upon a band name, but who knows? A mysterious cool and lack of widespread media coverage and interviews, means that it is difficult to say where they got their inspiration from. There seems to be some religious fascination, as a whole. As well as ‘Hymnal’, ‘Last Soul’ and ‘Palm Tree Fire’ are the other two tracks on the E.P. One suspects that if Job were alive- and real for that matter- he would probably be aghast at the sacrilegious thud and twirl of the band’s unique brew.
That last sentence, perhaps, succinctly would sum up the intro, to the E.P.’s title track ‘Hymnal’. There is a brief twinkle unveiled; sounding sort of a cross between a glass xylophone and the de-tuned high notes of a piano, there is a fairy and child-like innocence to the first couple of seconds; a sound that could give credence to the thought that a whimsical and Lewis Carroll-esque dizziness was imminent. Any such naive notions are dispelled, as that sound is accompanied by, and domineered by a hammering percussive thud. It is the sort of sound and trick that Portishead pulled off during ‘Three’. It is also the same sort of experimentation spirit that Massive Attack unleashed all over their greatest album: ‘Blue Lines’. It is a Blitzkrieg strop of unlikely allies; juxtaposing the balletic swan waltz with something more industrial, mean streets and violent, is a heady and awesome mix. Beyond the 0:10 mark, there is an, almost reggae-like sound to the music; it sounds like a kettle drum, but is not. It is the myriad of questions and U-turns, that causes such a brouhaha of elicitation, and completes an unexpected and vital introduction. Like the classic English electro groups such as Massive Attack, In The Valley Below, have a similar talent for being able to intertwine dreamy and breathy female vocals, with a geographically relevant musical landscape. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Echo Park has such diaphanous undertones, that a reciprocal instrumentation should sway in the background. Also, it is pertinent that savage and smoke casts shadows in the foreground, given Echo Park’s proximity to the suburban jungle. It is the combination of the duo’s vocals that creates a sedative wash and serotonin smile. The theme of the lyrics does not stray as far from the beaten track as the music, perhaps; but is universally acknowledged: “I wish I found you sooner/I could have loved you longer”, is implored, creating an arc of regret and longing, that is a prevalent notion. Whether the following words apply to a former love or is a disguised first-person narrative, it is hard to say: “This old sleepy town/Never even knew you were around”. Throughout the song there is discourse about the nature of remembrance and a strange mortality. The guy and gal of In The Valley Below, are subscribers to The xx’s philosophy of twinning meditative and swimming charm, with a haven of audio smells, sounds and substance. It is the combination of a vocal rush, followed by the interjected serried ranks of keyboard tones that blends together so effortlessly. In a way they have a bit of mid-career Fleetwood Mac to them; that same sort of authority and effect. As the track progresses and reaches its autumn years; the vocals again are calibrated and- to a certain extent- strengthened. The ‘dreamy levels’ are raised all the way to 11, and with some sharp razor cuts of electric guitar stabbed into the mood like fork lightning, a little tension is introduced. The chorused dream revelry hits the sky and, when it reaches the clouds, the guitars transform to a more composed shower; conveying some restraint and dignity, where previous there was a menace. The licks and side-steps at the end, are part of a musical paragraph, which fades, and leaves as it does, an intriguing ellipses.
Another month, and another new U.S. talent, that has been long cast away from our shores for too long now. With The Open Feel, I was impressed by their unique and capturing sound; a structure indoctrinated for a while, that has managed to wow their native California. In the same way, In The Valley Below have won me over with their combination of luscious music, which can ease the most fevered of brows; and tied that in with a curious design and back-story, that leaves you wondering where they came from, how they got their, and- because of their impressive work ethic- where they are heading. I am curious to hear more from them, and on the strength alone of their E.P., I am sure that they will win appeal from the U.K. and Europe as a whole. On the basis of ‘Hymnal’ they are making initial huge waves. For now, I shall leave you with my catchphrase…
I hope that we hear a lot more from this band in the future.