Val Emmich: Aide Memoire
After spending almost two years recording his last album, Looking For A Feeling You Never Knew You Needed, Val Emmich had a much quicker plan for his follow-up. His new album, Aide Memoire, was finished in seven days and released to his core fans one week later. “The idea,” Emmich says, “was to remove any possibility of overworking the songs. My goal was to make the album as honest as possible.” With that end goal in mind, Emmich returned to the organic production style of Jason Cupp.
Cupp is probably one of my favorite producers because he doesn’t give his subjects time to think something to death. One of his last projects with Val was Sunlight SearchParty, a record that captured Emmich’s true personality and passion without bleeding the disc dry through track after track of premeditated perfection. Cupp combines organic recording wisdom with 100 percent belief in his artist’s ability, a combination that brings some colorful results.
Cupp suggested they get away from Emmich’s home in Jersey City and travel to Omaha, Nebraska, to work at Another Recording Company, a studio owned by Saddle Creek alum Mike Mogis. Emmich also put together a group of musicians who could flesh out the songs, and more importantly, record live as a band in the studio. Bassist Rob Fitzgerald, guitarists Dave Bassiri and James Stahon, joined drummer Kevin Walters to complete what would form Emmich’s new backing band, The Veeries.
When reading Emmich’s bio, I could not help but chuckle at the senior like charm of a guy (he’s gotta be 20 years younger than me) who can already view certain aspects of his life as an aging adult. “I really wanted to capture a moment here and be able to look back and remember how it really felt,” says Emmich. “As I get older I forget things. However, I will not forget this. I made sure to keep all the rough edges intact. The lyrics spare no one. On the album, you hear people breathing, stomping on pedals, guitar buzz. All that helps to remind me what it felt like to be there with the band and the songs and that means something to me.”
Those simple, everyday moments are captured in time, making sure that Aide Memoire is a record that means something more the just rebellious cry of another frustrated musician looking for industry attention. This record is a stylish output of uninhibited and gut-level creativity that Emmich’s fans relate to immediately. Hardcore fans were so interested in what Emmich had to say with this disc that they got his project paid for in 24 hours on Kickstarter. An amazing feat for anyone, for Emmich, it is a true nod to his impulsive direction.
Aide Memoire explores the texture and lyrically tough fabric of our brief lives. Songs like “When I Grow Up” trumpet the quest for direction, happiness and the powerless realization that life just goes its own haphazard way no matter how hard you try to steer it. Glimmering acoustic guitars push Emmich’s smooth-toned story of innocence and empathy that comes in the form of a boy wanting to change a world filled with strife and unrest.
“Expecting” unwinds with dark, gritty guitar work before Emmich and the band kick in with a Robert Smith and The Cure feel. Val waxes poetic about “feeling so old,” wondering where everything has gone and why. The band breaks in several places during the song, switching from progressive and exploratory sectors to pop-laden choruses, falling into its own dynamic and poignant ending. Kudos goes out to guitarists James Stahon and Dave Bassiri, a fresh sounding pair that doesn’t rely on overused blues licks to get their melodic point across.
“Wooly Mammoths” stabs into the listener with reverb-drenched guitar daggers and tambourine hits, ushering in Emmich’s plaintive vocal wail. Somber, meticulous and well executed, this is something that rides along the same highways of desolate beauty realized by Chris Isaak and Ben Bridwell. I will play this stark song on my long, dark drives up and down the Garden State parkway all winter long.
“Galoshes On A Sunny Day” continues in the rainy and reflective direction Emmich has chosen for Aide Memoire. Emmich’s influential demons rise and fall in the traditional similarities of Jeff Buckley and Eddie Vedder. Minor keys crash into complex guitar voicings and thick bass and drum countermeasures. Val has found the perfect band with this line-up and everyone understands why they are part of this record. Free and unfettered, Emmich soars ever up on this heartwarming and introspective number.
“A Punch” is another 1980s-influenced pop gem. Melodically akin to Nena (“99 Luftballons”), Pearl Jam and The Psychedelic Furs, “A Punch” comes out of left field to knock you flat. Its validation of self-worth and proof of existence pound urgently alongside the punk rock uppercut of Stahon and Bassiri, side-swiping the guardrail tight blitzkrieg of bassist Rob Fitzgerald and drummer Kevin Walters.
The 10-song attack of Aide Memoire is both retrospective and creatively dark. Several of the songs split into directions most pop robots wouldn’t take a chance on, and that makes this disc vital. Possibly Emmich’s best communicative work since Sunlight SearchParty, Aide Memoire embraces the sounds, sights and memorable times of an artist’s life. Unabashed, honest and filled with an audio soundscape the size of Nebraska, this record is a welcome addition to the growing discography of Val Emmich.
In an arena where most performers just go with the commercial and formula-laden flow, Emmich has once again shown that he can make influential pop music and still keep true to his visions of all things past, present and future. I forget a lot of things (ask my girlfriend), but if there is one record that I won’t drop from my memory this year, it’s definitely Aide Memoire.
The CD will be unveiled by invite-only at an “undisclosed location in Hoboken” on Saturday, Oct. 22. More info at valemmich.com.
Sir Ivan: The Peaceman Cometh
When I first heard of this artist I couldn’t believe he actually resided on Planet Earth. Wildly visual and dramatic, “The Peaceman,” as he has called himself, stormed out of his humble Clifton, NJ, settings and onto the techno scene a few years back, packing rooms to the fire code limit while sporting a sparkling cape and spinning his unique dance brand of “Trippy Hippy” compositions.
I figured this guy was just another nut job searching for the attention of the masses, until I heard the viable and artistic smarts of his projects. When I say viable, I’m not alone in that sentiment. His latest single, “Live For Today,” follows Sir Ivan’s career changing previous dance single “Hare Krishna,” which broke into the Top 10 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs Chart in the spring of this year. Not bad for an individual who, 10 years earlier did most of his spinning in the banking world.
The success of electro-pop recording artist Sir Ivan’s new version of the Grass Roots ‘60s hit “Live For Today,” and his psychedelic dance video, motivated event organizers of the upcoming Steve Madden Music and Munger Music’s Night Out with Gibson Guitars to bring him onboard as the first artist set to perform at the music/entertainment/fashion industry special event.
The exclusively for Tastemakers event takes place on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Gibson Guitars Showroom Space, formerly the legendary Hit Factory Studios in New York City. For more information on Sir Ivan, his projects, his background and, yes, his actual castle, head over to sirivanmusic.com.