After Christopher Tin’s success as a Grammy winner for a new version of “Baba Yetu” (part of his fantastic album Calling All Dawns), one might expect Mr. Tin to continue his path of fit-for-mass-consumption videogame-friendly “world” music. But, of course, a true ethnomusicologist isn’t just interested in the remote, tribal reaches of the world. In his next project, Tin teams up with a who’s-who list of New York trendsetters to bring an underground urban jungle to life.
Tin’s new project, alongside percussionist Kametron, is called Stereo Alchemy. They consider themselves an “electronic duo,” and describe their sound as “decadent electronica.” Considering the subject of their debut album, decadent — alongside descriptors such as “bold” and even “pretentious” — fits the bill. The album, God of Love, was released on Valentine’s Day 2012, and it features some amazing singers and production/post-production personnel.
The names of those people, plus the names of the songs, what I think of the music, and how Lindsay Lohan fits into this whole ordeal, after the jump.
TRACKLIST OF LOVE!
01 A Rapture
03 God of Love
04 She Walks in Beauty
05 Is It Possible
06 Monsters of the Sky
07 To Eternity
08 My Heart’s Fit to Break
09 Young Lovers
10 Love Is Love
So, I don’t know what the connections were that allowed all this to happen, but Tin and Kametron got a bunch of great people to help on this project. Melissa Kaplan of Splashdown, Lia Rose of Built For the Sea, and the incredible male vocalist “Mozez” (Zero 7), are the three people you hear singing across these ten tracks. The album itself was mixed by Darrell Thorp, whose other credits include mixing for Radiohead, Beck, and Air. When you hear the album, you’ll notice the resemblance. So too with the mastering, done by Tom Baker (Nine Inch Nails).
If there’s one thing that music has consistently celebrated, it is love. Specifically, romantic love: affection, desire for companionship, and (of course) sex. For generations, the youth of America have grown up simultaneously brainwashed by and rebelling against the mainstream pop song/stories of love and lost love. Tin and Kametron take all this to the next level through their self-awareness and, yes, pretentiousness. They themselves freely admit the project is pretentious, and in so doing, they ascend past the “wannabe” love to acknowledge love for what it is and for what humanity has seen it to be for centuries.
How do they do this, you ask? Poetry. Christopher Tin used both religious texts and poetry on Calling All Dawns, so he’s no stranger to adapting older texts to modern music. On “God of Love,” we see Thomas Carew’s erotic poem “A Rapture” put to music. This poem is 500 years old, and yet, look how well the words of decadent, indulgent, even sick “love-for-love’s sake” fit the gritty music and the even grittier video (a re-cut of some avantgarde fashion/erotica short film from 2009 that featured Lindsay Lohan):
After watching a video like that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the reader that this album has had as one of its early adopters the “fashion” scene. It’d be easy to imagine this kind of music used for a photo shoot, a runway, a dance hall. But one could also imagine hand-picked tracks from the album used for film, television, or even a trailer (or event scene) for a video game. I’m sure the creators of this album would like to see it all over the place, but I’m content with having the album kept to myself as its own little secret should it not see that kind of large-level success.
What I really like about the album is that, against the consistent talent of Tin and Kametron, we have the varied voices and the varied song styles. Not all of it is “of-this-era” dubstep. If you’re looking for that, tracks like “Monster of the Sky” and the lovely title track “God of Love” will suit you just fine. For someone who wants to hearken back to the days when Seal was king, Mozez’s back-to-back tracks “She Walks in Beauty” and “Is It Possible” are sure to satisfy. These songs would’ve been insanely hot in the ’90s, and I have to admit that I’m drawn to both of them in the same way we were all in love with Seal and Ace of Base in middle school. And by “we all,” I’m referring to those of us born between 1980 and 1985.
If you want to go really back to the days of sugary synth-pop, and/or you love the band “Karmella’s Game” as much as I do, you’ll want to check out track 9, “Young Lovers.” After fully exploring all of the dark, brooding, and scary aspects of love (especially as love relates to jealousy, death, and mourning), we come back to a time of sheer joy and celebration. In this way, I am reminded of the life/death/rebirth “Song Cycle” that made Calling All Dawns such a great concept album.
After Young Lovers gives you a sugar high, the album ends on what is, in my opinion, the best track on the album. The simple tautology “Love is Love,” penned first in Sir Edward Dyer’s poem A Modest Love, moves me to tears. The music reminds me of The Postal Service’s “This Place Is A Prison” (for its synth and for its chord progression: IV V vi I). But it also reminds me of my new favorite synth/pop/rock band, Kye Kye, and the sadness one experiences when gazing back at an innocent time. Can love, and the patron deities we assign to love, ever be pure or noble? If we’re lucky, yes, for maybe a moment. Okay, I just have to throw the lyrics at you. Here they are (compare them to the linked text of the original if you must have full iambic pentameter):
The lowest trees have tops, the bird her call;
The slender hairs cast shadows, though but small;
And bees have stings, though not great;
And love is love, and love is love.
Where waters smoothest run, their deepest are the fords;
The firmest faith is found in fewest words;
And seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love, and love is love.
True hearts have ears and eyes, no tongues to speak;
They hear and see, and sigh, and then they break.
Here I have to credit Tin for shuffling around the lines that sound awkward in modern English, and for ending the track on those two lines. This is a beautiful poem about simple, axiomatic, absolute kinds of truth. It’s all fitting and observed and acceptable, until we’re confronted with “love is love” and immediately we are mystified, even though we assent in a heady sort of way. And then, at the end, we meet with our own human frailty. Whether literally referring to death, or simply the challenge of sustaining a relationship… it cuts deep. Such sharp words from such dainty lips, and no hint of cruelty in the song. You have to hear it for yourself.
But how, you ask? I recommend going straight to the source: stereoalchemy.com is the place to buy the physical and/or digital versions. All the lyrics are there too. If you think a “pretentious synth-pop tribute” to love as a thing, and as an experience, is bound to be weak and shallow, I again urge you to listen to the whole album and be ready for the knockout punch of the final track. Only when your defenses are down will you realize how powerful this project is, and what better way to become vulnerable than to assume we can’t be challenged by such weak tripe? It’s a clever trap set by the artists, and it turns out the complexity of the music and the depth of the lyrics will stymie us all. Just like love.Tags: Christopher Tin, Commercial Music, Dubstep, Edward Dyer, Electronica, God of Love, John Donne, Kametron, Lia Rose, Lindsay Lohan, Love Is Love, Melissa Kaplan, Mozez, Rapture, Stereo Alchemy, Synth Pop, Thomas Carew, Trip-Hop