Friday, February 1, 2008

Black Umbrella: Shelter Against the Uninspired

I'm always attracted to bands who have a strong vision and a passion to make music that actually means something. In many cases, I love a band with a manifesto. So when the Los Angeles-based band, Black Umbrella, requested to be added as a friend via MySpace last year, I accepted. Headed by songwriter, Derek James, Black Umbrella asserts that they are "deconstructing 60's mod/psychedelia, 70's glam/post punk, 80's new wave/synth pop & 90's britpop/shoegaze to bring the grey world a kaleidoscopic future pop pastiche that revels in the love of lost eras/outsider movements and is great for bedroom dancing." I love grand declarations, especially ones that encompass so much with so many and/or slashes. I was also attracted to James's eloquent rants about the lack of perfect albums anymore - albums that are fantastic from beginning to end (James cited The Smiths' The Queen is Dead, Manic Street Preachers' The Holy Bible, and The Associates' Sulk) and have the potential to change your life. And he very clearly lays out a manifesto in the MySpace blog entry "Entry 1." He also once said he promised to be added to my "Men in Skirts" gallery one day, a fabulous promise if I ever heard one, and one that will immediately endear a band to me.

Black Umbrella are: Derek James (vocals, guitar), Daniel Soltyka (guitar), Shamus Dudley (drums), Franz Amaya (bass), and Amanda G (tambourine). If you like psychedelic pop like early Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett at the helm or the latest from Of Montreal, or glam rock a la David Bowie and Jobriath, or synthpop akin to The Cure at their sunniest, or a hybrid of C86 bands and early American alternative college rock, or a mixture of all of these, then you'll love Black Umbrella. James's vocals remind me of a cross between Billy Corgan and Kevin Barnes with a melancholy pout and flourishes of glam panache. The lyrics are a wonderful blend of deep sadness and fanciful imagery often with an underlying current of frustration with traditional religion. Examples: in Fool You Can't Escape, "you are just waiting on tidal waves and earthquakes/the love you feel you can't understand/it's just a tear in God's afghan/the way you sneer at temptations of the flesh/you know you can't be so wet behind the ears about love" and in Donna's Major, "we came from grass skirts/we came from catholic flirts/rosary beads and melancholy t-shirts/we came from demon seeds/we came from killer bees/daddylonglegs, beetlebugs and centipedes."

Late last year, Black Umbrella created the six-song Slumber Party EP, and they are currently in Buffalo, New York, recording their debut album, All God's Creatures Deserve Better Than This, which will feature all of the songs that were on the Slumber Party EP (with the full band and further production this time) and four additional songs (Amanda Lynn, Honeysuckle, Believers Never Lie, and 21st Century). I eagerly await the album proper. And Black Umbrella is also playing some dates in Buffalo in the near future, so if you can, I recommend seeing them. Hopefully, I will get a chance to catch them live sometime soon.

Black Umbrella's MySpace:

Love Dare Not Veil - Black Umbrella

Donna's Major - Black Umbrella

Amanda Lynn - Black Umbrella

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