Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tangled in True Love's Defeat: Andrew Spice's Pretty Demons

This post is going to take us back a bit in time, considering Andrew Spice's debut album Pretty Demons released five years ago, but before I go there, I want to go back a bit further than that. To a high school gym in 1999...where I first witnessed Andrew Spice truly perform.

In the midst of a shoddy variety show put on by our Winnipeg high school, wedged between amateur skits and adequate saxophone solos, Andrew sat down at a piano and performed Tori Amos' version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Though I had known Andrew for about five years by that point, I hadn't known him as a musician - I had known him as the quiet clarinet player beside me in the school band, but hardly as a musician in his own right. I was completely riveted by his haunting voice and passionate piano playing as he lost himself in the music and emotions, capturing the tender torture of the song. At that moment, I knew he didn't belong with the rest of us - his level of maturity, musical and otherwise, greatly exceeded anything the rest of us adolescents were thinking or doing at the time. While the parents and students assembled there in the audience may very well have preferred the friendlier, amateur fare of other performances, playing out the typical popularity contests of high school, they were hardly the correct, discerning audience to be hearing him.

Thankfully, Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner ended up hearing him, and then producing his album, Pretty Demons, on her Dead Daisys Records label and subsequently playing on Pretty Demons. Manitoba Film and Sound also endorsed the record with a marketing grant to assist in its promotion and distribution. The same year, Pretty Demons was nominated for an OutMusic Award for Best Debut Album. And unfortunately, while all this was going on, I completely missed it. I was hardly as up on my music at that point as I am now, and I was very likely too absorbed in the British music scene (as usual). It took me up until 2006 to notice, but then I couldn't turn away.

Pretty Demons is indeed pretty in its fractured and bruised self-revelation, managing to avoid standard heartbreak cliches. I have difficulty comparing Andrew with other artists because I still think of his voice as completely his own and I can't quite objectively step back and hold it up to other artists. The best I can do to describe Andrew's style is: His voice hovers like mist over cascades of piano, creating rainbows in unexpected places of darkness. His influences listed on his MySpace profile include PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails and Imogen Heap, which I can definitely feel in the atmosphere of his music, but again, Andrew escapes a direct comparison to any of them. On tracks like Unafraid, Beautiful Creatures, and Nice to Know, Andrew peels back the bandages on a broken heart to expose a poignant self-doubt and vulnerability in lyrics like: "how easy this would be/if I wasn't me/how unafraid/how perfectly made/I wish I was" (Unafraid), "if I were easy and pretty pretty/I'd be remembered" (Beautiful Creatures), and "the poison that I am/must be hard to cure yourself/from everything that's never quite enough" (Nice to Know). Melodically, Beautiful Creatures is the closest to a radio-friendly hit with its pulsing beat that mimicks a tense heartbeat, and soaring chorus. It is followed by one of my favourite tracks on the album, Silent Rain, which features trembling, breathy vocals, fluid piano, strains of strings, and the incredible lyric of "I'm cold and grey inside this lie/tangled in true love's defeat."

Breaking away from the fluidity of Silent Rain, Perfect Day begins with a romping piano line that continues to roll beneath lines like "no it's not something you said/it's something that you are/all uncertainty and loveliness/paint me pictures with your eyes/take me in your arms tonight." The next song titled Christopher reveals the object of betrayal and hurt (and likely the object of the majority of the album's sentiments), and Christopher then turns up by name in the lyrics of the following track Nice to Know. Pride, like Silent Rain, is a more understated, hushed song, tremulous in its honesty and beauty where vocal and piano move as one. For the track Sometimes Lukewarm, Andrew's voice dances over the lilting, upbeat melody as the lyrics tell a story of relationship confusion, where feelings about a partner can shift between being suffused with love to overcome with the disappointing reality of his/her flaws. Congratulations takes envy of an ex to new heights as acoustic guitar takes over - "motherfucker" has never been sung so delicately. The album ends with Matthew, a song dedicated to Matthew Shepard, the American student who was fatally attacked in 1998 in a horrific episode of hate crime. It features some of the most heartbreaking lyrics about death I've ever heard, creating a personal conversation with Shepard's spirit and elevating him from beyond a hero to a canonization for those who can see themselves in him. Overall, Pretty Demons is a beautiful document of young heartbreak and loss, and a search for comprehension and healing.

Andrew hasn't officially released any music since Pretty Demons, but I continue to hope that he will - he's the classic case of an indie artist that will never get the respect and support he/she deserves from the current music industry. If I've convinced you by now (and I hope I have), you can easily purchase Pretty Demons at CD Baby. I'm thankful that I was there back in 1999 to witness the beginning of such musical talent. And here's to hoping that once again, the right people will be listening.

Andrew Spice's MySpace: www.myspace.com/andrewspice

Beautiful Creatures - Andrew Spice

Silent Rain - Andrew Spice

No comments: