Songs from a Room
“Red has the ability to take even a friendly, upbeat, happy love song and turn it into a dirge march to the gas chamber,” is stated, matter-of-factly, by the press release for Red’s new album, Songs from a Room, a track-by-track cover of Leonard Cohen’s album of the same title. I mouth the words, “Are you fucking kidding me?” If there is a body of musical work that simply doesn’t need to be any more disheartening, I think the public unanimously agrees it’s Leonard Cohen’s unrelentingly morose oeuvre.
This description, however, is not particularly accurate. Released by Rectangle, a French record label more noted for their avant-garde roster than anything else, Red’s musical work is maybe just a bit too idiosyncratic to make for the standard “sad bastard” playing on college radio stations across the good ol’ Etats-Unis. Like prior album, Felk, Songs from a Room is filled with heaping earfuls of audio detritus. Sine waves running the gamut from 20 to 20000 hertz, grimy waves of noise that wouldn’t be out of place on your favorite Austrian’s next avant-electronic album. The difference, of course, being that one is still essentially listening to Leonard Cohen songs. Guitar still predominates, a nod to the classic Cohen-styled back-up vocals appear on “The Butcher,” and Red’s inflection, sounding like a person trying to be detached from the intrinsic emotionality in music born from such intense disappointment, clearly shows the level with esteem Red treats these songs with.
All of these markedly folk-inspired musical decisions would make for an evocative listening experience on their own merits, but coupled with consistent electronic disturbance (dubbed “The Annoyance” by Rectangle labelmate and avant-icon David Grubbs), Red’s album is a little bit more complicated to discuss. The extra blurts and hisses in Songs from a Room‘s audio palette are not distancing from the music, the listener is not alienated by the often subtle racket whirring beneath the song. Rather, these nuances cause for a fundamental contradiction in the work itself between the expressive, yet anti-musical “noise,” and the expressively musical work of Leonard Cohen. The result is an imminent frustration creeping up around the edges of each song, a barrage that is constantly ready to usurp the vulnerable songs, but never does.
Rectangle Records: http://www.rectangle.org