by STEVE MCPHERSON
“The point of it is that obviously we want to sound more fuller. I want to have a little more, how do you say, reptile brain in it this time,” says singer/guitarist/keyboardist Henrik Orrling. I’ve caught him and the rest of Envelopes (Frenchwoman Audrey Pic (vocals, guitars, keyboard) and fellow Swedes Fredrik Berglind-Dehlin (guitar), Filip Ekander (drums) and Martin Karlsson (bass)) in the midst of a stay at a studio in Malmo in southern Sweden. Their purpose there is twofold: prepare for the upcoming tour that will bring them to the U.S. (“We just hope we get to not be sick. We have demanded that in the venues they will have oranges and lemons so we can get our daily dose of C vitamins.”) and try to wrap up work on the follow-up to their debut record Demon. And unless he’s putting me on with the whole reptile brain thing, Orrling’s probably referring to the cerebellum, one of the evolutionarily oldest parts of the brain, traditionally associated with motor coordination and not emotion. So a tougher, more cold-blooded album, then?
were actually kind of pissed off with reviews,” says Orrling, “because
everyone thought it was so goddamn nice. I mean, it is very nice because it’s
recorded at home; it’s kind of soft everything and the drums are not heavy.
But when we did it, we were really working on getting a lot of nasty guitar
on there. Why does everyone have to think it’s so goddamn cute when we
were playing so fucking loud on the guitar all the time?”
It’s not that there aren’t nasty moments on the disc, it’s
just that Envelopes can’t seem to help making catchy songs. Demon
was recorded over several years and mostly on home computers by the band formerly
known as The Nicotines, who changed their name to avoid any trouble, and the
record’s name means demos in Swedish. The brittle, spliced-together feel
of the album is clearly a result of the home-recording process, but far from
sounding amateurish, Demon has a warm and distinct personality, sounding
like nothing so much as a lo-fi Swedish version of the New Pornographers. Much
like that band’s head honcho, Carl Newman, Orrling seems to have mixed
feelings about the perception of his band’s poppiness.
“The thing with a lo-fi recording like Demon,” explains Orrling,
“is that a lot of people like my parents, they think it’s really
nice but they are not used to a lo-fi aesthetic, and they have a very hard time
to distinguish between what is a deficiency in sound quality and what is general
quality. We have great songs on there and some friends that are only listening
to other kinds of music didn’t like it because it sounds a little weak.
So OK: let’s do an album that’s just as good, but with heavier drums.
But then the problem is as soon as you go into a studio you have to be very
careful because you immediately start to sound very polished and that’s
what we’ve been working a lot on now: to down-produce it. You have to
make sure you don’t get carried away by this because you have to have
an aggressive, aggressivity? No? How do you say?” Aggressiveness, I offer.
“Aggressiveness and some kind of edge.”
Demon certainly has plenty of moments with aggression: The giant swoop
of phased guitar that ushers in “My Fren,” the way opener “It
Is the Law” draws you in with a delicate guitar melody before blowing
you away with the full band 20 seconds in. But it’s not hard to see why
reviewers might choose to focus on the sweet naivete of tracks like “Audrey
in the Country,” which features Pic singing in endearingly accented English
about her pastoral adventures with Steve McQueen or Orrling’s “Isabel
and Leonard” with it’s nursery-rhyme lyrics and characters straight
out of a Wes Anderson movie: “Isabel and Leonard / dress up so nice in
leotard / and every night when they go out / they seem to know what it’s
all about.” The highlights are when it all comes together, as on the bittersweet
“Massmouvement,” where the lightly countrified acoustic bounce of
the verse leads into a hopeful chorus (“You are the greatest thing I ever
seen”) knitted inside of a minor progression that tinges the whole thing
with a doomed and tragic air.
got a point about the lo-fi quality of the album: at times, taking the critical
hammer to it feels a bit like making a steely-eyed assessment of a 5-year-old’s
drawing of his family. Demon is all bold primary colors that rarely stay
inside the lines, belying the record’s monochromatic cover--an illustration
from an old French book on mythological creatures. When I comment on the connection
between the beast on the cover and the name of the album, Orrling’s animated
and Swedish-accented reply becomes impossible to do justice to in print.
“But it looks like kind of a friendly demon at the same time,” he
nearly exclaims, before switching his attention to the cherubim surrounding
the monster. “I’m almost more scared of those small naked babies.
They’re like pointing at him and laughing and they seem to be really like
a nasty bunch.”
A recent book by neuroscientist and former record producer Daniel J. Levitin
explains how music actually affects the cerebellum. In This is Your Brain
on Music, Levitin outlines how our “reptile brain” synchronizes
itself to the beat of a song and how some of our enjoyment of comes from the
way it either fufills or goes against our internal sense of the beat—”a
sort of musical joke that we're all in on,” explains Levitin.
If Envelopes can achieve their goal of tapping into the most primitive part
of our brain, while still hitting up our mesolimbic system (repsonsible for
pleasure and the production of dopamine), their sophomore effort should be anything
but a slump. ||
Envelopes play Tue., Sept. 12 at the Entry with Ratatat
and Panther. 8 p.m. $12. 21+.
701 First Ave. N, Mpls. 612-338-8388. For more info on Envelopes, check out
their official site at envelopes.se.