Album Review: Bridge of Flowers “A Soft Day’s Night”
It’s probably no accident that the majority of ‘classic’ lo-fi/experimental/underground/anti-commercial music often sounds like a journey that begins with the Velvet Underground/Lou Reed. I mean, anyone that plays this kind of music that knows their history LOVES the Velvet Underground. How can you not?
Bridge of Flowers is a group of lo-fi indie rock enthusiasts from Pittsfield, Mass. Carrying the torch from VU, Galaxie 500, Pavement, US Maple, and everything in between and after when you hear this record you can hear it’s steeped in a long underground and entirely separate world of precedent that people that don’t like proto-punk or lo-fi will never understand. Led by vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Gallagher, you can tell from the first couple of songs that this is a group of veterans with a history that knows their history (one of whom, Jonathan Hanson was a member of the seminal Hill Haints (one of my favorites) which is how I came upon this group and record). You can hear the struggle against artifice and precedent. You can hear the absolutely twisted struggle for sincerity. And I hear success.
If you couldn’t tell from all that insider prattle, this is not a record or a group that most people are going to appreciate. But if you are into Galaxie 500 or Pavement, you might love it. It almost sounds as though someone brought the nineties spirit embodied by Pavement’s Westing (By Musket and Sextant) over whole and uncorrupted by its dalliance with popularity and transformation after its embrace by the underground and college radio. When lo-fi sounded almost dangerous to the high and lo-art worlds, a hundred thousand million people making atonal post-rock (no, not THAT kind of post-rock) in their basements either intentionally ignoring or genuinely not giving a shit about where the rest of pop music was going or, more importantly, has gone since.
Because let’s face it, if you have any love for lo-fi, underground, home recording, or idiosyncratic weirdo music at all, you think pop music in the current century fucking sucks and has no hope.
It’s pretty clear Bridge of Flowers does. And that’s why you can hear an unbroken line directly from Lou Reed; they successfully ignore everything that’s come since that they don’t like and embrace everything they do. No matter how hard it was to find or if the tape is practically unlistenable or the grooves in the Jandek record have somehow melted.
Okay, enough praise and theory. I’m here to review their new album (or at least to prove I at least listened to it more than a few times and therefore did my job but honestly did so because I respect these guys and their music… if I didn’t I’d just describe how and why I thought it sucked like I do with other records I don’t have enough respect for to waste my ever so valuable time and energy on). Those of you that know you’re not gonna like this by the description up to this point certainly need not read on…
The record (which I was lucky enough to receive; this stuff is definitely meant to be played on vinyl) begins with “Vinegar and Salt”, a classic/rock pop tune that, like its Velvet Underground influence defies the idea that the seventies ever happened. It’s kind of cute and catchy, but of course very ‘off’. There’s no melody and a pretty damned good guitar solo the whole way through in the background while bass and drums almost keep a steady form going (though of course, they’re free to improvise as much as they want and go as far off course as they like). But it keeps somehow coming back together, as soon as you think it’s going to finally go off the rails.
“Empty Room” sets a far more challenging tone, like an E. Gaffney track on an early Sebadoh record. Out of tune guitars and a wheeling staccato bass line are covered by a series of random guitar and vocal toppings. You can almost hear the ‘This is not music!’ comment you just know some asshole that you’re just kinda friends with or work at the record store with is gonna say when you play a track like this. Delightfully threatening to conventional sensibilities yet not relying on typical metal or hardcore tricks like volume and dissonance, it’s a train wreck on the tracks.
“Aloe Vera” is genuinely disturbing. A depressing mess with guitar lines that approach but never get to the kind of comforting lines that say, Bonnie Prince Billy made money on. Because, of course, Bridge of Flowers doesn’t want your fucking money or appreciation. They want to make the kind of expressive music that feels like your twisted, warped, confused, and bored mind while ‘you watch Pawn Stars.’
By contrast “Tour Rider” is practically a hit song. A repeated subfunky riff is interrupted by Gallagher’s by now recognizable atonal vocal stylings and a way up the neck slide guitar ‘solo’ over. With a bass line and drum beat that come in late as usual but stay together more so than on other songs.
“Year Without a Summer” returns to the anti-music tuning of previous songs with a half hearted riff repeated by guitar and bass, and an organ on top that sounds like it perhaps IS in tune, unlike the other instruments.
“Poetry in Motion” could almost be a Pell Mell song if it were instrumental. Steeped in that minor key college rock vibe of groups like the Wipers, again as usual I’m amazed at how much this song stays together while falling apart.
“Tambo” is a pretty straightforward early Pavement-like track that tells us ‘when you get high you feel like you live forever’. Believe it or not, this out of all the songs does sound conventional to me. In that early nineties anti-rock lo-fi way. It’s even got a chorus of voices shout singing ‘Tambo!’ in the background.
“Mirage”, possibly inspired by a Meat Puppets song (or not) is an early Sebadoh-like piece that would be a catchy sing along pop tune if it were in tune and/or sung in a traditional way. Full of adorable guitar arpeggios (see! I know some Italian!) and some pedal inspired surprises, this is by far the most accessible song on the album.
Finally, “Never” closes out the record with an expected downturn that’s still somehow optimistic. Like waking up slightly hungover but recognizing you’re living the life you want to, fuck anyone that doesn’t get it. Gimme another beer. And then, again somehow staying on the rails, the guitar chords sort of maintain a rhythm regardless of how completely atonal and anti-effort they are (it’s actually all just one chord on one of the guitars, possibly the open strings the guitar just happened to be tuned to). And Shane Bruno and Chris Wojtkowski do their best to keep up on bass guitar and drums, respectively.