Burn Something Dear
10 Tracks. 1997 Download this album for $5
Burn Something Dear is the first full-length album we made. Tracked on borrowed time in the music complex I was calling home, and mixed on rented time with an opulent SSL / Studer rig , this was the indie label Big Production. The album’s title was an attempt to set a precedent for using “garden path” type phrases with dual meaning. Not clever enough to carry through.
From this distance, it seems as though I’d just found a vector toward a songwriting style — or perhaps it was toward songwriting with style. Some of the songs sound left-over from a phase years prior, in which I hadn’t developed the skill to make the synths and samplers speak in the dialect ideal for a given mood or genre. And there’s an unintentional disregard for the solid groundwork of a well-built chord progression — or more specifically, what that foundation should do to support & elevate a vocal melody. But it stands as evidence that some club kids imbued with sincere passion, and equipped with a pile of electronic instruments, a few cans of Aqua Net, and a stable supply of black eyeliner, could make a record that rivaled the majors. Or at least one that in our own minds, rose above the mundane and predictably beery split 7″ singles that were standard fare in Boston. Read on for my epic, track-by-track retrospective. — Yours truly, Raziel Panic
V 1.0 — It didn’t matter if there were two entirely different choruses. (Is one of them more like a false coda?) “Saving your prayers.” I thought I was irreverently breaking rules. Of course, we start the album off using the Expansive Classical Snare recorded in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, passed on to me for use on the very first demo we recorded in a proper studio. There’s also a distorted drum loop running through the song that I had created on my first synth workstation to use with a mercifully unrealized cover of Crazy by Seal. On the other hand, the vocoders at the end were inspired straight out of Worlock by Skinny Puppy. These lyrics didn’t mean nearly as much to me when I wrote them as they do now. At least that budding anti-establishment, atheistic bombast was prescient. “All that glitters can be sold.”
Spill — I don’t think I had clearly envisioned the protagonist in this song. I don’t think there was a real-life antagonist for this story either, despite how it sounds. And I really can’t tell who I’m emulating with that vocal style. I do remember that the (subtle) guitar intro/bridge/ending of water-trickles was done in live rehearsals to blend from the echoey, picked parts into the hard-strummed chords, in real-time. It was more of a triumph getting those 3 sounds to flow in a live context than it was to put them on tape. Ah, but the synth arpeggio in the melody section and verses was a last-minute stroke of genius from J.O. Also while we were tracking, Jason came up with the gated, textural, fizzy breath that pulses under the intro/bridge/ending sections. That made the whole rhythm part. “At least I felt insane.”
First Cut — “Something more than, more than need. Breathe to hold you…” I loved singing this song. We used to play it live, long before it was recorded. Not many times since. I think the character telling the story is more detailed in this one, despite the abstract & surreal context. And no doubt he was influenced by Ogre. Working on the evocative & poetic here. I’d totally edit those (three… four?) drum loops that are all slogging it out for space-time. Easy to say that now, but this was made years before I had access to computer editing, so they’re just rolling in from a MIDI’d sampler.
Tear — The title’s homonymous ambiguity was part of my granting myself permission to make up some of the words in the lyric. There was a lot of Lisa Gerard and Elizabeth Fraser in my head (and heart) at the time. And apparently more pathos than evident in later songs. There’s a cassette somewhere of a wrenchingly emotional version of the vocal performance. “‘Pack your bags. Count your money. Everything’s going to be different now,’ she said.” That was was years before the band was formed, so I composed the guitar & voice on 4-track tape, playing along with everything else I’d programmed on the synth workstation. Including bass. I remember pushing Jason to completely erase and replace the first “final” version of the sequenced line played on bass guitar, and when he nailed it, I’m sure we nodded at each other with tacit approval. 2nd appearance of the Jordan Hall snare.
Gun — On the way to The Goth Club we were delayed by a police barricade around a white van in the middle of Central Square. There were bullet holes tracing lines all over the side panel, front to rear. “Sick to death of death and sickened by the sight…” This is an example of the Album Version — with all the attendant production gear and studio time and engineering personnel — failing to exceed the je ne sais quoi of the home-studio version. Check the version on the GRIM. EP for comparison, but go back to the cassette demo for the definitive. If anyone asks, I might dig that out & remaster.
Chrypostrophe — “Do you happen to feel?” Maybe twice in a lifetime someone’s crafty initiative to pry their way into my head delivers poetic inspiration. This one was remarkably direct. I couldn’t let these particular arrangements of otherwise ordinary words decay back into the ether, or succumb to bit-rot. As usual, there ‘s as much fiction as there is borrowed reality, from too many sources of joy/anguish to enumerate. Bass line is a satisfying one. It meshes well with that kick sample I used all over this album. Sounds like me playing. No one else here would pluck harmonics.
Grim — Ankle-deep, broken safety glass in the stairwell of an abandoned trash-incinerating complex. I can’t believe we didn’t all die in there. The bass synth is a perfect example of why I bought (and have not sold) an Ensoniq ESQ’M. I regret pronouncing Gaia with three syllables. Hey! If you draw a line through those 4 sentences it leads directly to my time in the band Zia. “Ghastly little playmates.”
Ulyss 7 — “Leave me still, alone to wonder.” I’m afraid all I remember about making this one is which artist’s song I stole the key-change cadence from, and I’m not spilling it here.
The Julia Set — Wasn’t everyone obsessed with fractal math in the mid-nineties? This is one of the last pieces I wrote for the album. There’s some finesse beginning to show with the analog synthesizers here. There were several very specific compositional goals and challenges realized in those tones. Yet the vocal treatment was left to figure out on studio time. We ended up with a byzantine chain of expensive processors, each one carefully dialed to perform a nuanced exchange of filter modulations. And within days (hours?) of printing the final mix, I was kicking myself for letting that kind of indulgent wankery distract me from respectful service to the vocal part. Strangest thing, this greenhorn’s space opera confessional. Struck off-balance and continuing out-of-character, I wrote the text as a followup message to a pretty girl that was well out of my league. And flatly uninterested; she never replied. Probably because she was an English major. “At least I can tell you anything at all.”
Trip on This — Someone bought a sample LP. “This is power, this is base.” [base - adjective (of a person or a person's actions or feelings) without moral principles; ignoble] Get it?