By Mike Faloon
When I hear a new Black Wine record I gauge how much rock they’ve included versus how much pop they’ve included—what’s the ratio of stomping and thumping to sweetness and light. On first listen Summer of Indifference (Don Giovanni Records) leans heavy on the stomp and thump.
The album cover looks like a still from a Wes Anderson movie. Big simple typeface. Subtle but deliberate color scheme—the band’s dressed in black and white standing in front of leafy green trees. They’re all at different heights (kneeling, slouching, standing).
On the back of their first album (Black Wine, Don Giovanni, 2010) they included a note that said “Recorded and mixed to tape—with no beat or pitch correction.” I love that. It reminds me of the anti-synthesizer notes Queen included on their early albums. On their debut album (Queen, 1973) they declared “…and nobody played synthesizer.” Were synthesizers that prominent in the pop and rock world of the early ‘70s? I love how forthright they were—We are not cheating!—and the implied wag of the finger at everyone else—But they are!
Queen continued on subsequent albums. Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night at the Opera (1975) declared “No synthesizers” and “No synthesizers!” respectively. There were “No synths!” on A Day at the Races (1976). There probably weren’t any synthesizers on News of the World (1977) or Jazz (1978) but there weren’t any declarations in the liner notes. Perhaps Queen was thinking of crossing party lines during this time because when The Game came out in 1980 they confessed that “This album includes the first appearance of a Synthesizer (an Oberheim OBX) on a Queen album.”
Translation: some member of the band tickled the ivories synthetic but his identity shall not be disclosed. Queen Inc. may have given in to the high tide of technology but we aren’t about to identify the contaminated songs yet alone name names. Ours is a united front.
They went to the other end of the continuum when the Flash Gordon soundtrack was released later that year: “Music by Queen/John Deacon (Bass Guitar, Guitar synthesizer)/Roger Taylor (Drums, Vocals, Synthesizer)/, Brian May (Lead Guitar, Vocals, /Synthesizer)/ Freddie Mercury (Lead Vocals, Synthesizer).”
I’ve never quite understood why Queen was so insistent on staking out their reputation for authenticity with rock fans. They seemed perfectly comfortable with irony and camp. Being perceived as “real” seemed pretty far down the list of priorities. First, there’s their band name. Second, there’s the band’s sound, which I love, especially early on when they swerved wildly and wonderfully from hard rock to vaudeville. I think Freddie Mercury once said they wanted to combine Jimi Hendrix with Liza Minnelli. These are not the hallmarks of the real, the grounded, the down to earth. Love them or loath them Queen obliterated all the molds. Who cared if they had synthesizers?
I wonder if Black Wine use pitch and/or beat correction on the new record?
I listened to Summer of Indifference four times today but the power went out midway through spin number three so for some reason my iTunes play counter only registered two plays. This information should not affect me in the slightest. Yet it does. I feel a little cheated. I can’t stop looking at that play counter. I’m not wired to filter it out. It’s like when I watch a ballgame and I can’t stop reading the scroll of scores and updates. It’s information I don’t want or need yet I read it each time it crawls across my TV. The play counter offers equally useless information but I can’t resist it.
The last song on the album is called “Maycrowning.” I don’t know what maycrowning is. I’ll have to look it up.
From Learning to Surf, a one-shot music zine by Mike Faloon.
Illustration by Jef Czekaj.