with my sorrows
by Bryan Reesman
Black tape for a blue girl are as enigmatic as their name, a group who, through the poetic lyricism and musical motifs of creator/group leader Sam Rosenthal, grapple with the tumultuous feelings and desires of love, with both the constructive and destructive aspects of intense human relationships. Throughout his five previous studio albums, Sam has explored repeated themes: the search for truth, the search for beauty, the search for innocence and purity, and ultimately the quest for the ideal person who embodies all of these things.
In the opening song of Remnants of a deeper purity , vocalist Oscar Herrera asks a mysterious other to "redefine pure faith for me", a theme which Sam struggles with throughout remnants. The album, as a whole, represents the quest for the ideals which once existed but have been lost through the death of love in a past relationship. Yet like a phoenix, love is reborn from the ashes of the past within the search for a new person and a new future.
Remnants of a deeper purity represents the struggle to return to the quest for truth, beauty, and purity once it has been lost.
Within the context of the current dark music scene, Rosenthal's music offers an alternative to the brooding cliches, where melodramatic lyrics and ominous music are merely implemented as a way to lure in a certain crowd. Black tape provide a real emotional connection to its audience, creating a self-contained environment defined by highly personal lyrics and a unique musical language which transcends the current scene while also reinventing it. Sam's openness with his feelings and life history document important truths in the artist's life.
Remnantsfeatures some of the group's best music, showcasing the diversity they explore within their romantic musings. The sound of Black tape for a blue girl is distinct and unforgettable: beautiful melodies and ethereal keyboards wash over you as radiant, operatic voices guide you through a world of love lost and dreams unfulfilled. Composer/keyboardist Rosenthal weaves gorgeous tapestries of sound that envelop you in warm, sumptuous atmospheres which are both cathartic and consolatory.
The mournful mood of "redefine pure faith" opens the album with somber bell tones and gothic keyboards as Oscar sings lyrics common to Black tape's oeuvre:if only I could taste one drop of your unhappiness if only I could live again within your mystery if only I could capture the essence of purityThroughout his five previous albums, Sam has wrestled lyrically with the concept of innocence destroyed and reawakened anew in the dawn of new love, and "redefine pure faith" is his definitive statement on the subject.
In "fin de siécle" Lucian sings of loss, and as Sam describes it, "The abandonment of the child, and the abandonment of god, the loss of father. Of the existential security inherent in god and security in man, sent back to the swirl." Indeed, what does happen when we lose our ideals and feel their is nothing left to believe in?
The stirring, 26-minute "for you will burn your wings upon the sun" is notable for being the first time that Sam's epic aspirations have truly manifested themselves. In many ways, "wings" is a modern neo-classical affair with five suites. It begins with murky electronic whispers, echoing, punctuating percussion, and ethereal, elegiac violin swirling amidst Oscar's operatic singing and Lucian's harmonic, wordless vocals. The following four instrumental parts of "wings" features haunting duets for violin and cello, presenting distinct melodies which shift and become lost within a wash of electronics, dramatically free-falling into an aural abyss before being reborn in one final reprise. Such flowing acoustic elements expand the group's palette and add further depth and refinement to their continually expanding sound.
"for you will burn your wings upon the sun" strongly emotes the anger and sense of betrayal one feels at the end of a relationship, the feeling that it was all for naught. The melodramatic lyrical rantings - such as "how can I ever trust again?", "this poison forbids my new hopes", or "you have taken my heart and fed it to snakes" - are intentionally over-the-top, but when one is hurt and feeling abandoned, doesn't everything seem futile and hopeless? "wings" is a classic example of the universality and insightfulness which Sam brings to his musical alter ego.
"wings tattered, fallen" embodies a gripping funereal tone in its use of liquid electronics and Lucian's lilting siren song, which weave an hypnotic spell over the listener, simple yet dramatically effective.
But despite all this seemingly fatalistic thematic repetition, by the completion of the album, we find resolve and acceptance of the end as well as a new beginning.
The title track begins this movement out of the black with an acoustic outing reminiscent of music from 1987's Mesmerized By The Sirens. A rhythmic blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards, "remnants of a deeper purity" provides the perfect complement to much of the trance-like music drifting throughout the album and introduces listeners to yet another side of the band, as Oscar sings of being entranced by a mysterious woman. Could she represent what he seeks? Is she the embodiment of those things which he (and perhaps all of us) seek? "Are you the girl I've been dreaming of?" he sings. Here is the turning point, the person who could set him free from his misery and restore faith.
"again, to drift (for veronika)" continues to lift the somber veil from the album, as it conjures up dreamy, watery piano textures with the tempo increasing then receding; subtly metamorphosizing before Sam's trademark synths re-enter to accompany it, Mera's cello quietly drifting in by the end.
"i have no more answers" further adds to this theme of renewal, ending this emotional and personal journey with a sense or closure and an acceptance of the past, all warmly sung by Lucian. There are feelings of remorse and loss, but they are contrasted with a sense of understanding. Denial no longer exists, the sense of betrayal is swept away, and life continues.
The album Remnants of a deeper purity is Black Tape For A Blue Girl's most mature musical statement to date, not to mention their longest, clocking in at just over 77 minutes. Sam's choice of instrumentation for the new album (as well as past efforts) embodies his efforts to find appropriate musical motifs and sounds which will reflect his lyrical themes. The composer's own keyboard textures are lush orchestrations of sound which set the tone for each song and offer a musical and emotional base which the vocals and other instrumentation further embellish. The violin of Vicki Richards (who first appeared on 1991's A Chaos Of Desire) and cello of Mera Roberts provide melancholic, highly expressive string work that strongly emote a funereal tone to many of the songs, but individually they also signify the feelings of loneliness and overwhelming sadness throughout the album. The fact that Sam has chosen instruments normally associated with classical music is itself intriguing. In many ways, Vicki and Mera bring in a sense of intimacy which one finds in chamber music.
Yet while Black Tape For A Blue Girl's music is always marked by a purposefulness and specific musical and lyrical direction, this newest album took a little longer to evolve than previous efforts: "Honestly, I didn't really know that this sound was the direction the album was taking," Sam confesses. "I began working on music late in 1994. It wasn't until the summer of 1995 that I began to get ideas for the material that developed into the core of the lyrics. Even then, I wasn't really aware that I was creating an album that begged for string arrangements."
For Sam, this release marks the first time the group has worked as a small unit rather than a larger ensemble. "Usually my albums have a wide variety of musicians and singers participating on the final piece," he explains. "But this is the first album that has a `band' -- in the sense that there are only four other people on this album besides myself. At some point, I made a conscious effort not to include anyone else. And I think the result is a very unified feeling in the music."
The material on the album is the result of Sam's approach to the recording process. "Basically, songwriting is a collage," describes Sam, "an ongoing process of painting new colors in the studio -- which happens over a period of years, rather than weeks or months. On this album, I found that I was staying away from samples of guitars as basic tracks (which was predominant on This Lush Garden Within) preferring to begin with a simple piano or a horn/cello arrangement. This album was very refined. With most songs, I was satisfied after only laying in two or three tracks of electronics. I find that as I progress, I am getting further and further away from a 'traditional' song structure. In that these pieces are often two slow dense chords, that shift back and forth, with very little tonal or harmonic interplay in the electronics. Mainly, I created a 'bed' upon which I lay in vocals and the strings."
Mirroring the multi-faceted lyrical themes of the group, the contrasting and complementary vocal styles of veteran Black Tape For A Blue Girl members Oscar Herrera and Lucian Casselman offer yet another level to the music. Oscar's powerful singing echoes the angst and anger of many Black Tape numbers while Lucian's ethereal vocals are more consolatory, wrapping the listener in a warm veil of comfort in the face of loss and grief. This vocal duality helps to present the wide range of emotions Sam wishes to explore and express, thus Oscar and Lucian are an important manifestation of these bittersweet songs of love and loss, hope and despair.
Concurrent with the new album is the release of a CD single featuring two cuts from remnants (including one radio edit), an unreleased bonus track, and an updated version of "Across A Thousand Blades" (from 1989's ashes in the brittle air), the only true "gothic rock" song in the group's extensive repertoire, something Sam consciously acknowledges: "Black Tape For A Blue Girl has never created pure 'goth' -- I was working on soundscapes and textures from the start, half of the first album [1986's the rope] was ambient! Around a chaos of desire it began to form into a dense orchestra of electronics, and this lush garden within took it even further away from any mainstream path. I have never been able to write the pre-requisite `pop song'. I am not from that background, and this album is the furthest removed from that sensibility."
Because of their inability to be pigeonholed, Black Tape For A Blue Girl easily appeals to audiences in the gothic, rock, and ambient communities, drawing from each genre in different measure but offering a diverse musical repertoire which will intrigue a wide range of listeners. Sam himself is aware of the anomaly his group can be: "Black Tape has drawn a core of ardent supporters from the 'goth scene' from the beginning. These days, we are certainly a curiosity, in so far as we are quite removed from what the un-knowing public conceive of as 'goth'. We don't have the standard instrumentation, nor do we have the image. Therefore, I am really curious to see what the reactions will be to this new sound, which is certainly different from what people might expect."
Just as enigmatic as the music are the varying responses to it. I/E Magazine calls this music "austere psychotherapy of the first kind". The Gavin Report says "the music is often moody and foreboding, soaring to incredible tonal levels". Option declares that "the lyrics...are riveting". And Music From The Empty Quarter impells the listener to "experience Black Tape For A Blue Girl yourself. Words cannot express the physical state it induces."
Perhaps B-Side Magazine describes Black Tape best: "With lyrics that are sadly nostalgic of your loneliest days, and gently disturbing music that sends your mind adrift in an ocean of reflection, the songs encourage you to surface your deepest feelings and examine them in a new light."
The overall melancholic tone of Remnants of a deeper purity reflects the desire to have something back that can no longer be. In its own way, the loss of love and the death of a relationship is itself a little death, and people must work through them in the same way they deal with the death of a real person, for the ideals once embodied in their past bond have been tossed to the wind; lost, never to return. But from this confusing emotional maelstrom comes new life and hope, again to be embodied in another person.