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
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
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 purity
Throughout 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
"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