Shoegazer

Jeremy Bastard threads the needle with Tech Noir style

“Slipshod, down by evening

I needle cabarets

I cannot quit the feeling

I dressed up anyway--“


“Needle” is a word rife with many different meanings. Combine a needle with some thread and you're ready to sew a new sweater or scarf or decorative pillow which gives the word a warm and fuzzy glow. But “to needle” someone means to bug the hell out of them, and being on "pins and needles” means you’re unsettled and nervous—the exact opposite of warm and fuzzy. Likewise when it comes to intravenous needles which even though they’re routinely used to administer life saving drugs have nevertheless befome synonymous with serious and potentially deadly drug addition especially in the musical realm. Needles also feature in a number of popular expressions like “threading the needle” and “needle in a haystack” the latter of which implying both hope and futility, and you’ll also find a needle in that one well-known Bible verse about heaven’s strict door policy for rich people. All this plus until a few-ish decades ago you couldn’t listen to a record or recorded music period without a needle which means the word is linked with music in more ways than one. 

“Needle” also happens to be the name of the first song on Jeremy Bastard’s debut album as executive producer/featured performer called Everyone Is History, There Is No Memory—which strikes me as appropriate because the song and the album capture many of the dualities laid out above. Think ethereal melodies and dance-ready rhythms dipped into dirty sonic murk and melancholy lyrics for one thing. Which isn’t to deny the overall warm immersive feel of the album with it’s reliance on analogue-sounding synths and flanged-out guitar and big booming drum machines and sound production that’s not afraid to push the levels into the red. But the warmth is counter-balanced by the coldwave-natured icy vibe that’s equally on offer (after all just look at the record’s title) and also the extreme-even-abrasice quality of some of the sound processing where sounds overspill their boundaries. And when put all together there’s a pins-and-needles dread/euphoria dialectic achieved through this combination of elements.

To take a concrete example listen to “Needle” itself which starts off with a throbbing retro-ish single-note synth bassline and a couple of high airy chords circling above. For a moment it could be a John Carpenter soundtrack but then the drums and then the vocals kick in which give it more of a Tech Noir chain link dance floor kind of vibe--an impression that’s only reinforced with the opening lyrics by guest vocalist Sean Flanigan (“In the pale white of a warning / the flutter of a wing / I shiver still, your killing look / I want everything”) and if you were looking for a perfect mix of dread and desire in a certain pins-and-needle kind of fashion as mastered by some key artists of the ‘80s (which I guess is one reason why the album gives me such a strong ’80s flavor even if it doesn’t sound like any one artist from the decade in particular) then you are in luck. What’s more “Needle” seems to pulsate from within like a beating heart or a mutating virus as waves of reverse-echo on the vocals beat roughly in time to the mechanized beats and the pulsating synth bass creating an effect (the song’s refrain of “circle ‘round circle ‘round” is more than appropriate) that’s both pleasantly hypnotic and a little unnearving.

The dialectic is perhaps expressed most dramatically on the two tracks that feature Nico-esque chanteuse (or maybe more Jane Birkin-esque chanteuse) Electra Monet with their mix of alluring airy melodies and the aforementioned murk which co-exist on equal terms to compelling effect. On the first of these tracks and track #2 overall called “Shadow Boxing” we’re introduced to a repeated keyboard pattern that sounds something like a Mr. Mister soundcheck but where their levels aren’t set yet but instead of the singer for that band coming in with his proto Eddie Vedderisms you get Elektra coming in with her Elizabeth Fraser like vocals (nevermind those previous comparisons) except with the vocal grit highlighted by the close mic-ing of Ms. Monet’s voice and the overlapping layers of distorted echoes and drones and sighs and sibilent whispers which all culminates with a jagged atmospheric guitar line at the song’s conclusion. In contrast on their other collab “Awa Odori” there’s more of a hard-edged techno/tribal sound that predominates but it also plays off contrasting elements (check the warped chiming synthetic bells in the break section) and there’s still plenty of whispery echoes and pulsating textures if that’s your bag an why shouldn’t it be. And by the way if it is you’ll want to check out Elizabeth Fraser’s upcoming record which is rumoured to be out soon.

So I’m not going to go on about every song because we’ve all got limited attentions spans but here but suffice to say the third track "Love is a Mistake" featuring Disolve could be submitted for inclusion in John Hughes’ upcoming sequel to “Pretty in Pink” because it's a catchy as hell dark-electro-indie-pop song and I could totally see Duckie blasting this on his car stereo’s cassette player as he pulls up to the class reunion still bitter at how the ending of the first movie was changed because he wasn’t considered hunky enough by test audiences to score with Molly in the end (wait John Hughes died when?) and that just gives you some idea of this album’s variety even if overall the dark new wavey framework holds solid throughout. All the guest vocalists/lyricists provide a shot in the arm at every turn but be forewarned there's some poison in that needle as well as made clear just by scanning the the song titles on Everyone Is History, There Is No Memory like the aforementioned “Love is a Mistake” and “Scream Inside” and my personal fave title “I Slept With Faith and Found A Corpse In My Arms Upon Awakening.” And when you consider Jeremy's background as a DJ (and as a guitar player for hire, or at least I assume he's for hire but you'll have to ask nicely) there’s an obvious DJ-minded aesthetic at work with a diversity of inputs fed through a singular perspective. 

According to Jeremy himself the will to collaborate was in fact the motivating spark behind the entire project. Exiled to Florida in the midst of the pandemic and therefore twice removed from his other musical projects, Jeremy turned to full-time producing and from-a-distance collaborations as a means of maintaining creative momentum and human contact. And in the process I'll just go ahead and surmise that Jeremy has found his niche or his lane (or at least "a" niche and "a" lane) because he's obviously takes to the idea of working one-on-one with other musicians and seeing what results from the process as made evident in the sheer volume of "duets" he's released lately--not just on the album under discussion here but in the two collaborations below (the second of which is from his latest single) and in the bonus non-album tracks from Everyone Is History that's he keeps putting out as b-sides (is this still a term people use?) to each single released from the album. And so the moral of the sotry is perhaps that every needle has a silver lining. (Jason Lee)

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