Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scala & Kolacny Brothers -- "Raintears" (2008)

And in another place
Your kiss would dry my face . . .
And in another place
I'd heal in your embrace

Today is an important date for 2 or 3 lines -- and to paraphrase the famous line often attributed (and likely misattributed) to King Louis XIV of France, "Le 2 or 3 lines, c'est moi."  

I had originally planned to observe the date by writing about a French chanson, "Avec le temps," and one of the many singers who recorded it -- Dalida.  My regular readers will be able to guess who introduced me to this song.

(I originally took a little detour here and inserted an extended paraphrase of the opening paragraph of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities -- "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," etc.  But I wisely decided to use my "delete" key instead.  I just noticed that my "delete" key still looks brand new.  Most of the other keys on my computer keyboard are pretty worn, but the "delete" key has hardly been touched.)

"Avec le temps" is not a happy song.  The French do melancholy better than anyone,  and this song is as melancholic as it gets.  Not only that, but Dalida's life -- and the lives of several of the men she loved -- ended very badly.

Dalida's grave (Montmartre Cemetery, Paris)
Writing about "Avec le temps" would have been an irresistible temptation to wallow in self-pity and depression.  I don't need any encouragement to dive into the Slough of Despond, so I've put a quote from "Avec le temps" on 2 or 3 lines a day today and left it at that for the time being.  

Not that the song I am writing about today is exactly cheery.  But although "Raintears" is a sad song, but there was no risk that I would internalize its sadness and make it my own.  Listening to it -- and watching the video it accompanies -- makes me sad for the young woman who sings the song, it doesn't make me sad for myself.  You may not realize it, but you just dodged a bullet!

(The 2 or 3 lines marketing department is no doubt tearing its collective hair out at this point.  "This post is so depressing!" I can hear them moaning.  "Does he really think this is the way to get people to click on our ads?  Anyone who does read all the way to the end isn't going to feel like clicking on our ads -- they'll be too busy slitting their wrists.")

I heard "Raintears" for the first time last week when I saw Scala & Kolacny Brothers perform live at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.

The 9:30 Club -- originally located at 930 F Street, N.W. -- is a storied Washington institution.  It was the place to go in the DMV for punk, new wave, and alternative music.  Over the years, everyone from the Police to X to the Go-Go's to the Psychedelic Furs to the Ramones to the Smashing Pumpkins performed there.  I took my 15-year-old son to see Sonic Youth there in 1998 -- that may have been my last visit until last week.  (Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.)

The Bad Brains at the 9:30 Club circa 1983
 I think the golden age of the 9:30 Club was the 1980's, when "harDCore" bands like Fugazi, Government Issue, and Minor Threat played there, along with other local favorites like the Urban Verbs, Insect Surfers, and Tru Fax & the Insaniacs.

The 9:30 Club isn't quite as crazy a place as it was in the 1980s, but it is sort of an odd venue for an act like Scala & Kolacny Brothers.

The Scala girls visit Washington, DC
I've written about Scala & Kolacny Brothers before.  Scala is a Belgian girls' choir that originally performed classical choral music, but switched over to singing choral arrangements of pop/rock/alternative music -- Radiohead, U2, Metallica, Nirvana, Alanis Morissette, Kings of Leon, etc.  (I suppose "young women's choir" would be more accurate, but I say "girls" because the group's members are between the ages of 16 and 26, which roughly covers the age range of my children.) 

The Kolacny Brothers are Stijn (who conducts the choir) and Steven (who accompanies them on the piano and does their arrangements).  Steven also has written a number of original songs for Scala, including "Raintears."  (The lyrics for "Raintears" were written by Jo Dawson, but I haven't been successful in uncovering much about her.) 

Scala in performance
Scala performed this song about halfway through the concert.  The animated video that accompanies the song was projected on a big screen over the choir's heads, and I found the video very interesting and the song very interesting right off the bat.  When I located it online and listened to it a couple of more times, I was hooked. 

The whole of "Raintears" -- the combination of video, music, and lyrics -- is greater than the sum of the parts.  It's a remarkable but quiet tour de force.  The volume ranges from soft to quite loud, but the emotional volume is always relatively low.  It's intense and exhilarating, but calming you at the same time.

Before you watch the video, click here and read the printed lyrics.  I think most people who just had the printed lyrics to go by would say that "Raintears" is a fairly straightforward girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy love song.

But the video depicts a very different story.  The narrator is a young nun, riding a train with a group of other nuns and looking at a photo album consisting of pictures of her and her parents.  It's a stormy day, and the rain falling on the train windows looks somewhat like tears -- hence the song's title.  

It soon becomes clear that the young nun's parent were killed in an automobile accident when she was a child.  The nuns took her in, educated her, and she joined the order herself.

From the "Raintears" video
I'll let you tell me what the ending of the video means.  It puzzles me, but I am very literal-minded at times -- you might find the ending very transparent. 
Until I heard this song, my favorite Scala & Kolacny Brothers recordings were songs like Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" and Radiohead's "Creep" (which is by far their best-known performance thanks to its being used as the soundtrack for the trailer for The Social Network).  The contrast between the ethereal sound of this girls' choir and the angry, bitter, profane lyrics of songs like those is quite startling.

Here's the last 30 seconds or so of Scala's 9:30 Club performance of "You Oughta Know":

And here's a brief taste of their performance of "Creep."  (The choir usually sings English without much of an accent, but listen to the way they pronounce "weirdo."  It's weird.)

Scala's version of "I Touch Myself" -- click here if you missed what 2 or 3 lines had to say about it -- is also a real attention-getter.

The group's recordings of songs like Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and "California Dreamin'" are very nice, but there's no frisson of impropriety to spice them up a little.

But "Raintears" has shown me that Scala is more than what I thought they were -- and that Steven Kolacny knows how to write music that is perfectly suited to the choir's talents.

Here's "Raintears":

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon.

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