Veda Hille – Love Waves (independent)
Not since David Bowie’s Blackstar have I wanted to play a new album every day, as often as possible, in the weeks after first hearing it as I have Veda Hille’s Love Waves.
There’s a direct connection there—and no, this veteran Vancouver songwriter is not on her deathbed. Far from it. She is, however, taking some stock of her musical influences, with an unrecognizable cover/interpolation of Bowie’s 1980 song “Teenage Wildlife,” and rewriting Brian Eno’s 1977 song “By the River” to make it even more gorgeous than it already was. Other artists are happy to cover their heroes; Hille has the cojones to improve on them.
If that weren’t enough, there’s also a cover of a Gilbert and Sullivan song from The Mikado (“The Sun Whose Rays”), a nod to Hille’s extensive work in musical theatre—which has included her brilliant Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Musical and the delightfully absurdist source of her last album, something called Peter Panties.
And because she’s Veda Hille, this album also features an adaptation of a Greek myth performed in part by a pitch-shifted, gender-bending voice singing in German.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so stay away for a little longer,” sings Hille on the opening track here, and Love Waves is her first non-conceptual recording in seven years. Of course, Hille is usually juggling a half-dozen projects at once, so a solo album of disconnected songs gets bumped down her priority list, seemingly a vanity project in comparison to her other work. But her wealth of experience doesn’t distract from her own songs; it enhances them immensely. She gets progressively more melodic with each album, while pulling off feats like modulating the key of a song via an a cappella phrase, like she does on “Trophy.”
Love Waves’ co-conspirator John Collins of the New Pornographers brings the same sympathy for synthesizers he developed while co-producing Destroyer’s 2004 classic Your Blues—only instead of that album’s deliberately arch digital display of an orchestral Potemkin’s village, Love Waves bathes in warm sounds reminiscent of those ’70s records by Bowie and Eno that Hille references directly. Her backing band consists of Vancouver all-stars: Collins, engineer/guitarist Dave Carswell, resident genius Ford Pier, Tagaq violinist Jesse Zubot, jazz cellist Peggy Lee, P:ano’s Nick Krgovich, and longtime rhythm section drummer Barry Mirochnick and Martin Walton.
Opening track “Lover/Hater” slowly unfolds over underwater pianos before a cavalcade of cascading e-bowed guitars carry the first chorus unaccompanied, sounding like the most beautiful swarm of insects you’ll ever hear in your life. Shortly after, 2/3 of the way through the song, an electronic bass drum start thumping, and the rest of the track bounces like a Tegan & Sara Top 40 single—albeit one in a mournful minor key.
Love Waves is a record with enough surface pleasures to draw you in immediately, but with dozens of tiny tasty tricky bits, both musical and lyrics, that reveal themselves over time.
“I will make a record just for you,” she promises. “I will make it like the old days / just as good as I can do.”
Veda Hille launches Love Waves in Vancouver this Friday, May 28, at the York Theatre. Other dates are listed here, including one at the Burdock in Toronto on June 2 with John Southworth.
Stream: “Lover/Hater,” “Trophy,” “By This River”
Brian Eno – The Ship (Warp)
On her new album, Veda Hille not only covers Brian Eno but follows it with a song about the Titanic. Lo and behold, the new Brian Eno album is about—the Titanic. Last year saw a revival of the 1997 Titanic musical. Is there something in the zeitgeist I’m missing?
Eno, of course, is a musical genius and pioneer who has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants. Here, he follows up two collaborations with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, which found him singing for the first time in a decade, with another vocal album—albeit one that features 20-minute ambient tracks, not pop songs. The 67-year-old’s voice has deepened with age; there are times here where he bears a resemblance to Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry; others, he sounds like his range is aiming for the bottom of the Atlantic itself.
The outlier on this four-song album is a (naturally) gorgeous cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.” Not sure how that ties into the Titanic theme, exactly—or Eno’s stated concept for the album, about man’s hubris and the failure of technology and the madness of the First World War—but I’m not complaining.
Stream: “The Ship,” “Fickle Sun (i),” “Fickle Sun (iii): I’m Set Free”