Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze of The Big Pink are huge soul fans, citing Otis Redding and various Stax Records alumni as regular sources of inspiration. Not that you'd know it from listening to A Brief History of Love, the London duo's highly touted first album.
Released in September 2009, History cascades with opaque noise, bent effects, dance-y drum programming and thin vocals tackling the heaviness and exhilaration of young lust. In fact, the band coined the term "Armageddon love songs" to describe what they do. So how exactly does soul fit in?
"Lyrically, it's very important," says Furze by phone from England. "We take a lot of influence from the way [soul singers] don't mince their words. If they say they love you or you love them, they just say it. They don't do it in any kind of cryptic manner. It's very simple and to the heart. They get to the point. And that's what we try to do with our lyrics."
The Big Pink
With A Place to Bury Strangers, 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 7, at Warehouse Live (Studio), 813 St. Emanuel, 713-225-5483 or www.warehouselive.com.
Fair enough. The subject matter of History is certainly frank, whether Furze is singing about girls falling like dominoes or the pendulum effect of a relationship. The word "love" even appears in three song titles. But beyond the direct lyrical approach Furze espouses, musically the album is a hall of mirrors.
Besides Furze singing and playing guitar over Cordell's synths and programming, there are backing vocals, drums, piano and sax from an ever-shifting slate of guests. There's also a wealth of guitar effects, conjuring an aching delirium. Even the most accessible entries, such as the singles "Dominos" and "Velvet," are kept at a distance by a Phil Spectorian wall of sound.
The Big Pink's denseness partly reflects the duo's complex backgrounds. The band is named after the Band's first album, Music from Big Pink; Furze's full first name is Robertson, after the Band's Robbie Robertson. More telling is that Furze cut his teeth playing guitar for Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire and recorded for Empire's Digital Hardcore under the moniker Panic DHH.
He also founded a small label called Hatechannel with Cordell, who has issued records by Titus Andronicus and Telepathe on his own Merok imprint. Cordell's late father, Denny, was a successful producer who helmed Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help from My Friends."
Obviously, then, a unique array of influences collide within The Big Pink. Most apparent might be the specter of 4AD Records, the legendary UK label to which the band signed earlier this year and produced such dreamy, reality-bending acts as Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance and Pale Saints.
"We've tried to keep that aesthetic in some of the artwork," says Furze. "[Regular 4AD graphic designer] Vaughan Oliver did some of the early singles' art. It has a similar vibe to some of the early Pixies stuff. It's quite important to us to have that identity as a 4AD band."
Joining the label's roster, he adds, was amazing in and of itself.
"Before we signed to 4AD," he continues, "I didn't really know much about the history. I knew the Pixies and Cocteau Twins. But once you see a list of the bands that have been on 4AD since the beginning, it's a real honor to be on that list. And we're, like, the first English band they've signed in the past ten years."
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Suddenly a hot commodity since History's release, The Big Pink has been too busy touring the world to write material for a follow-up. The band's live incarnation is a quartet that includes drummer Akiko Matsuura from Comanechi (a duo signed to Merok) and bassist Leopold Ross from Los Angeles's Io Echo.
Furze says the touring members, tour managers and sound people are like a big family, but admits that he and Cordell will continue to write songs together on their own.
"Only because it's much faster," he reasons. "I've written with more than one person before, and there's a lot of arguing over parts. It takes a long time. Me and Milo are very un-egotistical when it comes to what we do.
"It's an easy process and very, very quick. If it's not broken, why change it?"