Backwords – Quilt

Backwords - Quilt

Remember Lo-Fi? I’ve done some searching recently, trying to rediscover exactly what that genre description meant. Very few albums I’ve heard in the past two years (certainly since I started reviewing for this site in 2008) fall anywhere near that category: the albums I receive are very often cleverly and imaginatively produced, even those that come from an apparently rootsy folk background. So what was Lo-Fi then? Was it, as I had begun to suspect, a late 90s get-out clause for bands and musicians that hadn’t yet access to pro-tools and other then still relatively new technologies? Or did it refer to an altogether more ideological approach to recorded music, in which the live sound was the only true measure of sonic veracity and adding effects or even balancing the recording was (an even older phrase) a sell-out?

I, and you, need rake the memory banks no more. Backwords’ third album is about as Lo-Fi as you could possibly imagine, apparently recorded directly onto magnetic tape in a Brooklyn basement, each song played live in one take, and with only the most essential remixing undertaken before the eleven track album was sent down for CD mastering. And I’ve mentioned all of this because the actual quality of the album is noticeable: and after a hearing a number of albums which utilised any number of expansive production techniques (for the most part successfully), Backwords less-is-more approach fully caught my attention.

As to the songs themselves, there are at least two aspects to the eleven tracks on Quilt. Backwords are either performing folk type strumalongs, aided by any of their ten named collaborators, or the three actual members of the core band – Brian Russ, Jon Sheldon and Tim Pioppo get down with some grinding PsychePop, minus the occasional fiddle, xylophone and other instrumental and percussive additions that characterise the songs on the earlier part of the album. The jaunty banjo led shanty of “In The Air On The Ground” does sound like the work of a markedly different band when compared to the warped garage punk of “Better Off Alone”, or the laid back lounge jazz of “Think Of Me As A Quilt Made Of Stars”. More than one string to Backword’s bow, for certain.

Backwords set themselves a difficult task. On one hand, their songs are sufficiently varied and innovative to keep their listeners attentions, but the underproduced sound quality very nearly detracts from the album in its entirety and it actually manages to sound dated, in a late 90s haven’t-got -a-computer-yet way , and some of the instrumentation, such as the flute and bells that appear on ‘Gotta Talk’ does sound a bit indulgently shamanic, and only lacks a guest vocal from Allen Ginsberg to make it an accurate recreation of a Yippie happening from 41 years previously. Backwords sound a little awkward here, and the album would’ve benefited from another track in the manner of the jugband stomp of “I Have Seen” or even the untitled 12th track, a bluesy Dylan evocation that ends the album. Backwords don’t always play to their strengths.

One thing a (seemingly purposefully) patchy album such as this does, at least with me, is keep the listeners attention and Backwords succeed in this. They aren’t in it for the money, they aren’t the greatest musical virtuosos you’ll ever hear, and at least some of the album was recorded in a bit of a hurry, but I actually like Quilt. It has character, charm, and an infectious sense of enjoyment that carries over with little effort. Backwords had fun recording Quilt, and most of you reading this will find their efforts at the very least entertaining.

Tracks from Quilt available here courtesy of Last FM.