Artists On Albums: AOA#50 (Hewson Chen on Aquí Vìvía Yo)

Hewson Chen (The New Lines, Lake Ruth) on..

Le Mans’ Aquí Vìvía Yo (Elefant / Grimsey, 1998)

Le Mans - Aquí Vìvía Yo

Le Mans – Aquí Vìvía Yo

This album of quiet melancholy and longing was the final album from Le Mans, which I liked to loosely imagine as a Spanish indie version of Caetano Veloso after a generous helping of barbituates. As if to ratify the band’s end, the fateful cover art for Aquí Vìvía Yo featured an “N,” which, when viewed together with the cover art of the three preceding releases, spelled the word “FIN.” I was leaving Chicago around the time of this album’s release, and the ‘last statement’ nature of the album and its cover art made this music a fitting curtain call soundtrack to my last days in the windy city.

The beautiful guitar work grabs my attention every time – I spent a long time trying to model my own playing (to varying degrees of success and failure) after the way the album’s harmonic content seems to draw from a rich palette, sparingly deployed. The production gives a sense of there being no wasted notes and the overall effect is rich and powerful.

Aquí Vìvía Yo’s opening, fading in and out, building and waning, is so gently executed that by the five minute mark of the first track, “Canción De Todo Va Mal,” when the lyrics make only a momentary one minute appearance, it is as if reliving an old memory, emotionally piquant and yet ephemeral, hazy and intangible when you set to actually analyze the details. The album works through suggestion and whisper rather than declaration and bellow, such that despite the nearly break-worthy drum beats underneath the tracks “Yin Yang,” “Mi Novela Autobiográfica” or “Ay, Qué Triste Estoy,” the end effect is like stealing a listen to tunes quietly emanating from someone else’s bedroom window wafting in with the wind. Remarkable restraint has been employed in production to keep the potential energy of the rhythm section from taking on some sort of garish, strident form, and by the album’s close, there is the sense that the various moods of the album have come and gone in dream. Also consider the closing vamp of “El Amor” whose melody at 2:43 could have easily formed a launchpad into its own completely autarkic track. The album is full of such moments, leaving a sense of wonder and longing at what is left unspoken.

Though I have enjoyed this album for nearly two decades, I’ve only sparingly attempted to translate isolated fragments of the lyrics here and there over the years. The album is one of those examples of music communicating what words only loosely triangulate – I could easily weep to this album without knowing the meaning of the words.

Notes On The Artist:

Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Hewson Chen tentatively began his musical career with Joshua Klein in DIY synth-pop duo Vitesse (for several releases spread across Hidden Agenda Records and Acuarela between around 1999 and 2002) and working inside Paul Francke’s Alsace Lorraine outfit (for one album released on Darla Records in 2001).

Hewson Chen

Hewson Chen

After a period of relative sonic hibernation, Chen assembled The New Lines to release 2011’s kaleidoscopic, woozy and highly-collectible All That We See And Seem LP via The Great Pop Supplement and Greenwood End.  Since then Chen has helmed The New Lines through a slew of seven-inch and cassette single/EP releases and on 2013’s more finessed Fall In Line album (a co-release between Moon Glyph and The Great Pop Supplement).

If one much-admired and ambitious psych-pop enterprise wasn’t enough though, in 2015 Chen also co-founded a parallel project with singer Allison Brice (The Eighteenth Day Of Day) and drummer Matt Schulz (Holy Fuck/SAVAK/Enon/The New Lines) in the shape of the Lake Ruth, whose still-fresh and fragrant first single (“The Inconsolable Jean-Claude” b/w “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” 7”) and acclaimed Actual Entity album appeared earlier this year amongst the last ever releases from The Great Pop Supplement.

The New Lines - Love And Cannabalism

The New Lines – Love And Cannabalism

Just in time to beat the pre-Xmas release shutdown Chen has additionally found the time to lead The New Lines back into active duty with the group’s third long-player, Love And Cannibalism, for Feral Child Recordings.  Although now geographically-scattered, current bandmates René Dennis, Mark Di Donna, Davis White and Matt Schulz fit cohesively into Chen’s sound world to produce possibly The New Lines’ most eclectic and engaging collection to date.  It features the band swerving through baroque-folk instrumentals (“In Which a Child Consults The Occult to Revive His Dead Cat 1 & 2”); chiming ornate Byrdsian space-ragas (“Ventriloquism”); swirling jazzy Stereolab-meets-Os Mutantes hybridisations (“The Phylactery’s Lesson”); fuzzy dual nods to Sam Prekop and Broadcast (“It’s Not All in Your Head”); and lashings of trademark sweet-spot melding of Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and A Saucerful Of Secrets, reinforced by Chen’s reverb-cloaked vocal blending of the late great Syd Barrett and Richard Wright (“Mass Observation”).  For newcomers Love And Cannibalism is an inviting entry-point and for the pre-converted it’s a worthwhile reward for another three or so year wait between albums.

Whilst the next month or few will be dedicated to promoting all things Love And Cannibalism, Hewson Chen is also brewing a second Lake Ruth long-player for a yet to be confirmed new label home.