photo by Connor Rothstein
It’s really nice when an album title does at least half the heavy lifting for a reviewer such as myself and Le Big Zero’s A Proper Mess (released today on Know Hope Records –> LISTEN HERE <–) is one of those because not since TLC’s CrazySexyCool has an album title so succinctly captured the combination of elements at play which in this case is kind of like a finger painting by a precocious preschooler beset by ADHD and OCD at the same time (lucky kid!) with songs marrying garage rock manic energy and grit to intricate, unconventional song structures.
Which is to say what you’ve got here are nine songs combining the raw and the cooked in equal measure with jagged and cascading song structures, jittery post-punk rhythms and odd shifts in time but with some serious head-nodding grooves to be found too which, not to get too technical about it, it’s a neat trick how on a song like “Beach Seance” it’s the parts in asymmetric 5/4 time that’ll make you wanna get up and do the funky chicken whereas the 4/4 parts have a lurching, off-kilter quality, with the song culminating in a climactic instrumental squall that implodes in its final moments into stuttering inside-out sonics and all of this happens in just over two minutes (only one song on A Proper Mess breaks the three-minute mark, barely at that, but rest assured despite their name Le Big Zero know how to pack a lot of musical calories into their compact song snacks).
Math rock for English majors. There’s the pull quote. Or imagine if Rush had abandoned Ayn Rand early on and kept playing Buddy Holly covers but with crazy arrangements and minus the chipmunk vocals (love ya, Geddy) and speaking of vocals the not-so-secret secret ingredient in Le Big Zero’s musical consommé is undoubtably the sweet and sour male-female harmonies that suture together the ever-shifting musical surfaces with a Richard-and-Linda or better yet John-and-Exene level of dulcet-toned-yet-tension-laden harmoniousness (good luck getting “Horror Movie Pie Fight” out of your head once you’ve heard it a couple times!) adding a hint of sweetness even to lines like “keep your friends just close enough / to push them off the ledge / when the day comes” (from “Anthem,” see below for song analysis) which ok to be fair is one of the exception-to-the-rule lines on the album being sung by frontman/guitarist Michael Pasuit solo minus co-vocalist Carolina Aguilar but you get the idea.
As a working combo Le Big Zero is rounded out by bassist Ben Ross and new drummer Lukas Hirsch, with co-vocal duties currently handled by another new member (due to Carolina being with child) namely Katie Cooney who I can verify nails the harmonies, having seen them live recently, in addition to filling out LBZ’s sound with a second guitar and keyboard parts with resulting plans for the band to expand to a five piece in the future. And if you need any more deep background on the band I’d recommend that you head over here for an account of LBZ’s origins and history by Mr. Pasuit himself.
Speaking of first-hand accounts, Michael was kind enough to share his thoughts on A Proper Mess with the Deli—providing some handy song-by-song liner notes which are reproduced in their entirety below—which is why you’re the lucky recipient of a special double-dip blog entry here.
In comparison to Le Big Zero’s debut album Ollie Oxen Free, Michael tells the Deli that “A Proper Mess feels more like a complete album, a statement with a beginning, middle, and end…I know we’re caught in a period of streaming content, sound-bytes, and instant gratification, but there’s still an undeniable romanticism about putting a whole album on and letting it play. Additionally, Ollie Oxen Free was aggressively lo-fi while there’s definitely more spit-and-polish with A Proper Mess…opening the album with "All Bark" (as opposed to something as frenetic as "Dryer Lint Trap" with our debut) we hope signals to listeners that something slightly different is happening here. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still the same attention-spastic band, but maybe we’re breathing out more than we’re breathing in this time, if that makes sense.”
A Proper Mess track by track:
A scathing ode to the work-a-day lifestyle. "Real life will suck a day away/Reprise, anon." We began working on this one as we were recording the first album, and it definitely draws from that woe-is-me lyricism that defines the perspective of Ollie Oxen Free. In the middle of the song, there’s this laundry list of futile gestures that we take part in as a matter of course, without real thought to the pointlessness of it. Musically, it’s a bit more traditionally structured than our typical fare, a bit pop-punk forward, even if it switches between 5/4 and 4/4 and back a few times. The longer intro we felt was a nice table setting for the album. Starts a bit sparse and builds. The outro repeats the same, but almost has this "She’s So Heavy" feel about it.
Sigh. Trump. The ridiculousness of politics when the one in charge thinks they’re literally infallible. Oddly enough, this one dates back to the George W. administration. It seemed even more fitting once we dusted off. If you think about what national anthems are, these declarations of who and what we stand for, in spite of what anyone else thinks, on the surface appear very positive and rah-rah, but if you step back they seem foolishly strident and even sociopathic.
Blink and you’ll miss it. This is the only time on the album we repeat a full chorus in its entirety. And the whole thing is in standard timing. We’re a bunch of sell-outs.
Carolina came back from the movie Us thinking about doppelgangers, inequality, and the lottery of birth–all wrapped up in an emotional narrative. We open with a confused, second-guessing protagonist, move into triumphant, optimistic moments that track with a musical crescendo, followed by moments of reflection and desperation before an abrupt end. WIth this song, there’s probably the heaviest contrast between melodic singing and angular, raunchy chords. You catch your breath for a bit in the middle, but not for long before it ends where it began.
Horror Movie Pie Fight
The instrumental core of this one came together in the room. We don’t spontaneously jam all that often, with no initial germ of an idea, but that’s how this one came about. That verse part was so fun to play and we just kept repeating and repeating it. I filed it under "hmpf" on my phone to listen back to. After we toyed around with it again and got no further, I again named it HMPF. Then I started wondering what would happen if that actually stood for something. It was completely random that "Horror Movie Pie Fight" emerged. Just sounded like a silly concept. So the lyrics were written about a person that writes a great independent horror film, gets bought by a studio that ruins it, who then all get murdered by real monsters/vampires/etc. during the wrap party. It’s 100% absurd.
Since we were already leaning sillier with this one, and we knew some sort of "Part B" was needed to break-up the verses, I actually took inspiration from the video game Mega Man 2. I was down a YouTube rabbit hole where the intro music to that game came on.
Unique to the song is that Carolina and I don’t harmonize. It’s the only song that’s sung in parallel octaves instead. I had been listening to a lot of Better Oblivion Community Center, that project with Connor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. It struck me odd that throughout the duration of the album, they’re just singing in unison. Very sparing harmony parts. But their two voices together were the identity of the album. When we didn’t come upon a decent harmony for HMPF, we decided to go that route as an experiment, and we really liked the result.
The guitar riff is essentially just syncopated noise. And hella fun to play. Someone told me it reminded them of Sleater-Kinney, which I was thrilled by. As the rhythm section, Tim and Ben did most of the heavy lifting in creating the vibe of the song. The main hits on the chorus are on the "one and" beat, which gives it a nice off-kilter feel. After a rehearsal or two of working on it, Carolina said the song sounded "beachy" while I thought it sounded a little eerie. So, like HMPF, we went the way of abstraction, married the two ideas and explored what that could possibly look like. It’s probably the most ridiculous of our songs conceptually.
There’s something irresistibly cheesy about a he-said/she-said relationship song. Few get it right. There will always be defenders of Grease or "Don’t You Want Me" but "Sometimes Always" by the Jesus and Mary Chain is the one that got it perfect. "Dumb Summer" is exactly what it sounds like. Two people who are clearly no longer a match but sticking it out for one more season even though they know they’re doomed. Then they realize they wasted a perfectly good summer. Ain’t that a stinker?
From a songwriting standpoint, it’s four songs for the price of one. They weren’t even developed as separate ideas, they just naturally flowed into each other. Some more melodic, some more angular, some louder, some softer. Probably the way the end of a relationship might feel anyway.
Like everyone else, we weren’t immune to obsessing over the 2019 election season. This is about politicians doing whatever it takes to get supporters, even performative inauthentic gestures. A bit cynical, but who wasn’t feeling a bit cynical in late 2019? There’s this David Bowie song "Candidate" that’s nestled in the middle of "Sweet Thing" on the Diamond Dogs album that’s sounds like an ominous chat between a backer and a contender. That’s kinda the tone. And things like "chow down a sacred cow" are just fun to sing. Hey look at Michael, it’s an actual guitar hook, too.
You Don’t Say
I don’t know who it is specifically, but the person in this song is the absolute worst. They probably work for the bosses in All Bark. Someone who thinks they’re important but all they really do is leech off of others. I always think I’m singing the wrong lyrics when the song starts "You’re in my will." How did we get here so fast? This asshole found their way into your will?
This one started as a pure country tune. There are acoustic recordings of it as a waltz-y song in 3/4. We retrofitted it to have a more garage rock feel.
Pieced together from a discarded track by my previous band X-Ray Press. It was a song that we wrote earlier in our existence as a band, but never found a home on an album or even in a live set. Yet to me, it always had such potential. I changed the meter from 7/8 to 4/4 at the start of the song so the vocal harmonies could take a more commanding presence. The punkier middle section was written specifically for Le Big Zero as to ground it in the type of rock we do (as opposed to my former band’s aggressive, super-weird math rock approach). I’d like to lay claim to that ending guitar riff, but it was written by X-Ray Press’ guitarist Paurl Walsh. All members of X-Ray Press have song writing credits on that one.
Lyrically, the song is about the band breaking-up a la famous blow-ups like Fleetwood Mac or Oasis. What if we were successful but couldn’t stand each other? Signing autographs at a mall while begrudging each other seems like a torturous fate.