Sunday, December 26, 2010

Perfume Tree - "A Lifetime Away" (LP Review)

Perfume Tree might be the best defunct band you've never heard of. Formed by three Vancouver-area radio DJs and active during most of the 1990s, Perfume Tree compiled a significant discography that went criminally unnoticed, by both the radio and the critics as well. The former is not surprising, but I'm not sure how the critics so completely missed out on this band either (e.g., allmusic.com reviews only one LP from their discography, and completely whiffs on that review, giving it 3/5 stars).

Their third full-length LP, 1995's "A Lifetime Away" is probably the strongest LP in their canon. Whereas their first first two LPs were focused on a more organic sound, and their fourth and final LP as Perfume Tree was decidedly more focused on electronica. And while there are no bad releases from Perfume Tree, "A Lifetime Away" finds the perfect balance in their shifting musical influences.

Trying to describe their sound is difficult and frustrating, in part because their sound transcends music. By that I mean the sound is so mesmerizing and so unlike anything else, I actually forget that I'm listening to music. Off the top of my head, only The Orb's "Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld" also has that effect on me. Labels like dub, trip hop and downtempo come close, but fail to really capture the sound. The allmusic review quotes another review comparing them to Bjork, but that is simply wrong; I don't dislike Bjork, but she only wishes she could make music this beautiful. I'd suggest that Perfume Tree is somewhere between Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins.

The strength of the band (and the source of the Cocteau Twins comparison) is Jane Tilley's ethereal vocals. Pete Lutwyche is responsible for the beats, which are great, but never really overpower the more atmospheric aspects of the songs (and thus separating Perfume Tree from most of the trip hop artists on a label like Mo' Wax, for example). Bruce Turpin (samples & mix) rounds out the band.

The LP has a wide variety of sounds: "Virgin" & "See Me Smile" have a driving, organic beat, "Contact" has the distorted guitar that suggests the MBV influence, "Never Pass This Way Again" is nearly ambient, and "The Nightmirror" & "Crystal Tips" have a soundtrack quality to them. But my favorite song on this LP is the closing track "Late Light", with a strong beat and focus on Jane's vocals.

"A Lifetime Away" was originally released on the tiny label of Zulu Records in 1995, but was then re-released in 1996 on the only slightly larger (and ironically named) World Domination Recordings, making them label mates with Seattle's Sky Cries Mary, who are similar in aesthetic if not quite sound. Since it was released on World Domination it is not too hard to find, but the earlier releases on Zulu are difficult to find: if you see a copy of one, pick it up. (I actually had to email the band ca. 1998 for their help to replace lost CDs, but that's a story for another time...)

Perfume Tree eventually morphed into Veloce, who released one LP and then the various members seemed to drop out of the music business. There is a Perfume Tree myspace page, as well as a historical page hosted at Minimum Records (a label the band members started), but little information otherwise. ectoguide.org also has a nice, simple summary page for the band.

In a perfect world, Perfume Tree would have received the recognition they deserved. I'll eventually make my way through the rest of their catalog, but "A Lifetime Away" is their strongest release and a good place to start.

Standout songs: "Virgin", "So Far Away" "See Me Smile", "Contact", "Never Pass This Way Again", "The Nightmirror", "August", "Crystal Tips", "Late Light".

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 10/10.

1 comment:

  1. wow greta post, wow again and thrice wow!

    thanks :)

    ReplyDelete