Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Elemental, My Dear...

Wow, my bad! It's been a whole month since I've written in this blog, the second-longest period of absence my dear readers have endured! While I haven't been off on another bender, I have been a bit off the rails, lately. Some big changes are headed my way in my personal life, the biggest being that I'll be moving from the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri, to the outskirts of a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Central Missouri. Why on earth would I move to a land mostly populated by ticks, poisonous snakes, snapping turtles, and rednecks with the Confederate flag painted onto or flying from their trucks? Unfortunately, I don't have much choice in the matter. I'm in a physical, mental, and financial state where I have to live with family, my mother being the only family I have left, and she's marrying a stubborn old goat who owns 33 acres at the described location. On the plus side, he lives on 33 acres, which means plenty of surrounding forest for me to wander in (I haven't lived in the woods since I was 19) and plenty of land for my dog to roam and explore. I've spent the some of the past month visiting this place, and my dog has passed the off-tether test (he always comes back, and usually comes when called), and I find the place to be peaceful and invigorating for my soul. I'll have to adjust to living with stepfather number four, but that will be the biggest challenge. The second-biggest is poor Internet service, which will hopefully be remedied around the time I move in. As you can guess, Internet access (particularly high upload speeds) are essential to my job as an Internet-based musician, so my visits to my home-to-be have somewhat hampered my productivity, as has my anxiety over my life's impending changes.

So, y'all will have to forgive me for a record that is mostly rarities and Alternate Spins, with only two new songs, though once you give it a listen, I'm sure you will. Personally, I think that (aside from Dissonance) this is the best EP I've put out in a while. I'm just so enamored with each of its six songs, and so thrilled to share them, that I can forgive myself for its not consisting of all-new material. And it has the very attractive quality of yet again featuring artwork by Cyril Rolando (of the EPs Carnivale and Interlude), but this time in a different way, as this is somewhat of a companion piece to a series of his called The Human Orchestra. This is most apparent in the Artist's Edition of the record, which expresses this theme in individualized track art and a PDF booklet of artwork and liner notes. While all the Artist's Editions available to my Patreon patrons have individualized track art and PDF booklets, the way I've attached them to Elemental is unique, and I've decided to share this with you. Hopefully, it will do something in making up for my absence.

First, I'd like to draw your attention to the parchment-style piece of Cyril's, "The Human Orchestra," in which several of his other pieces play a part.

Now, on its own, the series tells the stories of 12 characters from 12 individual pieces of artwork. When I was casting about for a title and artwork for this EP, I had already decided to look at pieces from this series. But I had never looked at this particular piece. I found it absolutely inspirational and wonderfully imaginative, the way he weaves stories and two-dimensional artwork, and then interconnects it all with the iconic zodiac-style wheel of instruments, elements, and emotions at the top. I couldn't pass up using that wheel for the cover image of the new EP, and it instantly gave me its title.

Normally, when creating the track art for my Artist's Editions, I create a background derived from imagery associated with the album and then feature the release on which the song originated in the foreground. However, I felt that, when using this piece by Cyril, I had a certain responsibility to keep the focus on his artwork, and to tie this record into The Human Orchestra as best I could. I've taken some liberties to best fit his imagined worlds to the songs I was presenting, and it makes me feel somewhat guilty, as what this piece really deserves is a 12-track album with a song devoted to each character, featuring their instrument, and one day that is exactly what I hope to accomplish. But for now, this is what I was able to come up with, and I'm relieved to say that Cyril was delighted with the results.

Starting off the EP is something of a rarity - the instrumental predecessor to "They Delving 3.33." First introduced on the limited-release "Christmas" album Yule Tide Carols, this version has actually become my favorite version of this song. I love version 1.0 for being the original, and marking the beginnings of several new approaches I was making to composing; I love 2.22 for having the best vocal recordings I've achieved for this song; and I love 3.33 for its intentions, which would be to have the best instrumentation and the best vocals, though it fails at the latter. But this version does indeed have the best instrumentation, and I often come to love the instrumental versions of my songs over their con palabras counterparts, with the exceptions of "Cold Sunlight" and "Lily White." I had always intended this song to have a dark, industrial edge, creating a "piano-industrial" style uniquely my own. I started achieving that with version 1.0. But, to me, "industrial music" is practically synonymous with "industrial-metal," and if there's no electric guitars, it doesn't quite fit the mold. So when I went through and added electric guitars, among other changes, I took a big step in accomplishing the original song's intentions. I succeeded at making this song (as I have with several other songs since) piano-industrial.

Notably, the track art here isn't from the Human Orchestra series. I just didn't feel any of those characters, their stories, or their pieces quite fit with this song. So I took a look at Cyril's extensive back-catalog of work, and came across two images that might fit. I didn't feel the need to fit the imagery with the existing Snail Tales mythology for the song, so I really just needed something that reflected the song's title. One very appealing image was of a ship following a treasure map across the landscape of a naked woman's body (guess where the treasure was), and the other was this piece, titled, "I Want You To Talk To Me." Since it could be seen that the camelback riders are about to make a descent into the giant ear, I felt this image to be the most appropriate. I was sad to deviate from the Human Orchestra series, but I feel like I made the correct artistic call.

I'd been wanting to take a crack at "Vainglorious Wrath" again since my self-perceived failure in "Inglorious Wrath," an alternate take on the tune that ended up in the limited release Revival and the "anniversary gift" Progress Report - The Anniversary Spin. Although "Inglorious" seemed to be well-received by audiences, I found that I still preferred "Vainglorious" and, to me, that means I failed. In fact, I never feel the urge to listen to "Inglorious." As far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty big red flag that I didn't do something - if anything - right. It would be unfair to say that the song had no lessons to be learned from it, though, and I applied those lessons when I went to work on "Vainglorious" again. This time, I didn't remove any of the piano. Instead, I listened to it intently, rerecording where I felt the timing was off and remastering the rest. I followed suit with the rest of the instrumentation. I changed the drums to give the song a better flow, and I really brought out the bass, while trying not to diminish the treble. I played around with adding more synths, but only one actually stuck. Man, it's a really strange sound that I absolutely love, but I was careful to keep it subtle. Probably the most glaring change in this Alternate Spin is the addition of more electric guitars. It seemed to me that the original guitar solo was rather lonely, and I rerecorded it and changed its levels to try to really make it pop while not making it overwhelming, but it seemed to me that, when all the instruments come together in a fury at the climax, the electric guitar should be right there alongside them. It was a bitch to compose a guitar part for that section of the song, and even more of a bitch to play, but I'm satisfied with what I came up with. 

There's some minor changes in the instrumentation where I had the inspiration to try a "what if." A few things were rerecorded simply because I felt that, with more experience, I could accomplish a cleaner sound. And, all in all, I came up with a version of this song that I may actually prefer to the original - at least, I'm so excited by the end result that the original has gone to the back-burner - coincidentally on the day my longest financial supporter, who once said this was her favorite song on The Hypnotic Jamboree, had her birthday. So I released this song as a Patron-reward as a birthday gift to her.

When constructing this EP, I was very tempted to leave this song as a Paton-reward and a rarity. My initial plan had been to construct 5-track EPs leading up to albums, but I already broke that rule with the 7-track Dissonance, and I was too excited about this Alternate Spin to not share it. Hell, I was too eager to share all six of these songs; it was impossible to choose one to leave off. When it came to trying to choose one rarity over another, I decided, to hell with it - which is how this became a 6-track EP.

Now, I'd used this piece by Cyril - "An Outburst of Violince" - before as the cover art for Wax Whimsical, which I'll get to later on. Therefore, it's also used as the track art for the YouTube uploads of "Signor Fancypants" and "Fistfuls of Whimsy," which were first released to Patreon patrons on that demo album. For this release, I almost used it as track art for those two songs again, falling back into the pattern of having the track art reflect the song's origins. When creating the track art for this song, however, I decided that this piece really went with this song - what speaks of wrath more than a violinist using a sword on his instruments? - and that was when I decided that, no matter the song's origin, each tune was going to have a different piece by Cyril attached to it that reflected its name or content. As there's also a lot of violins in this song, I found it doubly fitting, and that was the clincher.

What can I say that's ever bothered me about "The Between" other than the vocals? I'm not talking about the scream-singing. Recording that bit in a single take and being immensely satisfied with it was one of my proudest moments. When attempting vocals-and-verse tunes for Jaded, I was still on (and am still on) a long road of recovery from a period of hospitalization, during which I had ruptured varices in my esophagus, and I have yet to have my once-proud singing voice restored to me. So when I did that bit of screaming, that was a huge accomplishment. However, there's a reason I had sought out guest vocalists for both this song and "Sublime Like Swine," but no one was able to make my self-imposed deadline. So I recorded and rerecorded the more melodic vocal bits for this song over and over again, but I never got it right. I still plan to give it another go, or to (ideally) finally convince Alejandro Saldarriaga Calle to do it for me, for a rerelease of Nyctanthous with alternate versions and B-sides somewhere later on down the road. But for now, whenever I hear "The Between," what I hear most is failure. Not in the latter half of the song, nor any of the instrumentation, but in those "I exist on both sides"s leading up to the screaming. Hell, the "trapped inside a mirror"s sound okay, but that other bit stands out like the audio equivalent of a sore thumb.

So I seek refuge from my failure by listening to the version without any vocals at all, which had until now been reserved as a rarity for Patrons and Leaguers. It's mere existence has been because I believe there are those who appreciate me for (primarily) being a composer of instrumentals, so therefore, those people would appreciate the instrumental versions of my con palabras song more than their counterparts. And when I listen to this version, what I hear is a damn fine composition, a well-constructed piece of industrial-metal. Truth be told, if there were any song I would have chosen to leave off the track listing for this EP, it would be this song, except that it fit the neoclassical/industrial theme of this release too well to leave out, and I felt it had been relegated to being a rarity for too long. I wanted to finally share it with the world, and this release seemed to be the perfect vehicle for doing so.

As for the track art, derived from Cyril's "Defy The Sky," well, it doesn't really take a genius to figure this one out. If the electric-guitar-featuring piece from The Human Orchestra were to be matched to any song on this record, it would have to be the song in which electric guitars play the biggest part, and that would be this one.

"Fistfuls of Whimsy" is a new song, and I think it is one of my finest achievements in a while. I single piano riff that I had in my head started a cascade of ideas once I recorded it and looped it, and I found myself first picking out a melody on a glockenspiel, then as chords on the piano, and then as chords on an electric guitar. A post-metal crunch was introduced to the tune early on, and with a backbone, melody, and instruments creating a framework, the song began to demand bridges and movements, circling occasionally back to that simple, tinkling melody on the glockenspiel. And then things started to get really epic.

After I had laid down some synth tracks, working somewhat retroactively and mostly experimentally, I came up against a wall. And it was a single note, pulsed, on the electric guitar that sent me crashing through and racing toward a climax with stately piano refrains and epically sawed cellos, devolving into a solitary electric guitar floating a cloud of strings which brought the song to a close. When all was done, it ran nearly seven minutes long, and formed a song that sounded like something one of my favorite post-rock bands on Fluttery Records would have come out with. Frankly, I was amazed with myself. Some of the synths still needed ironing out, and it needed an intro (which was a bitch to get right), but overall it was a refreshing and somewhat breathtaking writing and recording process, and I was joyous at the result. And the title came so easily: the glockenspiel made it feel rather whimsical, while the guitars gave it such a hard edge that "Fistfuls of Whimsy" came quite naturally to the rough draft.

This song spurred the creation of Wax Whimsical, a 14-track demo-album that I wanted to use as a vehicle to introduce this and my other new song, "Signor Fancypants," to my Patreon patrons, as well as to demonstrate my abilities in the neoclassical and post-metal genres to prospective labels. So it seemed natural to use the album's cover as track art on this record, but when I decided to use that piece for "Vainglorious Wrath (Alternate Spin)" instead, I found myself feeling an entirely different image would be even more appropriate, being Cyril's "According To My Jealousy," which had just the right amount of humor and bite to it at the same time.

My other newest song, "Signor Fancypants," began as an experiment in layering two tracks of acoustic guitars, which I had never done before, the goal being to seemingly accomplish feats of dexterity that I am not naturally capable of. I found myself coming up with an almost obnoxiously cheerful tune, one that was in serious need of taking a 180 such as in "Wrong Pocket Kinda Day." Layering two electric guitars and a manipulated drum machine produced a deliciously industrial effect, yet as the song progressed, this new industrial-metal aspect did nothing to diminish its cheerful demeanor. Hell, it seemed to amplify it. The song took on a defiant swagger. I decided to roll with it.

A warbling synth and a whistling synth were introduced to the melody, and they modified it in such a way that some of the acoustic guitar was rewritten, which in turn affected the synths in a way that demanded they be rewritten. But that new industrial-metal swagger remained steadfast, and that manipulated drum machine demanded to be used in more and more of the song. Strings were fleshed out and then demanded to be emphasized. As soon as all the components were written, the ways in which to recombine them to achieve the climax were obvious. And the song swaggered to a close, and I was damned if I didn't love the end result. Sure, it's obnoxious. It makes you want to punch it in the face. You hate its cheerfulness and its confidence. But it has some infectious energy and style that cannot be denied. "Mr. Fancypants" just popped into my head when I thought about it like that, and then it seemed like the Italian title would give the right connotation of snootiness. Not that Italians are snooty. Just that the word signor sounds snooty.

When searching for track art for this song, I of course combed through The Human Orchestra first, and almost settled on "The Last Sound From Earth," but its character didn't have the right quality and the piece was too morose. I searched through Cyril's back catalog, hoping to find a jaunty gentleman in coattails, but had no such luck. The piece "Fall, Get Up, and Move" did immediately grab me, but I was set on a particular image in my head. When no such image was forthcoming, I decided to go with my initial instinct, figuring a literally radiant athlete in spandex was also a figure to be jealous of and gave the right connotations.

"Cerebellum" is a song that has never been shared with the public, being a bonus track on the Artist's Edition of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. When creating the public edition, it had really been a toss-up between including it or "Horizons," as the songs have very similar energy, and "Horizons" won out. So I decided to include "Cerebellum" on my next release. The farther I put CBT behind me, though, the more I wanted to make changes to this song, so I started creating this Alternate Spin, concentrating most on the pacing and the drums. I quickened the tempo by a couple beats-per-minute,  then began reconstructing each of the three drum tracks throughout, and then found myself adding a drum machine that I manipulated in the style of that industrialized drum machine in "Signor Fancypants." I ended up hacking the existing drum tracks to pieces, cutting and pasting them into something entirely new, all the while accenting them with gentle taps on my manipulated drum machine. But I couldn't stop there. As I was reconstructing the drum tracks, I ended up listening to the instrumentation repeatedly, and I rerecorded and remastered every niggling little detail, and even changed the melody completely in one place, while adding an entirely new instrument in another. In the end, it was almost an entirely new song...but I guess you'll just have to take my word for it, since only my Patreon patrons, with access to the Artist's Editions, will ever actually know.

I had no idea what exactly I was looking for when it came time to select track art, but I looked through The Human Orchestra and this piece, "Feral Strings," immediately grabbed me. By this point, I was figuring that gut instincts, being an artist's best friend, are the way to go, so I went with it. I couldn't really tell you why, just as I can't really tell you why I named the song "Cerebellum," except that I kind of imagine that those strings are attached to the deer's brain; that our harpist is playing the deer's cerebellum through its skull. As for the title, I just kind of felt like the initial composing of this song was a cerebral experience. I have no other word to describe it, and so I went with "Cerebellum."

So now you have a taste of what an Artist's Edition by The Lady anoNYMous is like, though this is an exceptional case, as it is much more intentional and themed, but also it lacks the usual bonus tracks. However, they are all accompanied by a PDF booklet of additional album art with liner notes. But while the Artist's Editions of the full-length albums are offered as free Patron rewards, the EPs are paid for, meaning that if you signed up as a Patreon patron today, you wouldn't be able to retroactively get your hands on the Artist's Edition of Elemental. You would, however, receive an Artist's Edition of the next EP, no matter how much you pledged (you would have pledged toward it, and it'd be yours for that price), and if you pledged $10 toward each new EP up until the release of the next full-length album, you'd be rewarded with the early release of a free Artist's Edition of that album.

And before then, you'd be rewarded with all the other free Patron rewards, such as the Artist's Editions of the past five albums, and compilations such as Wax Whimsical. Speaking of which, if you're a regular reader, you know by now that I usually try to accompany one of these release articles with a full-length preview of a new song. However, I don't have one prepared at the moment, so I thought I'd keep this Patreon theme going by rewarding your readership with a private YouTube embed of the tracklist for Wax Whimsical. Now, Wax Whimsical, like my previous Patreon-exclusive compilation albums and my Artist's Editions, comes with individualized track art and a PDF booklet, but you'll sort of get the idea.

To make a pledge today toward the release of the next EP, please visit The Lady anoNYMous on Patreon and select the rewards package that's right for you!

Elemental has been dedicated to Cyril Rolando, whose artwork continues to be a huge inspiration for me, and whose generosity has been unwavering and has astounded me time and again. I can't express how happy it made me to hear how happy his Artist's Edition of Elemental made him! Please support Cyril as you would me: visit his galleries on DeviantArt, check out his online store, give his Facebook page a Like, subscribe to him on YouTube!

Elemental is now available for streaming on Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, MS Groove, and TIDAL. It can be purchased from Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. And it can be downloaded in a format of your choosing for a discounted price from my Snail Tunes store, where purchases directly support the artist and include unlimited high-quality streaming on your Bandcamp feed and the Bandcamp mobile app (also included).

Thank you all for your support, and your continued interest in my work. May your inner snails be resilient and determined!

UPDATE: Unable to let this Artist's Edition fade into obscurity by only being available to those who pledged toward it, I've now made it available as a Patron reward among the $5-or-more tier of rewards.