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By Nate Jackson
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By Dave Lieberman
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Which One’s Big Pink?
They’re the band with the delirious wall of sound and the Armageddon love songs
Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze of the Big Pink are huge soul fans, citing Otis Redding and various Stax Records alumni as regular sources of inspiration. Not that you’d know it from listening to A Brief History of Love, the London duo’s highly touted first album. It’s cascading with opaque noise, bent effects, dance-y drum programming, and thin vocals tackling the heaviness and exhilaration of young lust. In fact, the band coined the term “Armageddon love songs” to describe what they do. So how exactly does soul fit in?
“Lyrically, it’s very important,” says Furze by phone from England, where the Big Pink are in the middle of eight dates supporting Muse. “We take a lot of influence from the way [soul singers] don’t mince their words. If they say they love you or you love them, they just say it. They don’t do it in any kind of cryptic manner. It’s very simple and to the heart. They get to the point. And that’s what we try to do with our lyrics.”
Fair enough. There is certainly a frankness to the subject matter of A Brief History of Love, whether Furze is singing about girls falling like dominos or the pendulum effect of a relationship. The word “love” even appears in three song titles. But beyond the direct lyrical approach Furze espouses, musically, the album is a hall of mirrors. Besides Furze singing and playing guitar over Cordell’s synths and programming, there are backing vocals, drums, piano and sax from an ever-shifting slate of guests. There’s also a wealth of guitar effects, conjuring an aching delirium. Even the most accessible entries, such as the singles “Dominos” and “Velvet,” are kept at a distance by a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound.
The denseness of the Big Pink partly reflects the duo’s complex backgrounds. The band are named after the Band’s first album; Furze’s given first name is Robertson, after the Band’s Robbie Robertson. More telling is that Furze cut his teeth playing guitar for Atari Teenage Riot’s Alec Empire and recorded for Empire’s Digital Hardcore under the moniker Panic DHH. He also founded a small label with Cordell called Hatechannel, and Cordell has issued records by Titus Andronicus and Telepathe on his own Merok imprint. Cordell’s late father, Denny, was a successful producer who helmed Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Obviously, then, a unique array of influences collide within the Big Pink. Most apparent might be the specter of 4AD Records, the legendary U.K. label to which the band signed earlier this year. It’s the same label that produced such dreamy, reality-bending acts as Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance and Pale Saints. “We’ve tried to keep that aesthetic in some of the artwork,” says Furze. “[Regular 4AD graphic designer] Vaughan Oliver did some of the early singles’ art. It has a similar vibe to some of the early Pixies stuff. It’s quite important to us to have that identity as a 4AD band.”
Joining the label’s roster, he adds, was amazing in and of itself. “Before we signed to 4AD,” he continues, “I didn’t really know much about the history. I knew the Pixies and Cocteau Twins. But once you see a list of the bands that have been on 4AD since the beginning, it’s a real honor to be on that list. And we’re, like, the first English band they’ve signed in the past 10 years.”
Suddenly an in-demand commodity since A Brief History of Love’s September release, the Big Pink have been too busy touring the world to write material for a follow-up. The band’s live incarnation is a quartet that includes drummer Akiko Matsuura from the Merok-signed duo Comanechi and bassist Leopold Ross from the LA act Io Echo, who are also on the bill at the band’s Detroit Bar show. Furze says the touring members, tour managers and sound people are like a big family, but he admits that he and Cordell will continue to write songs together on their own, without a full band present.
“Only because it’s much faster,” he reasons. “I’ve written with more than one person before, and there’s a lot of arguing over parts. It takes a long time. Me and Milo are very un-egotistical when it comes to what we do. It’s an easy process and very, very quick. If it’s not broken, why change it?”