The collaboration between The Colorist Orchestra and Howe Gelb is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing, absorbing albums of the year. We are delighted to premiere the video for ‘Sweet Pretender’, the latest single from their album, which is due for release on 1st October. Unexpected rhythms, clever orchestration and arrangements, sonic experiments, swirling whirls of sound: this is adventurous music, expertly put together to create soundscapes that are in turn light and then sinister, full of delightful surprise. ‘Sweet Pretender’ flows and builds slowly from a gently beautiful beginning, ghostly layers added almost unnoticed until distorted, percussive industrial sounds alter the atmosphere utterly by the end. As superb as the instrumentation and songcraft are, this song is truly elevated by the vocal performances of Howe Gelb and Pieta Brown. Gelb possesses a real story-teller’s voice, characterised by weary experience. The contrast with Brown’s sweet, clear singing voice, full of melodic yearning, works incredibly well. They sound lovely on their own but when they sing together, the combination is simply outstanding. It’s all about contrasts. Gelb puts it like this: “The music I seem to savour has contrast embedded in it. Contrasting elements add a pendulum effect. Gives it a motion. Gives it an e-motion.”
The video focuses on the considerable skills of The Colorist Orchestra, with the singers represented by two monitor screens. It’s genuinely impressive to see these masterful musicians at work. In particular, once the vocals have faded away, the final minute is tremendously atmospheric. The performers are lost in the music and so are we.
Gelb says of working with Pieta Brown: “Being a friend and a fan of Pieta for a quarter century has its perks. Visiting each other in song is like having a dance 1500 miles apart with the best backing band money can‘t even buy. It’s a dream and a splendor, some sweet pretending and a delirious upender.”
Brown explains how the song came to be written and shared with The Colorist Orchestra and Gelb: “This song came to me one day when I was playing electric guitar. The muse was very open to my abandonment issues and love addiction that day. The song came in very sudden-like and as soon as I sang it through a few times I imagined it as a duet. I figured out pretty quickly I would need Nick Cave or Howe Gelb to really deliver it ‘right’. I mentioned the song to Howe once or twice, but a duet titled ‘Sweet Pretender’ didn’t get too much of an excited response…hahaha…but when I got the invitation to collaborate with Howe and The Colorist Orchestra I couldn’t resist sending them a very rough demo of Sweet Pretender. Then, it seemed like almost instantaneously I received the TCO’s sublime interpretation and arrangement! I was floored. In a flurry I sang some lines…and Howe responded across the miles. I had imagined it as a dark electric piece. How did the TCO make it dark and light at once? Now, when I hear it it sounds like how it must’ve meant to be.”
Usually, The Colorist Orchestra use experimental, melodic percussion and dreamy, inventive arrangements to reimagine songs already written by their collaborators. This is indicated by the name, which refers to the process of creating comics: beginning with pencils, adding inks and then, finally, the colourist brings the art to life. In this metaphor, the pencil and inks are the original versions of songs and then The Colorist Orchestra transforms them dramatically with their wash of sonic colour. However, despite Howe Gelb’s enormous and varied back-catalogue, this project was different. Almost all the songs on the upcoming album, ‘Not on the Map’, are new. Alongside one cover, Brown contributed two original songs with six written by Gelb in collaboration with The Colorist Orchestra. The result is vibrant and fresh, an expansive world of music to inhabit. Highly recommended. Be absorbed.