MERCH: AMOUR BOHEMIAN
Sassafras Record Co.
This is a sprawling, ultra-ambitious project by Joe Medina, the singer/songwriter/guitarist behind MERCH, who has combined contributions from 65 different artists to make Amour Bohemian—including the 30-piece Prague FILMharmonic orchestra (same ensemble that worked with Herzog, Tarantino, Arcade Fire and Adele), whom he flew to record with after cutting his basic tracks at Greg Ashley’s Creamery and L.A.’s Lolipop studios. The sound and scope of this project is nothing short of lofty, and it’s clear that Medina is going for a vibe that all of us aging rockers love: the churning arrangements of Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies Man, the avant-garde-meets-pop vocals of Scott Walker, the idiosyncratic time-signatures of Arthur Lee, the bleak but adventurous soundtrack work of Morricone and the like … but does it deliver? The answer is … kind of? It’s easy to be impressed by the auteurish slant to this whole project. In fact, such audacity should never be condemned, especially in an age of artists seeing just how little they can get away with, but Amour Bohemian is a hard record to listen to. It sounds disjointed, brassy, and not always cohesive, as if there are two records happening on at once—the lo-fi basic tracks with Medina’s deadpan vocals all the way up front, and another with an orchestra playing what clearly very beautiful fugues inside very studied baroque landscapes. These two sides of the project unfortunately distract from each other, rather than mix into a seamless work of art. One reason we love Cohen and Walker and Spector records is because all that labor was done in one room, often with a couple mics and limited tracking. Those records sounded grand—and coherent—because all the ingredients were simmering in the pot in real time, and as a result, the listener feels like he or she is right there with them. It’s an unfortunately more of an isolating ride with Amour Bohemian, and with such obvious time and effort involved, it pains me to say that—I’m someone that well knows the up-all-night obsession involved in fiending to create a sound and feeling inspired by my anti-heroes. But I also believe we need more confounding records like this—by people like Joe Medina who are attempting to raise the bar, and who refuse to settle for three-chord garage-rock songs about pizza. “I wanted to make the biggest, grandest album I could, with the widest dynamic range I could imagine, something that will sound new every time you listen to it and hopefully last beyond my years.” says Medina. While I can only speak for myself in the present, I’d still say ‘mission accomplished.’ However muted the shine, MERCH shot for the stars and crash-landed on a strange planet all its own.