Saturday, October 15, 2011

EXITMUSIC - An Agitated Dream

Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church make a dreamy rock music under the name EXITMUSIC. Brooklyn based, the married couple play in a style that often starts out quietly, but ultimately winds up grabbing you by the throat. Their impressive live shows have been garnering them much deserved attention, and now the finely crafted recorded works they have been meticulously constructing will be released as their debut album "From Silence" this fall.

Listening to these recordings in advance of the release via their website, one can't help but be captivated by what you hear. On their leadoff song titled "The Sea," a tension is noticable at it lurks throughout the quieter moments. There is an unsettling pulse that is mysterious and moody. The direction seems to travel down sonic areas running against what one might associate with a more "upbeat" music.

"I don't think you can decide where your creativity comes from," Aleksa says. "I feel that there is a place that I write from, a place that needs to be revealed. And this is the mood and the tone of that place," she continues. "People often say our music is 'dark', and there's truth to that, but I don't feel like we're 'dark' people or even that our music is all that dark," adds Devon. ":We're just trying to express our experience of life as honestly and as compellingly as we can. Sometimes I get creeped out by how 'happy and upbeat' most music is. We are in the middle of 3 or 4 wars and a mass extinction, after all. After a point, this obsession with pop (especially in the indie world) begins to seem kind of insane."

Listen to their live performance of "The Sea"

On stage, Aleksa commands attention as the bands lead vocalist. She also alternates between playing guitar and keyboards. Devon stands tall as the primary guitarist, and shifts effortlessly between providing power chords, quick riffs or melody lines and even employs at violin bow on the strings at one point.

Much of their show has a solemn quality to it all. Frequently the vocals are presented like someone almost going into a trance. Of someone losing themself in the moment. "The feeling of being on stage is a really hard to remember clearly afterwards," explains Aleksa. "It's almost like you have to find the spot where you can lose yourself in the moment while still being totally aware of where you are in time. I'm not in a trance, I'm just singing the words as weighted as I feel them," she concludes.

Their live show also presents some interesting guitar interplay between them. While Devon tends to play the longer, extended melodic notes (sometimes with slide) Aleksa will execute bursts of quick, forceful strumming, that creates a fuller sonic wash. "For me, I try to combine rhythmic and melodic elements in my guitar parts, so I'll play chords that incorporate a traveling counter-melody that supports what Aleksa's playing or singing," says Devon. "I think of myself more as a rhythm guitarist than a lead guitarist, though I do play some "leads". But I almost never strum the guitar - just a few times during the set. Mostly I play arpeggios or deconstructed chords."

"It's a language that I keep developing… it's like a cast of characters or a palate of colors, each with something to say," adds Aleksa. "I often play melodies by picking one string really fast, like a mandolin. I think this tremolo style - those explosions are just as emotional as the human voice. And I use those parts to sing with my guitar, and to disrupt the certainty of measured time."

On one of the songs in their live show, Devon used a violin bow across his guitar strings, creating a unique sonic tone and effect.. "I used to play a lot with an e-bow, but I wanted something more expressive, and more guttural sounding," he offers by way of explanation. "I like the deep moaning sound that you can produce by dragging the bow over the low strings of the guitar. You risk a lot of dissonance and feedback playing with a bow and a lot of reverb and distortion, so the intent is ultimately to wrest something beautiful out of what could potentially be kind of ugly. The influence for me is more Sigur Ros than Jimmy Page, but I also think of the violin bits in early Velvet Underground," he concludes.

The two of them self-directed their video for "The Sea," using footage from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror. "We'd seen a lot of Tarkovsky's films, and when Chris Swanson (who runs their label Secretly Canadian) suggested we try cutting an existing film into a music video, we thought of him. But we hadn't yet seen The Mirror," says Devon. "When we did a google image search for 'Tarkovsky' this stark, beautiful image of a sort-of deranged looking woman standing over a basin of water came up. Then there was another image of a woman levitating and a man standing reverently beside her. They were both from the Mirror. We youtubed some montages of the film, and it was just incredibly rich with imagery. Especially the wind stuff is amazing. In a way, Tarkovsky's wind is serving the function that the sea, the water, does in our song. His images, together with the stock footage of war and revolution that he used in his film, create this incredibly menacing, dream-like, apocalyptic feeling that seemed to fit perfectly with the music."

Since then the band has released another video, this time for their song "The Hours." Directed by Will Joines, the imagery finds Aleksa singing against her reflection and possibly coming to grips with a polar opposite version of herself. Devon supports by way of slo motion guitar strumming and the overall effect is transcendent. With sonic production qualities that put emphasis first and foremost on the vocals (multitracked and uniquely enunciated) guitar lines are the appegiated deconstructed chords Devon describes, combined with a sparse percussion that makes its inclusion all the more dramatic.

The couple came together from disparate backgrounds. Devon came to New York by way of Winnipeg, Canada, while Aleksa grew up in this city. In addition to the music she has always made, Aleksa has an extensive acting career, and is currently featured in the HBO drama "Boardwalk Empire."

The band's name is a reference to the music one hears as the credits roll at the end of a film. "Everyone always mentions radiohead, but that's not where we got the name from," states Aleksa. "Exit music is the name for the last piece of music to be played in a film… the song that ushers people out of the theatre… the last piece of that 'world' they take with them. That's what we heard when we played our songs back," she continues. "Music that suggests a transition from world to another. My grandpa, Tony Palladino, is a graphic designer and has always had a unique way of making letters and words speak for themselves (he designed the lettering for PSYCHO). Anyway, he took out the space between exit and music… it fortified the whole concept. EXITMUSIC."

Cromwell chats with Aleksa post-show

Find out more about EXITMUSIC via these links here:


Anonymous said...

Great review Dave. The part about where creativity comes from was quite interesting.
The video you posted was great too.

William said...

they sound really cool- love the music- so true what they say about society's obsession with pop and inoffensive and edgeless happiness, self empowerment and sex

Mr Smork said...

nice review, dave.

really nice to read and know ban'ds sort of history, causes (inspiration part) and how they play. so that came out together quiet great.

and band it self. it's sound slightly reminds me of (bjork"... :)

DaveCromwell said...

Love the reactions, people.

"where creativity comes" (Anouk)

"society's obsession with pop and inoffensive and edgeless happiness" (William)

"the band's history and inspiration" (Mr. Smork)

I'm always most pleased when an interview and feature comes together like this.

Ivanka said...

ooh those photos all in red light looks so mysterious, love it! and "The Sea" is great song) nice review, well done Dave)

Patricia said...

Interesting and deep, i like it, really cool. Great pics and nice vid, "Bacán" review Dave, again!!

DaveCromwell said...

The lighting was such that the photos from that particular show came out with a red hue, Ivanka. Glad you like the way they look.

I'm also pleased to know this feature has now received a "Bacán" status, Paty.

Anonymous said...


I wonder who said that Exitmusic's music is dark. To me a "dark music" is, for example "Pornography" by The Cure or "Born Again" by Black Sabbath. This music here is, of course, something entirely different than the sweet pieces of crap the radios feed us with but for goodness sake, whoever said it's dark has yet to listen to many, many albums.

Exitmusic is, from what I've seen and heard here, a pair of extraordinary musicians with pretty much shaped personalities, knowing their way into the uncertain sonic landscapes of dream pop/rock/whatever (like with Shana Falana one entry ago, genres do not apply to this band).

I really enjoy their sound, which may not hold anything new but it's certainly recognizable and has a distinctive "something", probably some kind of "distant" and a bit of "cold" quality that separates them from often overly sweet dream bands. But what really stands out is Aleksa's voice. It's beyond description. It reminds of the Cassidy sisters from Cocorosie but still, it's truly original.

What can I say, it seems like some kind of a new wave of truly valuable artists is beginning to rise. Exitmusic is promising to say the least.

Great review of a great band. Rock on.

DaveCromwell said...

You get to the heart of the matter here very well, eagle. You are correct in stating that truly "dark" music is the subject matter in the Cure's early work "Pornography." I find EXITMUSIC's sound to be mysterious - but ultimately very uplifting.

I also like your description "uncertain sonic landscapes of dream pop."