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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA. AUTUMN 2014. THE VILLAGE STUDIOS.
An analog tape machine spins in the corner wing, 5 young musicians sit under the low-glowing candle light of studio D. LA delivery trucks stacked with palettes of rusted steel and busted machinery cruise down Santa Monica Blvd. Behind the faded brick walls of the old Masonic Temple, a soft rumbling echoes over scuffed up floorboards where countless albums have been cut over the years: live, fresh, unapologetic - inspired. Remnants of its predecessors seem to hang in the air, thick with sweat and incense. As the city penetrates the room, as the faded scarlet recording light flickers on, as a 'thumbs up' comes from behind a dark tinted window, as the 'hisssssssss' fills the headphones... There, out of the near total darkness come a sound: A rolling psychedelic organ, dripping, ambient cymbals, the low resonate bowing of an upright bass, a distant orchestra over transistor radio and the howling voice of a woman - filled with a fiery discontent.
"The writing for this record wasn’t like anything I’d ever done before - it was all reflective-collective. Less personal, and more observatory." says Gardot.
Fat fuzzed electric guitars, wailing horns, pulsing base lines and esoteric orchestra fill the spaces between simple lyrics that recall stories and lives of various characters: "There was no censorship on the stories. It’s a commentary. It’s not about love, it’s not about desire, it’s not about fantasy... it’s about life, and the people living it - right now."
The songs take on a new musical direction for Gardot, moving through swamps of deep blues and solid groove on songs like 'Don’t Misunderstand’, ’Same to You' and ‘It Gonna Come’. Audio impressions and field recordings fill the spaces around songs like 'She Don’t Know' painting the image of the street-scenes alongside horn licks by the legendary arranger and trumpet player, Jerry Hey. Chord progressions only kiss the fringes of jazz on a track like 'No Man’s Prize', appearing like a lost jewel out of the Bilie Holiday songbook. And that ballad sound, that intimate depth that rang out on her former album 'My One and Only Thrill', echoes on the poetic theme 'If Ever I Recall Your Face’ with arrangements by French arranger/composer Clement Ducol.
There is also a twist in the expected on the album with the artist playing primary electric guitar and only occasionally piano. For the song ‘Preacher Man’ (perhaps the most forceful of all the electric guitar-based songs) Gardot’s writing takes a bardic look at the story of Emmit Till, pointing a dead finger on the issues of race and racism that still exist in the world today. A surprising production element of this song is that this track also includes a choir of singers from fans on Facebook who had submitted their voices on home recordings. The opening of the track begins with the sound of hundreds of people singing together. A lighter, more delicate side of the disc, only appear in songs like ‘Morning Sun’ and ‘Once I was Loved’, two counterpoint themes notating the birth of a son and the thoughts one has at the end of a life.
Sonically, the album emerges out of a variegated palette filled with gentle hiss and warm tones as a result of everything being recorded to tape. "Analog gear, old mics, classic tube amps... these things were exciting to me. All our decisions about sound were made with the help of Maxime LeGuil, this amazing French engineer who possessed a great knowledge about vintage machinery." Gardot explains, "Even the tuning of the album is unusual as we cut the record in 432hz. I had started to experiment with frequency and research what this does within the body. I loved the idea that one could calm, soothe and rejuvenate the spirit just with exposure to certain frequencies... I rang up the tuner for the piano one day, and asked if he could change everything to 432. He laughed, came over and 6 hours later we had our first attempt to rejuvenate this old idea of what some call 'original tuning'. Once we set the instrument up like this - I never changed it. Frankly, it felt better. The frequency was more alive, the feeling was like witnessing more colors in the resonance - and to my ears when there was an ensemble playing, it felt more relaxed, more appealing. Once every musician who came upon it loved it, I decided we would keep it that way."
A bit rough and tumble, a bit raw around the edges, the change of sound isn’t so much far reaching as it is refreshing. From an artist, who seems to be ever-evolving her recipe for style, here is a new flavour of sonic impressions. Traces of the artist’s former brushstrokes rest like watermarks in the lyrics and in the interplay of the poetry, but 'Currency of Man', is still something all together new: Urban and concrete, unapologetic and ambitious, original and innovative, deliciously experimental.
'Currency of Man' appears as a kind of mutant collage, a soundtrack to the times in the free spirit of Rauschenberg. A watercolor portrait made by hand marks the coverture of the disc and the pages within. Teaming up again with Grammy Award winning producer Larry Klein, the album possesses a cinematic quality that tells the story to the soundtrack of existence for various characters. Gardot explains,
"I wanted an album that flowed like a dream from beginning to end. We wanted to weave in sounds of the world around the songs, to recall the places where they were born, to really paint the scene. These are stories about people who know hard times, about people who are struggling to overcome them, and that is something that resonates deep in my psyche. It's impossible to ignore. To me, the songs are questioning and also defining what it means to be alive. What is our worth, and how do we define it? Is it down to money? Is it down to legacy? Is it down to our own personal achievements on a daily basis? For this I mark the disc currency of man. This album is about our worth in this world, and how everyone no matter their status, or origins or color of their skin holds a purpose."
With the release of this album there are two immediate editions available. The first is a basic version that holds 10 songs of the album, and then there is a second edition called the "Artist’s Cut", which holds all 15 tracks all designed and arranged to flow from top to bottom like a cinema score. "Larry and I from the start had wanted to make a kind of movie within the music. You can hear that on the 'Artist’s Cut'. The shorter edition lets you get a glimpse of the music from song to song while the 'Artist’s Cut' holds all the evolutions from idea to incarnation, a kind of musical lithography with all these sounds and audio files and worlds surrounding the lives of these characters that live in the songs. It’s not an ordinary project, and the idea of this disc in particular, was to show the listener with eyes closed, the faces of the lives of the people that inspired these stories... I think we did that. And when I listen back I can almost hear them living behind the staff lines."