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Villa Elaine - Click to view! Innovation is a word Remy Zero has to be familiar with. In this day and age where music is barely classified outside of rock, rap, or country, this band resurrected the alternative style of the early 90s, combined it with their own personal experiences, and birthed a welcome change in the music industry. Their album The Golden Hum smashed the cookie-cutter mold of disposable pop, garnered raving reviews, and secured Remy Zero a spot in the limelight.

Villa Elaine is a different story. It harkens back to days when RZ was slowly gaining momentum by touring with Radiohead on the OK Computer Tour. Unfortunately many failed to recognize their talent, and Villa Elaine became an album that people only bought if they dared to try something new for a change. Back to the present. Now Villa Elaine is sought after like a rare treasure or collector's item, rewarding the lucky individuals who find it with eleven glimpses into Remy Zero's obscure past.

“Hermes Bird” introduces Remy Zero’s signature sound. A heavily booming baseline is followed up by a few gentle guitar chords until it escalates into full musical accompaniment. Unfortunately, this song could have been taken so much farther, and just when you expect it to fully bloom, it remains static and never really touches a higher peak than the introduction. “Prophecy” more than compensates. Here we get into some gritty electric repetitions until they blossom into a full-scale rock song. Cinjun Tate delves into the spiritual realm on this tune, singing a seemingly evangelical message: “Look into the sun and see your soul is dying / used to feel the faith but now you're tired of trying...from the Light on high the chance to change your fate / forgiveness falling down on those who choose to wait.” The meaning of these lyrics is uncertain, and we wonder if Tate is truly preaching Christianity. One should be careful when interpreting the words.

The hauntingly beautiful “Life in Rain” serves as track #3, where Tate reminisces over a lost love named Helena. A wailing mandolin call escorts his self-inflicted cries of heartbreak as he sings, both in tragic hurt and reflection. The melody of the song is chilling, and it flows by slowly yet seems over before it started. The next instant hit on the disc is “Gramarye.” It enraptures listeners with its humble opening piano solo before attacking with a bombardment of drums and shrill guitar cries. Sounding as if U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky album was called on for inspiration, the song continues in this manner until the piano briefly reappears for the bridge. The lyrics themselves are poetic and original in manner, but like nearly every other song, they discuss the temptation a woman provides. “Yellow Light” changes the subject, moving on to a rather macabre, sullen message about someone with a “hollow flame,” perhaps implying that a fire for God has disappeared. The guitar and bass are once again stars of the show, both receiving heavy playtime. Tate’s vocals resonate through this song, rising and falling at various intervals, and trailing off perfectly as he sings, “Your darkest days are just beginning now.” “Yellow Light” is easily the best track on the disc.

“Fair” takes on a more bluesy approach, using only a few simple strums, shakers, and cymbals to tell a story about another love slipping out of reach. The song’s slow, mellow feel gives it an air of relaxation, easily doused by the satirical “Goodbye Little World.” The track is actually a goodbye to all of Remy Zero's acquaintances as they prepare to embark on tour, but it's almost as if they foresaw that they'd be giving up Geffen Records to relocate to the more accommodating Elektra. Musically, “Goodbye Little World” flows similarly to a British coffeehouse song and employs a wide range of strange instruments. It’s lively, enjoyable, and hilarious, as Remy Zero pays homage to several friends, neighbors, and a dog named Kafka who runs away. Perhaps the best part, though, is hearing how happy the band seems to be being alive in their “perfect little world.” Ah, the joys of making music.

The album's remaining tracks – “Hollow,” “Problem,” “Whither Vulcan,” and “Motorcycle” – aren’t ones you’ll want to skip, but due to lesser quality they barely fall short of the standard set by Villa Elaine’s forefront songs. It should also be noted that “Whither Vulcan” contains references to drugs and alcohol, and “Goodbye Little World” contains a reference to gin. Listeners who find this offensive should use discretion when giving these tracks a shot. There is also a hidden track following “Goodbye Little World,” but there’s not much interesting about it. It resembles space-age tribal music, if you can imagine what that sounds like.

Villa Elaine triumphs in that it’s musically and lyrically well-balanced, with a nice blend of alternative rock and the more progressive ballad songs. A couple of tracks could use some polishing, but future efforts by Remy Zero easily make up for that. While it’s not as solid an effort, Villa Elaine should please any Remy Zero fan who’s seeking to open doors to the band’s past.
- Rick Foux
August 2002
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