Imagine that the members of an iconic rock band suddenly grow tired of their work. They still know how to write a hit, but they’re sick of hits. It’s almost too easy, and they see through all the tricks they once employed in blissful ignorance. Unanimously, they decide that they don’t want to be in a rock band any more. But under contract, they’ve agreed to release one more album under their label. They propose an experimental final album, but the label rejects it. The fans demand rock. Consequently, the band decides to trick the label and fans, and disguise the avant garde behind a thick cloak of the usual tricks. At first, they view the album as a parody of their former work.
However, in the creation of this parody, the jaded musicians-now freed of past pretensions-discover that they still love to make music. The problem had not been the tricks themselves, but rather their uninspired implementation. Suddenly, the band feels compelled to parody the parody, and revel excessively-if furtively-in the excess. And, when the new album drops, fans, critics, and band concur that it’s a hell of a lot better than anything released before.
Biographically, Quiet Loudly shares little in common with the aforementioned hypothetical rock band. Certainly, these guys aren’t burnt out stars, and they’re not under contract to a corporate label. From what I gather, they’re just a bunch of normal dudes. However, I feel that the metaphor is a useful way to approach the final product-the music. When I listen to Quiet Loudly, I sense the spirit of renaissance. Quiet Loudly rehashes old ideas in ways that surprise and invigorate. Despite the considerable competence and perspective demonstrated throughout their epic album Soulgazer, the band manages to tap into the euphoric eureka of the middle-school rock-star wannabe who has just discovered an awesome new chord. And perhaps they also smile knowingly at his dejection when he learns that it’s only an A7. The result is not strictly satirical, but perhaps we may understand it as the parody of parody. We may wonder whether duplicity in parody signifies negation or exponential multiplication. In the case of Quiet Loudly, it seems to be a little bit of both simultaneously. These guys definitely don’t take themselves too seriously, but they also seem to poke fun at bands that degrade the craft by not taking music seriously and whose appreciation of the artform does not extend beyond the ironic.
Max Goransson (guitar, vocals) explains that the inspiration for the name Quiet Loudly came from his exploration of extreme dynamics. “I was trying to explore regarding the impact and significance of breaks or ambiance in what would be considered otherwise loud, epic music,” he elaborates. Yet he also admits that the name was a joke at first. It stuck because the band liked it… and because they had already created the MySpace page. True, the contradiction posed by multiple layers of intention and chance seems a tumultuous vantage point from which to understand a band. Yet I challenge you to ask yourself, how else could we approach a band with a name as paradoxical as Quiet Loudly?
Quiet Loudly pays due homage to its roots. Soul is clearly a major influence-hence the name, Soulgazer. The band also embraces rock-n-roll, in its countless permutations-classic-rock, punk-rock, grunge-rock, alt-rock, indie-rock, post-rock, insertprefixhere-rock. Yet, even in direct allusion to these numerous traditions, the band refuses to buy into any one of them wholesale. Always, I sense a process that involves the extraction of the best features from these genres and their rearrangement into new shapes.
A-Side “Be My Baby Mama” challenges the conventions of pop composition, but rests upon such stable foundations that a casual listener might not even notice that anything is amiss. Harmonic and melodic simplicity obscure the underlying innovation. The tune begins with a three-chord progression which seems bound to spark a sense of deja ecouté. The first two chords are rock staples, while the third chord is the predictably-unpredictable heartbreak chord. The rhythm hints at R&B a bit too obviously. When the vocals enter, we perceive a verse. When the drums kick into full throttle and the distortion thickens, we perceive a chorus. A catchy vocal hook-accentuated by all the right harmonies-confirms our suspicions. But all the evidence proves deceptive.
“Be My Baby Mama” does not return to the sections we instinctively perceive as verse and chorus and, thus, we can not appropriately label them as such, though still we cannot conceive them in any other way. The tune veers into an extended outro full of compositional twists that, cumulatively, reveal epic grandeur. The momentum builds as harmonies are layered below the lead vocal line. It continues to mount with the auxiliary support of a soaring electric guitar solo. Finally the parts converge on the refrain, of which the climax is marked by piercing falsettos. However, having reached this mighty summit, Quiet Loudly refuses to take the scenic route back to base. Instead they skydive-forgive the continuation of this cheesy metaphor-with an unexpected a capella breakdown that proves to be the coup-de-grace to our cliché expectations. As with most of the tricks in Quiet Loudly’s arsenal, the a capella breakdown is not inherently unprecedented. However, it is completely re-contextualized and rarely-I feel compelled to add-has it been implemented to such delightful effect in any context.
Breakdowns of this sort are a risky venture. At their best, they may leave the listener awestruck. “How the fuck did they think of that?” More often, however, they undermine the whole composition and leave the listener confused and disappointed. “What the fuck were they thinking?” The line between these diametrically opposed outcomes is actually vaguer than one might suspect, but it seems indisputable that Quiet Loudly falls on the correct side. To begin with, the breakdown strikes a healthy balance between unexpected and incongruous. I did not anticipate it but, in retrospect, it seems to have been foreshadowed by the layered harmonies which preceded it. Moreover, it lifts the lyrics of the refrain_-“you could rescue my bloodline”_ -to our attention. The plea casts an additional layer of irony over the satire posed by the raunchy pickup line that the title so convincingly insinuates. For these reasons-in addition to the sheer precision of its execution-the tune lingered in my memory after a single listen.
“I Would Be Your Man” may seem an unusual choice for a B-Side. From the start, I appreciated the poetic logic of the progression between a tune called “Be My Baby Mama” and a tune called “I Would Be Your Man.” However, I couldn’t dismiss the itty-bitty technicality that Quiet Loudly neither wrote the track nor received principle performance credit. The song was written by Gunfight, another Brooklynite outfit whose sound falls within the expansive umbrella of rock but occasionally tests these limits. Quiet Loudly is featured on the track but, on the mp3 they submitted to Ampeater, the id3 tag reads Gunfight. No mention of a feature. I liked the music, but I was a bit perplexed.
The missing link proved to be “Brooklyn Heat,” a compilation curated, engineered, and mixed by Shane O’Connor. Through this initiative, a handful of underappreciated local bands-whose ranks include both Quiet Loudly and Gunfight, in addition to previous Ampeater featured artists Shark? and Quilty-were given the opportunity to cut track at Monsterland Recording Studio. (At this point, I can’t resist the urge to give a shoutout for the upcoming MMNY Festival at which all these bands are slated to perform on June 21st). In fact, Quiet Loudly did lend a hand (several hands?) to the version of “I Would Be Your Man” featured on this digital 7-inch. The original recording of “I Would Be Your Man” has a prominent folk vibe, with slide guitar and sound effects that seem like they may have come from a spaghetti western. But, in the studio, Gunfight decided that their track would benefit from a large ensemble and turned to Quiet Loudly-a decision probably influenced in part by the fact that they share a bassist, Anthony Aquilino. The result is a rowdy rendition which portrays the energy and urgency of the live show in convenient mp3 format.
I once believed that I had outgrown my love for scorching guitar solos when I graduated from high-school but “I Would Be Your Man” forces me to question my assumptions. I now suspect my soft spot did not diminish but was simply shrouded by a thick cloud of skepticism. Actually, the guitar solo is only the tip of the iceberg. The cut is an unabashed rock anthem. Yet it is full of tasteful subtleties that become more evident with repeat listens and which shed a new light on the boisterous excess. Perhaps this is why it penetrates the cloud of skepticism, and calls to me. I also suspect that a healthy dose of excess is prerequisite to the party vibe so convincingly evoked.
Some music is inherently loud. Some music is not. Heavy metal was made to be blasted. Antonio Carlos Jobim was not. Quiet Loudly seems to realize this. The band demonstrates a rare ability to make the calm moments boom, and can find tranquility in the midst of the thickest distortion. Check them out. I hope that you-like the hypothetical iconic rock band, and like me-will find your love for the classic rekindled by their astute and fresh perspective.
Be My Baby Mama
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem134/01 Be My Baby Mama.mp3
I Would Be Your Man
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem134/02 I Would Be Your Man.mp3