They say if you don’t like the weather here, just wait five minutes. The same might be said of the music of Massachusetts native Jake Zavracky and his band The Cyanide Valentine, who continue to defy stylistic expectations on their second release, The Three Sides of the Cyanide Valentine (available for free download now at cyanidevalentine.com). It’s a record that volleys seamlessly between genres from track to track, and often within the same song. Whereas the band’s debut was a mash up of bass-heavy funk and pensive acoustic ballads, Three Sides finds Zavracky leaning on a decidedly more electronic approach, with washes of synth feedback coloring the hypnotic guitar loops. “Neon Skyhustler,” a song that echoes the dreamier work of groups like Air is one case in point. Elsewhere, the band hews closer to a psychedelic formula like on standout tracks “Nice and Horrorshow” and “Neanderthals,” the latter complete with gorgeous harmonies and sexy backups from new band member Kate Papineau.
“If I had to choose one song to represent the whole album it would be ‘Neanderthals'” Zavracky says. “I love the way Kate’s voice sounds on it and it’s probably one of my better choruses. At least, I think so.” But, he adds, “I have really shitty taste in music though.” Having spent a lot of time talking about music with the Boston rock veteran over the years, I can vouch for that statement. Good thing for us it doesn’t apply to the music he makes, and Three Sides, like most of his past work in CV and his former band Quick Fix, is packed from front to back with memorable choruses.
So what are the “three sides” of the band, then? “Oh christ,” says Zavracky. “I suck at doing this. The first side is dense electronic rock with breathy vocals. The second side is dreamy atmospheric pop with a lot of Beach Boys-esque harmonies. Side three is kind of folky and finger-picked with hushed boy/girl vocals. I would say it’s dreamy, melodic electronic rock with a lot of harmonies. I mean it’s really split up into three sides, hence the title, each side slightly different from the one before. But one thing I’m really bad at is describing my own music. I’ve never been a good salesman.”
“I think if you look at our two albums separately there is a unifying thread,” he continues. “There’s very little that unifies the two. I think the new one is actually somewhat cohesive, by my
standards anyway. It doesn’t jerk you around as much as the last one did, which is an approach I like as well. The next thing will probably get back to that sort of all-over-the-place-ness.”
Credit the genre-hopping to a “sort of A.D.D.,” he says. “On top of that I think I have
a subconscious desire to be totally unsuccessful. Because if I really wanted to be successful I would make a record where every song sounded like the one before it, like every other band these days. That is marketable. But I usually just tend to think of things in terms of songs, not styles. Most of the artists I admire had a lot of stylistic changes throughout; it seems like a recent thing that bands have had to be one thing and one thing only in order to be marketable. And most of the time I don’t like those bands.”
After experimenting with a few different incarnations of the band, Zavracky has fleshed out the lineup with the addition of drummer Christopher Nathan Keene and bassist Brendan Reilly alongside Papineau on vocals and keyboards. “I am an asshole and nearly impossible to deal with and it doesn’t take people very long to realize that,” Zavracky explains. (I’ll vouch for that part too!) “So I have a little trouble keeping bands together. Kate, Chris and Brendan are all great musicians and fun people to be around though, no doubt about that. It’s definitely working like I want. Better than I even hoped for actually.”
That shows in the band’s live performances, which have allowed Zavracky to more fully realize and reproduce the complexity of his recorded output. But even still, the album is stuffed with so many layers of melody and countermelody, sound effects and electronic glitches, that it would benefit best from a closed headphones listen. “Ideally people would listen to it on headphones,” Zavracky explains. “I made it specifically with that in mind. I think it’s a really good album to listen to on the bus or the train when you’re trying to tune the rest of the world out, which is the way that I would always listen to it while I was making it. I hope it’s something people can get lost in.”