Remy Zero started from humble yet highly ambitious beginnings. Shelby and Cinjun Tate’s parents were spoken word artists and happened to have a home recording studio which allowed their children’s creative energy an outlet. Recruiting a couple friends, Cedric LeMoyne on bass and Louis Stefano on drums, the brothers created a bizarre musical experiment combining snippets of found sounds, delicate instrumentation and the powerfully soothing voice of Cinjun on an unreleased album named St. Genet. Several cassettes found their way to the right places and the band was signed before most of them could legally drive. Several well received albums later finds the band slightly altered in lineup, with Gregory Slay on drums and Jeffrey Cain helping out on guitar duties, altered in label, signed to Elektra after being dropped by Geffen, and looking for another go at the music scene.
The Golden Hum is a pop rock album, and one that is highly successful in its context. Shelby, the driving creative force in the band, seems to be drawn to odd textures and arrangements that add to the overall power of the individual song. The production of the album is fantastic, giving the album an overall sound while allowing each song its own soundscape. Balancing the music however, are the powerful pipes of his brother Cinjun. Angelic and soothing or mysterious and foreboding, his voice matches the moods of the arrangements to the hilt. Also worth mentioning are the vocal harmonies of the brothers, as they can recall alternately the oddities of the Beatles or overawe the force of U2’s Bono.
The Golden Hum – The album opens with the sound of a cat purring deep on the bass side. It’s barely audible depending on your sound system, but instantly sets the tone of what’s to follow by seeming at once alien and comforting. The song continues with clean guitar to which other instruments are gradually added, a showcase of the bands compositional ability. The drums finally enter with a crescendo only to lead to another build up around the piano which finally leads to a louder outro section of electric guitar that dissolves directly into the next song.
Glorious #1 – An interesting A minor guitar riff provides the main theme for this song, and is joined by a chunky distorted bass and the occasional pinch harmonic ringing in the background. The chorus is particularly dark following a F-C-G-G# progression that segues back into the verses. The highlight is a drum breakdown followed by a guitar solo of unison bends. Lyrically the song is just as dark, it talks of a broken love and the guilt that accompanies it as shown in the chorus lines “Back down to the glorious #1, my prints all over the smoking gun.” The song largely succeeds in that it creates a feeling of tension that complements its subject.
Out/In – An arena sounding instrumental acension begins Out/In and it is quickly followed by a verse of arpeggios. The chorus is a series of high octave voices that complement the vocal melody in a manner that creates an anthemic high. A sparse bridge leads to the repetition of the chorus till the end of the song. A highly positive song lyrically matching the instrumentation, Cinjun croons an optimists slogan “Go out and make strong your stance, you’re the best of them.” The repetitions and structure make this song standard fare for the band, but it’ll enjoy a lengthy lifespan for those looking for catchy pop.
Bitter – The name alludes to the subject, but really only tells half the story. The musical arrangement here is fantastic, as the guitar lines weave in and out of one another in odd ways, including natural harmonic whammy bar drops and chromatic descensions. The chorus leads to a brief musical passage that recalls the random noise bursts of their first album. The drums rumble and stop in a dirge like manner, enhancing the feel of the song. High background harmonies complement Cinjun on the chorus, and his lyrics fit the subject nicely. “Bitter, just one more day when it’s already been too long” is a succinct statement of a feeling that everyone has experienced, and the song gets across both the associated annoyance and underlying anger.
Perfect Memory – The first distinctly pop ballad, a simple progression and mandolin accents. The band pulls it off nicely, resting on Cinjun’s voice and great lyrics such as “Summers when the money was gone you’d sing/ all your little songs meant everything.” The harmonies of the brothers is in top form on the chorus and the bridge highlights Cinjun with a single long sigh of reminiscence. There is also a second bridge with barely decipherable whispered lyrics which lends to the intimacy of the song and makes this a whole hearted effort instead of disposable sentiment.
Save Me – The most popular song off the album, it’s currently enjoying a life as the theme of the show Smallville. Another anthemic song with a bizarre arrangement. A wah inflected guitar pedals through most of the song while the verse guitar does simple single chord vibratos with the whammy bar. Abstracted lyrics notwithstanding Cinjun does an amazing job on the chorus with a great backing harmony. It’s easily the highlight of this song.
Belong – Another simple ballad of lost but not forgotten love. The main textural element this time is a guitar line that slides and swells through the prechorus and chorus. The main does a great job of breaking up what would otherwise be monotonous by substituting an arpeggiated guitar line through the second verse. The chorus is memorable as is the sadly nostalgic outro that has Cinjun recalling “We had it all.”
Over the Rails & Hollywood High – An odd song on the album describing bizarre drug experiences and salvation from the habit. It’s placement on the album makes it stand out as one of the more rocking tunes, with noticeably distorted electric tones playing an important role to the feel of the song. It follows a simple format alternating verse chorus bridge and ending on two choruses. The following instrumental is the highlight of this song. Delicate guitar lines are countered by piano to create a melancholic soundscape.
Smile – Straight out of a quiet instrumental come screaming unison bends. The verses break into quiet arpeggios before building up to another anthemic chorus. The lyrics detail the troubles of a relationship, with the narrative persona taking a positive approach to his righteousness, as Cinjun states “You can cry if you want, [but] lets stop hanging ourselves.” It seems something of an odd combination, and suffers from formulaic structure and changing narrative perspectives.
I’m Not Afraid (The Queen of Creation) – A quiet acoustic number that seems semi religious. “We can no longer fight/we can never return to it/once we begin/ to see through new eyes up o’er heaven,” and a line from the chorus that was dropped from the final album that went “I can’t believe it/ but I have become/no one/ I’m really dead” both place the singer as a human soul looking back on life. The intimate acoustic in waltz time helps to create a nice atmosphere and carve this song its own niche on the album.
Impossibility – This one is a fast rollickin’ number with several drum breaks and a drum intro. The lyrics are somewhat nonsensical but show the band have a good time playing some alternative pop rock. It ends abruptly however, leaving the listener wanting more.
Sub-Balloon – Luckily there is more. This “hidden” song comes in some 6 and a half minutes into the track amidst a wave of ocean sounds. A pleasant positive number that is evocative of the bands earlier work, focusing on simple chords, Cinjun’s voice and a few found sounds.
The album is a great work of pop, however several tracks suffer formulaic structure. The lush instrumentation and skilled arrangement, along with Cinjun’s catchy lyrics and powerful voice make the album worth listening to and provide the band’s aficionados a glimpse of the bands potential in the realm of pop, despite previous experimentation in noise rock and Beatles-esque eclecticism.
The Golden Hum
I'm Not Afraid