Sacramento husband-and-wife duo Park Avenue Music marinates its piano pop in electronic abstraction
A connection can be established between the now-defunct Sacramento Symphony and Sacramento’s Northern California NoiseFest. Jeannette Faith, singer and keyboardist in the local duo Park Avenue Music, once accompanied the symphony on piano at age 13, and Wes Steed, her husband and the duo’s electro-noise scientist, once tweaked conversations from videotapes into unholy mutations for the delight of the 1995 NoiseFest. If the Nutcracker Suite house band and the annual chop shop of tortured electricity performed at adjacent venues, you might hear Park Avenue Music by standing between them.
“I really don’t know what kind of music we are,” Steed, 27, wondered aloud. “We just play music that we think is good and doesn’t happen to be playing on the radio.”
Park Avenue Music aims to provide a lighthouse in otherwise glum times, with its soothing yet melancholic and cubist-angled electronic music. With a new CD, For Your Home or Office, set to be released this month by Clairecords, the record-label arm of J Street indie-record retailer Tone Vendor, and with so many audio thingamajigs crowding the duo’s house, Park Avenue Music believes it will continue to tell sad stories that sound like good times. (Park Avenue Music released an earlier CD, To Take With You, on its own ZeroPop label in 2001; it was re-released by Modesto indie Devil in the Woods in 2002.)
The duo’s name stemmed from a quashed hope. “We wanted to play at cocktail parties, and we thought that ‘Park Avenue Music’ sounded classy,” Faith, 29, explained. “But who would want to hear shoegazer music at a cocktail party?” During the early 1990s, critics tagged certain noise-pop bands as “shoegazers” because their musicians were so introverted that they would stare at their feet during performances. In 1997, Steed underwent a brief “shoegaze” phase when he formed Park Avenue Music, playing guitar and drum machine with a singer named Chandra, whose surname he’s since forgotten. Faith, then a Max’s Opera Café pianist, replaced her—adding a Björk-like croon that’s often electronically disfigured.
Faith and Steed later married and “grew reclusive” in their home studio. They amassed an arsenal of 10 vintage keyboards and a telephone-switchboard-like analog modulator, which mutates electronic sounds into various shapes and forms. “We keep a balance between the organic and the electronic,” Faith remarked. “Everything works together but doesn’t get carried away.” Steed added: “Yeah, we don’t want [Terminator videogame] SkyNET.”
At the duo’s Capitol Garage show on March 28, Steed graced a laptop computer that fed crackled beats and looped noises through his bank of modulators, as Faith played a Rhodes keyboard and sang into a distorted microphone. Steed also shook a wand-like device that triggered static noises. Faith sometimes played an accordion and a melodica. The “Death Star,” a mirror-ball-like light, bathed the stage with darting curlicues. The 30-strong crowd nodded along and stared at the Death Star. The duo typically shares concert bills with the like-minded. “Anyone who does something where the lyrics aren’t the most important,” Faith said cryptically.
Faith’s backseat-vocal ethic may seem peculiar, given that she won the 2002 Sammie for Best Female Vocalist. Faith described a new song, “Golden Hummingbird,” thus: “We recorded [my vocals] straight, and then I said, ‘I don’t like it; mess it up.’” She added, “We never stick to the pop-song [formula]. It just doesn’t work for me; even rhyming doesn’t work for me.”
She explained that her songs embody “sad stories” that she envisioned while songwriting. Gentle harmonies, inspired by “sad but happy” bossa-nova music, are salted in. Faith mentioned that Operation Iraqi Freedom influenced For Your Home or Office: “When the news was too much to bear,” she said. One exception is “How’s Your 401K?”—which illustrates a “party of yuppie robots” muttering business-card-swapping catchphrases.
Park Avenue Music plans to tour briefly to promote For Your Home or Office, along with pursuing side projects like Lifeliner+, best described as Park Avenue Music with Steed singing instead of Faith. Lifeliner+ is named after an ambulance model—honoring Steed’s fascination with public-health vehicles. He also owns two hearses.