Country of origin:
Type of music generally:
Ethereal, ambient, intense (as their website says)
Most recent release, Falling Forward (2000)
AllMusic's info on Basque
Basque sounds like a cross between Tuck and Patti and Hugo Largo, with a bit of Low thrown in for good measure. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The NYC-based group Basque is a duo made up of Maryasque on vocals and Brandt on bass. It's very open, airy music, with lots of silence written into the tracks. Maryasque has a beautiful, strident voice, highly reminiscent to Sinéad O'Connor's. She slurs and mangles her lyrics until they don't quite sound like English—though you can make out bits and pieces. It's a technique that's closer in spirit to Rickie Lee Jones than to Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins. Brandt's bass-playing is incredibly expressive; he bends and twists the notes, pounds percussively on the instrument, creating evocative shades of sound. The songs are precise and haunting—I couldn't get the song "Swollen Stranger" out of my head for days. (email@example.com)
When I downloaded a bunch of their tracks from mp3.com I kind of liked them but wasn't yet enthralled despite Craig and a couple of other people's enthusiastic recommendations. But they sent their discs in to the Ectophiles' Guide for review and I always listen to discs that come in, and damn, but these caught me and I immediately had to send away for my own copies. And since then they've dominated our disc players. Gorgeous music, which is great as background music and but which also wonderfully rewards intense listening—headphone addicts, prepare to be transported. Craig describes them wonderfully above, especially the expressiveness of the bass work and of the vocals. It's a remarkable combination. One of my favourite discoveries of 2000. (Neile)
They definitely are a band to watch. Great mood music. Amazing vocals. Great atmospheric tunes, great feel—but wouldn't recommend them to anyone who insists on understanding lyrics. (firstname.lastname@example.org
Never accessible, but always brilliant. Sometimes I find them exhausting, but I keep coming back for more.... (email@example.com)
Moody, quite often haunting. They have a minimalist sound, not so much in the way of it being stripped down, but more that only what's needed to make the songs work is there. And it works well. Mp3.com listed them as alternative rock, but I think they're kind of alternative to most everything out there. Definitely recommend checking out sound samples if they sound interesting because their music is difficult to describe, but quite beautiful and well worth discovering. (JoAnn Whetsell)
I've been getting increasingly into Basque after hearing them a couple of weeks ago in DC. The bass and voice fill the soundspace beautifully. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Basque opened their brief set with 'Wool and Water,' a piece off their debut full-length CD Radiate that pretty much sums up their sound. Brandt's echoed, propulsive bass with percussive clicks forms the structure, with slight augmentation from an electric guitar; Maryasque's crystalline voice swoops above, twisting words into pure sound-shapes. Theirs is an unadorned sound, sparse and full of silence. It is reminiscent of work done by Hugo Largo and Low. Maryasque's voice is a pure soprano; like Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins), she sings in a private language where the occasional recognizable word appears. Live, she bridges the gap between Celtic Mouth Music and jazz scatting (by way of Rickie Lee Jones).
Brandt sat on a stool during all of the set, slapping and tweaking his bass. At times it looked like he was barely touching the strings; yet a clearly plucked sound emerged. Other times, he was hitting the strings, producing subtle tones. Maryasque mostly stood still with her guitar and sang with her eyes closed. At its best, the music was hypnotic. The shortness of the set helped with one of the music's pitfalls-much of the material is similar and skirts the edges of monotony. (9/00, email@example.com)
Recommended first album:
Any. My personal preferences are for Radiate and Falling Forward. (Neile)
Oh. God. I'm besotted with this one. Minimalist, streamlined precision of a scalpel, but with haunting beauty lacking in surgical instruments :) This is amazing, totally addictive stuff... (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A lovely introduction to this duo's sound. While not quite as singular as the best of their other two albums, there's not a wrong move on this mesmerizing collection. Truly lovely. (Neile)
The find of the year. I had gotten it a while back but it didn't hit me until I heard their stellar set a few weeks ago at Kramerbooks in DC (at which I suspect I was the only one listening). Beautiful ethereal vocals, mostly over solid solo bass. (email@example.com)
I love this gorgeous mix of vocals and bass. You can get lost in it. (Neile)
I finally tracked down Radiate today. Stunning.
I recall a week or so ago commenting parenthetically about the Basque MP3s that I had downloaded, and expressing bewilderment, contempt and dismay about the whole MP3 thing.
My resolve is strengthened.
What my computer put out, dare I say this, is the most gossamer ectoplasm of this recording. To those of you who have only heard them on 1.25" Dixie cup computer speakers, buy the CD forthwith and at minimum take it to decent stereo, to listen to this. You'll thank me. (firstname.lastname@example.org
Falling Forward is the third recording by the New York-based duo of Brandt (bass) and Maryasque (vocals and guitar). Between the three elements voice, bass and guitar they sculpt a sparse sound that relies as much on silence as it does noise. It's a sound that mixes the ethereality of the Cocteau Twins with the emo-core aesthetic championed by Low. It's a hybrid sound: lo-fi New Age. The opening track, "Somefire," sets the contemplative mood, with a dark blue bass tone, over which a lone soprano wordlessly soars. It's a not-quite soothing track, one that avoids New Age schmaltz by telegraphing actual loneliness. The title track is an autumnal pop song, complete with a catchy (if indecipherable) chorus. Brandt augments his bass playing with audible, rhythmic clicks, while Maryasque s guitar forms a gentle circular pattern.
It's like an Innocence Mission song stripped down to the blueprints. "Grey and Green" evokes those colors perfectly, with a hesitant verse cascading into rich, rewarding bridge. Notes and space between them are given equal illumination.
Maryasque's take on "glossolalia" is unique: her words are supremely important to her, her conversational phrasing reminiscent of confessional singer-songwriters like Suzanne Vega and Jane Siberry, while still retaining an unearthly edge. Call it earthy-ethereal, the union of Liz Fraser and Phoebe Snow (on the low end notes). In short, she achieves vocally the inchoate, open-ended quality of Vega's and Siberry's lyrics.
Another model for this approach is the novel cover of Talk Talk's song "Inheritance." Talk Talk's Mark Hollis' singing is impressionistic and intimate, relying more on nuance than meaning; Basque's version of his song is an appropriate tribute. A miasma of bass-drone rumbles, while the song is sung in minor keys. Phoebe Snow's influence emerges with the jazz-scented song "In the hollow of your hand." Balancing out the straightforward songs is plaintive chant "Kamehameha" and the multi-tracked a cappella "Orange Colored Sky," which sounds like a cross between The Roches and Meredith Monk. Falling Forward does not so much move *forward* as move further *within*.
Even more melodic than Radiate; Maryesque's voice slips into scatting and Brandt's bass is jazz-scented. A couple of the songs are downright catchy, in an obtuse, ephemeral Basque-way. (email@example.com)
I always think I should like ethereal music more. After all, I love the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerrard. But much of the ethereal music I hear seems to lack melody and structure, and generally lives under so much reverb that it just becomes muddy and uninteresting. While there is reverb on Falling Forward, the music is sharp and clear. Maryasque's vocals cut through the mix, which tends toward simple and uncluttered, while still providing an atmospheric base (or maybe bass). And there are even some actual songs here! The title track, "Falling Forward", gels the most solidly, and for me is the strongest moment on the album. It sounds like a desperate plea of resignation, not so much a prayer but a release of responsibility (if anyone is responsible). ("God in this world I'm out of my head I leave it to you") The repetition for minutes only adds intensity and power (the track is 7:09 minutes long).
The rest of the album doesn't strike me with the same power, but it's still moody and compelling stuff. The album clocks in at slightly more than 30 minutes. This often seems to bother people, but it seems perfect to me. It's short enough that I'm left wanting more, but not so short that I'm unsatisfied. And more might unbalance what is there. Somehow, I'm obliquely reminded of Hugo Largo's Drum, an album that is less than 30 minutes long, but perfect. (neal)
Another short but wonderful disc by this duo. Somehow the music remains captivating, though simple—just vocals, guitar, and bass—and each disc gets more powerful and absorbing. (Neile)
Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.