Pearl Necklace

Experimental, improvisational, repetitive, subversive. Not what you might expect from a group called Pearl Necklace, then 

photo: Martha Fleming-Ives

A woman wakes up on Valentine’s Day and says to her husband, “I just dreamed you gave me a pearl necklace, what do you think it means?” He replies, “You’ll find out tonight…” At dinner at a swanky restaurant that night, he hands her a small, gift-wrapped package. She eagerly opens it. And if you read on, you’ll find there’s a punchline somewhere.

Pearl Necklace are Bryce Hackford and Frank Lyon, two musos who live in New York (Williamsburg, to be more accurate, “an influential hub for indie rock and hipster culture” according to W***pedia). They’ve made an album called ‘Soft Opening’ for the Norwegian wonky sounds label Smalltown Supersound. It’s a series of spontaneous electronic jams, steeped in the impro music traditions laid down by the 1970s German underground: Neu!, Cluster, Can, the various iterations of Moebius, Roedelius, Plank and Eno. The track ‘Doorbell’, for one, with its very funky but straight-down-the-line drums and sequenced analogue synth, could have been lifted from outtakes of the Moebius-Plank-Neumeier album ‘Zero Set’, while ‘Did You Feel It’ has a bassline very reminiscent of the track ‘Broken Head’ from the Eno-Moebius-Roedelius album ‘After The Heat’. 

“That is a favourite of mine,” affirms Hackford. 

“Those early Kluster albums and first few Cluster records were totally improvised, like ours is, although ours doesn’t sound like ‘free’ music, it’s more repetitive and maybe groovy in its own way,” says Lyon.

The Pearl Necklace project started four years ago, partly as a counterpoint to their more mainstream oriented bands. Lyon played drums in Keepaway, a tipped Williamsburg outfit often compared to Animal Collective, and Hackford is in a band called Behaviour. Before that, Lyon was in a college band with Andrew VanWyngarden, who went on to form MGMT, and was friends with Alexis Georgopoulos, better know as ARP. You can tell Hackford and Lyon don’t want to trade on it, but both heavy pals play on the album, and it was Georgopoulos who passed the results on to Smalltown Supersound.

“He didn’t tell us he was going to do that,” says Lyon. “We sent him the files and a week later he came back saying that the label liked it and wanted to release it. That was a nice surprise.” 

No doubt about it, Hackford and Lyon are fully paid-up members of the Intellectual Sound Manipulators Club. They talk freely about “sound as text” and ideas that veer around concepts like the meaning of meaning and meta-narrative. But for all the high falutin’ talk of improvisation and text, there’s no getting around it: if you call your New York-based experimental electronic music band “Pearl Necklace”, you are making a statement. And if you call the debut album ‘Soft Opening’, you are compounding that statement. It’s not, however, as straightforward as it seems. There is subversion at work here. The album’s artwork is the last word in sombre and artful graphic design and typography.

“Our interest is definitely in finding some sort of third space,” explains Hackford, somewhat obliquely, “and keeping ourselves entertained. Where language comes from is what makes us laugh, what gives us pause, and what maybe makes us stay in this state. There are two very distinct meanings and people can latch onto either one, but we’re not really interested in either in a literal sense.”

So it’s not about, y’know, “Porno Move #12”?

“We’re trying to not completely relieve those associations of any obvious support, so that it could be… not even less sexual, but more… anything else.”

Right. They have another album nearly ready, a film they want to get finished, and they’d like to come and play some shows in Europe. Maybe they’ll arrive by the tradesman’s entrance.

Oh, that punchline? That gift her husband gave her? It’s book called ‘The Meaning Of Dreams’. Boom, and indeed, boom. 

‘Soft Opening’ is out on Smalltown Supersound

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