First single from FLARE ACOUSTIC ARTS LEAGUE's upcoming new album/EP² Big Top/Encore.
Let’s chat about a phenomenon everyone knows (if not from your own life, then at least from the movies): In a particularly nice situation a certain song is playing, accidentally—say, on the radio. From that moment on this song forever and always will be associated in your mind with that situation, the person you’re with, that incredibly special feeling, etc. “They’re playing our song…” someone suddenly purrs, casting a knowing romantic glance at his beloved—in line at the supermarket checkout, maybe. As if the song were responsible.
Sentimental nonsense I call it.
Would you like to know what a great song is? Here we go…
In 2009 I heard a truly great song. The particular situation I was in when the song struck me is irrelevant, for it was insignificant and thus disappeared into the background after the first line. “When we die don’t look for me / In that special place you’re sure you’ll go,” LD Beghtol sang softly, then added baldly: “’Cause they don’t like my kind up there / For the Bible tells me so.” At that very moment nothing else mattered; everything else had to get in line—at the far end, behind these incredible 7 minutes and 13 seconds of music. The song was “Love Finds Andy Warhol,” which is by turns wholehearted and witty, political and personal, neat and nasty; simply put: a dream. It can be found on Cut, the fantastic, challenging last album from LD’s project FLARE ACOUSTIC ARTS LEAGUE, a band often regarded as an “insiders’ tip.” And here lies the problem: How can a song that reigns supreme—no matter what other beautiful songs there might be—how can an album with such style be just an insiders’ tip? Why isn’t LD Beghtol automatically showered with the boundless love and admiration he deserves? What the heck is going on here?
If you are blushing with shame now, that’s the spirit. Here’s your second chance. LD Beghtol, who incidentally sang some of the most beautiful songs on MAGNETIC FIELDS’ 69 Love Songs and with his band LD & THE NEW CRITICISM recorded the most remarkable Lisa Germano cover under the sun—to say nothing of his own wonderful original songs—has completed a new record, his fourth by now under the moniker of FLARE. Two EPs: Big Top and Encore… Appearing together for the first time under one roof!
In addition to the regular CD release, Big Top/Encore also comes in two beautiful special editions:
1) The so-called “Kidz Box” CD in sort of like a DVD case, but it has a convenient handle and is shocking pink. It’s designed to be carried around to show all Berlin Mitte hipsters with their weird bikes and absurdly small children’s backpacks precisely on which side their bread really should be buttered.
2) The heavyweight vinyl LP features gorgeously inscrutable cover art by the estimable Alex Lukas, plus loads of little goodies inside—stickers, postcards and temporary tattoos, etc. The extra-special golden ticket superdeluxe edition (good luck finding one!) also includes a mysterious envelope of forensic evidence, perfect for CSI aficionados and FLARE completists.
And if the packaging has caught your eye, just wait until you hear the music. Then once again everything—the whole paraphernalia—will have to go to the end of the queue. Behind this pretty façade exists an album even catchier and more accessible (but not the least bit less exciting) than its predecessor. Big Top/Encore is packed with brilliant, mosaic-like tunes where horns and strings perform circle dances with wee metallophones, decorative handclaps and other surprising fillips. And every note and every pause equally make perfect sense.
The opening song, “Last Clown Standing” is a veritable hit: energetic, organ-driven, heartsick and hopeful at the same time. The picture it evokes is a vast ruined circus—the loss of childhood innocence, the sickening debris and ashes—from which LD’s wonderful voice raises not one but a whole flock of phoenixes.
But LD’s voice is not the only one carrying the songs: Flare is a collective. Here the ineffable Dana Kletter finally gets the attention she deserves. This lady once was hired to sing the parts that were too high for Courtney Love to sing on HOLE’s Live Through This album; later Dana even got a gold record for her troubles, but has yet to receive any royalties. Here she duets in perfect harmony with Beghtol on “Does This Sound Appealing?” And yes, it sounds more than appealing. Among the record’s two-dozen-plus other contributors are Jon de Rosa (from the AARKTICA collective), cellist Julia Kent (of Anthony & the Johnsons/Devendra Banhart fame), rowdy Spanish troubadour Remate, and the exquisite Kendall Jane Meade (MASCOTT/SPARKLEHORSE). With each song and every sound, the playfulness and complexity framing FLARE are further revealed.
In addition to the eight originals, two cover versions are found on the EPs: “Yes I Do (Merry-Go-Round)” is a string-drenched cover of the PSYCHEDELIC FURS’ classic, and a loving homage to Furs’ timelessness; on this track, Jon and LD do their best helium-besotted Flo & Eddie vocal impersonations. The miniature “Bruises”—an a-cappella version of a deeply moving song by THE REAL TUESDAY WELD (aka Stephen Coates, the Clerkenwell kid himself)—blends seamlessly into LD’s scruffy bubblegum anthem, “Candyman Pariah.” In this new context “Bruises” loses some of its heaviness, and even gains an almost positive undertone. Almost.
There will be two singles from Big Top/Encore, one from each EP: “Hideous Ethnic Stereotype,” a dead funny, less-than-two-minute pop gem about familial horrors including religion, incest and booze; and “Scenario,” my personal candidate for this year’s Übersong. “Scenario” is Pop in its purest form, with a wonderfully insidious melody, mariachi horns, toy piano, and a break that sneaks up on you so quietly from behind you’re left puzzled and enrapt. “Scenario” also stars some of LD’s most vicious (and funny) lyrics. That’s how you polish off an ex, m’dear! Whilst waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, for example. So that he will choke on that stupid “They’re playing our song” hogwash.
And if for some absurd reason my personal praise hasn’t been enough to convince you to take the rest of the day off for Big Top/Encore and forego all else, I suggest—right now, this minute—that you read the following words by Gail O’Hara (SPIN/Time Out New York/chickfactor co-founder) and Daniel Handler (whom you may know as Lemony Snicket—that’s right, the guy played by Jude Law in the screen adaptation of the first three “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books). Handler, by the way, also plays accordion with the MAGNETIC FIELDS. Not the worst references, are they?
13 things you should know about LD Beghtol
By Gail O'Hara
1. Historically his musical shenanigans have surfaced under these names: Flare, moth wranglers, LD & The New Criticism, Flare Acoustic Arts League, The Three Terrors, The Magnetic Fields (see 69 Love Songs for his vocals and graphic design influence), and so on.
2. After fleeing the beautiful south (Memphis, actually) in 1995, Mr Beghtol arrived on the island of Manhattan to corral the finest musical talent from within and beyond the city limits, including Mascott’s Kendall Jane Meade, folksinger Dana Kletter and Aarktica’s Jon De Rosa and so on.
3. He is an art-directing designer who has had a hand in many of popular music’s most fetching compact disc packages, along with moving fonts and pictures around at publications including chickfactor, the Village Voice, Outdoor Life and others. He worships at the altar of Peter Saville. (And Neville Brody).
4. He is maudlin, fearless, pretentious, brooding, angry and bored. On a good day.
5. As a vocalist, he can do girly choirboy but mostly is a channeler/flamekeeper of such 80s miserable pop gods as Mark Dumais (Crash) and Steven Patrick Morrissey.
6. His lyrics tend to be razor sharp, devastatingly witty and full of truths most people are afraid to articulate.
7. He’s one of the country’s leading murder ballad aficionados.
8. Crazy, all-over-the-place multi-instrumentalist -- including Marxophones, Aqualins, glocks, ukes (but not on the new album), handclaps, bass, wheezy antique keyboards, etc.
9. He is very much a man out of time and a very funny writer.
10. Currently a citzen of Bushwick (that’s Brooklyn), LD slept through 9-11.
11. This bearish chap was sporting extreme facial hair configurations before it was de rigueur.
12. He is a collector of strange and terrifying objects including Victorian memorial photography and obscure Mütter Museum-worthy medical instruments.
13. A career insomniac, he is outrageously prolific.
MY DORIC LIFE
By Daniel Handler
I first met LD Beghtol in the Chelsea Hotel. They’d flown out Marlene Dietrich for her unforgettable cameo in one of the music videos promoting A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck, and Yukio Mishima and Johnny Marr were throwing her a party. LD arrived late with W.H. Auden and Ian Curtis in tow, and we retired to a distant, scented corner. It was all heat and shadow, chandeliers and candlelight. Someone struck up a zither, and there was a tiny little monkey, impeccably dressed, working the cocktail shaker. It was the best sidecar I’d ever had.
Nine years later LD was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, performing excerpts from Mimi Parker’s opera-in-progress of A Handbook On Hanging. Billie Holiday had quit Hugo Largo in the middle of their first American tour, just to sing the part of Cathal. Bruno, the countertenor, asked us all to lunch the following day. Anatole France had made some gelato from whatever fruit it was that grew everywhere in everyone’s gardens that year following the war. A strange plum, a very tart apple, a lemon as sweet as a sweet tooth.
It’s difficult to describe if you weren’t there. HBO showed some of Buckminster Fuller’s lectures on the history of the ukulele, but it’s not always the text. It’s not even the subtext. It’s some note in the margin, something cheap scrawled in an expensive pen. And LD Beghtol always had very nice handwriting. When he switched drummers the world took notice, the way a brand new piece of chalk makes the Venn Diagram look so fresh no matter what the categories are, no matter where the circles intersect.
The first albums were dark as Dramamine. They boarded up the boarding school because Side 2 was so popular that the tears of the first years weakened the foundation of the Agnostic Chapel. An EP, a side project followed. He sang on that thing everyone talked about. Fellini refused the Giacometti Prize, and vice versa, on the grounds that Flare was playing that night and he didn’t want to be anywhere but in the third row with a flask of gin and a bouquet of Birds of Paradise, for LD. It was all for LD. And all the while he stayed humble, with gatherings every two weeks in the cottage thick with honeysuckle that he’d had lifted onto the roof of the Flatiron Building. He’d usually burn his fingers taking the corn muffins out of the oven, and I’d help him with a salve made from edible flowers while we all took turns reading chapters from The Violent Bear It Away.
Eventually LD’s long-proclaimed vision of performing on a triangulation of dirigibles hovering over Victoria Lake came to fruition thanks to a team of industrial engineers and Grace Jones. If you look at the famous photograph of the arm-wrestling party afterwards, with Placido Domingo’s face inflamed with concentration as he faced Mia Farrow in the third round, you can see my wristwatch and three of my fingers, grasping the arm of Amelia Earhart as we both noticed the same thing at the same moment.
Yes, the air changed. We lost too many girls overseas when the Coptic Light strategy failed to appease the gathering swarms. Charles Eames quit in a huff. The Carter Family gambled on a drum’n’bass album and lost. The President was re-elected, then assassinated, then re-elected again. I ran into LD one awful, steamy night - it was around the time that Frank O’Hara got bitchslapped on his way home from a Reverend Horton Heat show - and he collapsed into my arms, drained from the Martin Goreness of it all. I managed to carry him to the Indo-Chinese Fishery and he told me, in between gulps of Fernet, everything that was wrong with the world.
And then nothing. Frippery and bile on the radio. Bulgakov reading after Bulgakov reading, cancelled. The Edwardian song cycle was in freefall. Georges Ivan Gurdjieff announced that his sitcom was on indefinite hiatus. Dogs cried. The first four seasons of Our Spoons Came From Woolworths were put out quietly on DVD. I thought I’d scream if I attended one more jewel heist. Finally the authorities convinced a confused and failing Sir Robert Burns to sign off on breaking down the door of LD’s duplex on the trumped-up grounds that a sequencer had gone missing. He wasn’t there, of course. There was, as the old song says, a handful of glitter and a velvet slipper, but no LD Beghtol. I finished my persimmon and kept my mouth shut.
Drugs, people said. Drink. Touring with Chris Xefos. Undercover, for love of country, ferreting out simulacra along the northern border. Remixing. The Village Voice. The Eagle Tavern. Nico. Occasional bass work with My Bloody Valentine, drums for Irma Thomas, second from the left in the Shirelles. Everyone was wrong. You could smell it when you opened the packages that ended up on my doorstep, or on Madame Secretary’s. It was sawdust and elephant dung, greasepaint and cotton candy. Hope. Ballads. Handclaps. The Real Tuesday Weld. It would air along the midway, it would pass through towns in the dead of night who would wake up without their sheriff’s daughter. LD Beghtol had joined the circus and now the show, sphinxlike and laden with encores, was back in town.