Fox Food Records is a young, independent label based in Mirfield, UK, and among their first string of releases is the cutely titled I Was Trying to Get There but It Was Hard to See From the Balloon, a split album by Henry Demos (Mark Lentz) and Lewtrakimou (Lauren E. Walker), two key members from one of my favorite dream/noise pop bands, Nice Legs.
For those who also know and love Lullaby Land, Nice Legs’ terrific debut EP (see our review), I Was Trying is a fascinating twin portrait of two kindred yet very different artists and is a mandatory supplement to better understand how their creative visions mingle together in Nice Legs to give birth to a third synergistic sound.
Rather than listen all the way through at once, I personally found it better to approach the two sides of I Was Trying as two separate albums by two different artists, respectively, and to digest them individually on their own before mentally superimposing them on one another to better understand the elements that constitute the chemistry of Nice Legs.
Of the two, Henry Demos’ signature “fuzzy” guitar-driven, electronica-festooned sound is more immediately recognizable. His Side A is marvelously catchy and melodic, parading through a whirlwind of rock/pop influences (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized, Jesus and Mary Chain, and the low-fi, DIY aesthetic of R. Stevie Moore, for starters) both subtle and overt, conscious and perhaps unconscious. There are even some unexpected homages: the sound effect of layered feedback that closes “Electric Duck” seemingly references the The Cure’s “Fascination Street,” and I’ll be darned if there isn’t even a bit of Murmur-era R.E.M. in the jangly “So Slow.” All the while, Demos so thoroughly incorporates this myriad of influences into his own unique style that you never think he’s trying to sound like anyone other than himself.
Side A, for those who haven’t heard Demos sing before, also showcases his considerable skill as a vocalist. Whether swimming in spacey distortion or more unadorned as in the first half of “Tonight Was Dumb,” his voice has a warm and sweet quality. And you may be excused for thinking those lovely backing vox on “Electric Duck” and “Worried” are by bandmate Lewtrakimou, but they are actually by Demos’ poet-writer wife, Myra Pearson (though Lewt does make an appearance on the sublime “Starve”).
Complementing Demos’ endearing goofiness on the cover image of I Was Trying is bandmate Lewtrakimou’s elfish appearance, dramatically underscored here by her nearly otherworldly vocals in “Oh, It’s Amazing,” the song that kicks off Side B, her portion of the album. While more experimental than Side A, or Lullaby Land for that matter, repeated listens here will reward you with some fascinating nuances and textures.
However pixie-like her vocals on Lullaby Land were, nothing on that album will quite prepare you for the almost preternaturally eerie beauty of “Oh, It’s Amazing” in which she sounds like a Peking Opera soprano from space, or of “Cyclops Fall” in which she transforms into a forest sprite.
She comes back down to normal human range vocally after the first two tracks but not lyrically. Her lyrics are ultra-sparse and mysterious, with the entire lyric sheet for “Cyclops Fall,” for instance, being: “Cyclops fall and regain ground and cyclops fall and regain ground.” But with hopes of being forgiven if I’m wrong, unlike on like Lullaby Land, the lyrics here on I Was Trying—both for Lewtrakimou and Henry Demos—really aren’t meant to be as much of a focus. The sounds are the focus, and the words kinda blur into the background as part of the auditory experience. In fact, most demonstrative of this is a handful of songs on Side B that do away with language altogether and employ a sort of glossolalia.
Highlights of Side B include the aforementioned “Oh, It’s Amazing,” (and, oh, it is amazing) the slightly doo-wopish “Man, Tie a Sucker Down,” “Duty Free Boy” (which invokes Penguin Cafe Orchestra), the instrumental “Casserole” and “Everything Was Better at the Charity.”
If there’s a shortcoming to this album it’s in some of the slightly uneven mastering levels in a small handful of the songs which will have you adjusting your volume a few times but that’s no real grievance for what this album offers in return. If you’re anything close to being as big a fan of Nice Legs as I am, it’s a must-have, both for the way it helps you understand some intriguing differences and similarities of two of its members as well as revealing heretofore unheard colors from their respective sonic palettes.