Issue #84: We Fucked A Flame Into Being by Warhaus
September 25, 2017
Released On September 2, 2016
Released By Play It Again Sam
I can think of many reasons to complain about Mojo Magazine, such as their unreasonable worship of Paul Weller and Nick Cave, their almost complete ignorance of hip hop, or the way they give the past a bit too much weight over the present. But there are more reasons why I continue to subscribe to the expensive British publication, not least of which is the Mojo Filter, the encyclopedic reviews section that rates over 100 new albums each month and probably as many reissues. And I read each and every one, making it one of the many crucial streams of information I use to find new music.
That’s how I got to Warhaus and We Fucked A Flame Into Being, the astonishing solo debut of Maarten Devoldere, a member of Belgian band Balthazar. I think Mojo gave it five stars, which is uncommon, and that title made my eyes bug out even before I knew it was a D.H. Lawrence quote. Then there was the description: “Languid piano, sleazy Rickenbacker, intellectual Lothario. Lethal.” It sounded too good to be true. Well, it wasn’t — in fact, it was even better than they had described. For one thing, I wasn’t expecting massive hooks.
Take “Memory” for example, which stumbles in halfway through the album with a perfect two chord guitar riff and these nearly Lou Reed-level lyrics: “What’s a crack without a spine / What is love when it ain’t mine / What is luck without disorder?” Then the pre-chorus throws in some “whoo-whoos” worthy of Some Girls-era Stones and Devoldere’s gravelly voice takes on a Dylan-esque slur: “I expected to be refused / Though accepted if you choose / Not prepared for what would happen.” There’s a brief pause for air before the monster chorus explodes, still using the same two chord stomp: “I want a mem-mem-memory,” he repeats three times until: “It’s a shame, babe / You don’t remember a thing.” You’ve got your memory, Maarten, in the form of the ear worm you just planted in my cortex, slithering delightfully through my synapses. To get back to the verse, he employs a wonderful descending guitar figure that is almost addictively satisfying as the chorus. “Memory” is just one example of the solid and inspired craftsmanship that underlies everything on the record.
The sound world is also more distinctive than I thought it would be, with each song a juicy clockwork orange of interlocking parts and patterns made by spidery guitar, bass, cowbell-heavy percussion, spare keyboards, and heavily treated trumpet and trombone. The sound of the record makes more sense when you know that it was mostly created by Devoldere alone on a semi-functional tugboat in Belgium. The process is hinted at by I’m Not Him, a 20-minute verité documentary that shows Devoldere on his boat, smoking, drinking, swimming in his underwear, and painstakingly assembling the songs one instrument at a time, with occasional vocal help from Sylvie Kreusch, and sometimes suffering from a broken wrist. Watching the film made me realize that the album is an improbable triumph of artful persistence over dire (even if self-imposed) circumstances.
Finally, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer stylishness of We Fucked A Flame Into Being. Devoldere, or the character he’s playing on the album, has some of the swagger of later Leonard Cohen, the sleaze of Lou Reed, the dissipation of The Libertines — just a sense of danger and life lived on the edge, something that is all to rare in rock these days. “Against The Rich” is a great example, with Devoldere inhabiting the mind of someone who has sold out completely, someone so undeserving of success that he doesn’t even realize how unworthy he is. Some critics have objected to the lyrics, especially the line about a “champagne-drinking cunt,” but seeking polite sincerity from art is a crippled outlook. Thank god Devoldere doesn’t care about offending anyone — or overestimating their intelligence! Perhaps that imperviousness is partly due to his European origins, which may also be why he has so few listeners in the U.S. I’m trying to change that, one set of ears at a time. Please make yours the next pair.
P.S. I had some other things to say last fall when I reviewed the album, which ended up at #8 in my Top 20 for 2016. Warhaus’s second album is out November 3rd and, based on the first single and a funny and mesmerizing new video, I think we’re in for another treat.
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
Warhaus mastermind Maarten Devoldere, also known as the soulful genius of Belgium’s surging music scene.
Altogether, this is a very clever record. The sounds used in the production are a bit unorthodox. The interplay between male and female vocalist is quite interesting throughout. Plus, any musician has to love “I’m Not Him,” as the fourth wall is broken to let us know that the song is indeed “worth four minutes of your time.” I thought it was equally brilliant that following that audacious statement, we received a real time countdown, time-stamping the brilliance of the track for us as we drew closer to the four minute mark. This is Kanye-level self-aggrandizing/endearing. It’s rare to hear “firsts” in music, but we were certainly treated to one this week on OYR. The album also features a number of distinct grooves, such as “Leave With Me,” which includes some banging piano stabs, monstrous horns, and whistling. What a combo! I was also struck by the proficiency of the instrumental tracks. “Beaches” really cranks, and for a progressive hip hop artist, like Kendrick Lamar, would be a match made in heaven. The same can be said for “Wanda,” another instrumental from left field that sounds like a perfect home for some MF Doom vocals. Maybe I’ll try and remix that, and “F” that flame into being?
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
It never ceases to amaze me how music can make you feel senses of space and place. Reverb, for example. Throw a little slapback on that jam, and bam — three dimensions! But I’m not sure I’ve heard a singer’s vocal style convey space and place simultaneously the way Maarten Devoldere’s does. Press play on “I’m Not Him,” wait for the verse to kick in, and before you can blink, it’s 2:30 in the morning, you’re planted precariously on a barstool, soaking in the too-close conversation of a man you don’t know but are learning an awful lot about. (And I mean awful — how gross is the narrator in “Against The Rich?”) I can’t get over how near to your ear he seems, like you can hear a fifth or sixth coating of bourbon rattling around his vocal chords as he tries to convince you that “It’s about time that you’re leaving with me.” I got such a vivid mental image from listening to We Fucked A Flame Into Being, to that point that it even felt like I could guess what was waiting outside that bar. The late night vibe. The directness of the lyrics. The uncomfortable closeness. In my mind’s eye, this whole creepy scene plays out in a big city — New York City, maybe. Some place where you can’t avoid the paradoxical intersection of metropolitan bigness and claustrophobia. Devoldere’s singing is enchanting in the way it voices that paradox. And I may be weirded out by how close his barstool is to mine, but I’m not leaning away.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
I have never been to a legit jazz club (you know, like the one Ryan Gosling tried to recreate in La La Land), but I’ve consumed enough media (including, ummm, La La Land) to have an idea of what it would be like. Dark and smoky, everyone around me is wearing the coolest outfits and drinking cocktails while also being really into the music. I can picture these cool cats bopping their heads to Warhaus’ We Fucked A Flame Into Being in between sets. The record sounds classic, dark, and American, like if Nick Cave were from New York in the 1950s. But there is a twist here — Warhaus’ Maarten Devoldere is Belgian. I love “Wanda,” a largely instrumental track with strong horns and some samples that sound like “whoop do do do” and a heavy sigh. It’s not the kind of song I would normally single out, but it is so catchy and an excellent example of the Devoldere’s creativity and ability to stretch his talents. Even though it’s not representative of the album as a whole, “Memory” is absolutely a stand out to me — the big band rhythms are still there, but the Automatic-era-Jesus-And-Mary-Chain-meets-The-Raveonettes sound appeals to me so much that I would like a record full of songs like this, thankyouverymuch. There’s so much more to WFAFIB that I haven’t even been able to explore in my many listens. When I first put this on for my husband PJ (a former Off Your Radar scribe), he said, “This is Jeremy’s pick? My guess is that it will be challenging but ultimately rewarding.” He was exactly right.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
That snug space has probably never felt more expansive and boisterous.
Before I start this review, I need you to be aware of my unhealthy love affair with The Kills. They’re one of my favourite bands and I obsess over them so much so that I co-ordinate my outfits to the feelings I get from their songs. So when I first glimpsed the Warhaus album cover for We Fucked A Flame Into Being, I was reminded of The Kills’ cover art for Blood Pressures. When I hit play on “I’m Not Him,” I was reminded yet again of The Kills. I got pretty excited, but I tried to stay grounded. What you need to understand is that until this evening, I thought there was nothing that could derail my romance with The Kills… and I was wrong. For me, it was Maarten Devoldere’s velvety voice that sealed the deal on my future unapologetic Warhaus Fan-Girling. We Fucked A Flame Into Being is an effortlessly cool album that deserves your immediate and undivided attention. I can feel myself falling in love with another indie rocker (send help) because Warhaus really raised the bar for indie rock bands here. Someone go tell the Artic Monkeys that their greaser aesthetic from AM can’t carry them any further. Now, you may be able to enjoy music without ruining yourself but I can’t. Here is what’s going to happen with my life after Warhaus: I’m going to buy an even longer and darker trench coat, I’m going to loom around graveyards with a polaroid camera, and I’m going to upload black and white selfies with cryptic Warhaus lyrics that are sure to worry my friends and family. In short, I’m going to ruin my life. So thanks Warhaus. See you in the graveyard.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
I have found myself only listening to this album when it is later than 10 PM — it’s a perfect late night album. Even more, it’s a perfect late night driving album. I don’t like to make comparisons to other artists, but there are some very serious and skillfully executed nods to Time Out Of Mind Dylan, Transformer Lou Reed, and Cohen, if he had recorded You Want It Darker in his late 20’s. As with any noteworthy artist who puts out an album with an atmosphere this dark, there is a good deal of humor to be found here. It all blends together into a very film noir feel. Like if Sam Spade had moonlighted as a foul-mouthed lounge singer to make ends meet. I had an excellent time spending my late nights with this album and I’m sure it won’t be long before I’m doing it again.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
Smoking is not a habit that I ever picked up in my life, but listening to We Fucked A Flame Into Being made me feel like I needed a cigarette in hand. I’m not sure if that says more about the music or more about how easily art influences my actions, but I think it’s interesting either way. I had never heard of Warhaus before listening to this album, but right away “I’m Not Him” made me feel like I was listening to a Josh Homme project of some kind — something along the lines of Era Vulgaris but with less riffs and a higher emphasis on the grooves. I actually had to look up if Warhaus was in any way related to the Queens Of The Stone Age, perhaps this was a project of a frequent collaborator, but as it turns out there aren’t any connections here outside of a show that Warhaus once played with a QOTSA tribute act. Once I finally got over my hang-ups about the similarities that my mind drew, I noticed that this is still an album that makes a great soundtrack for late night trips through the New York City subway system. It was sleazy enough to keep me alert and paying attention, but it not dangerous enough to turn and run immediately. (Mostly, anyway… “Wanda” does run on a bit long for such a repetitive instrumental). A handful of lyrics stood out here and there, but the one that really caught me off guard was “Bruxelles,” and I don’t want to dive into my own personal drama, but I will say that track, particularly the last 90 seconds, summed up a lot of my own feelings. “It’s over and that’s it / I’m as easy a fuck as a fuck can get.” Not that hearing those words resolved any of my issues, but it’s funny how just hearing someone else express the same feeling you have can help lighten the load. Well, that and a cigarette… I assume, I still haven’t started.
Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie
As dark & cloudy as the record gets, there’s still plenty of color in the music, as this live shot of Devoldere & Sylvie Kreusch shows.
It was the limited self-classification posted to Bandcamp by Warhaus’s Maarten Devoldere, that propelled a super engaged exploration with We Fucked A Flame Into Being. The commonplace pairing of “alternative” and “indie rock” are hardly what the slow tempo, deep vocal, and conceptually explicit framework would inspire as first stylistic alignments if it was “play first, categorize later.” Oddly enough, for a handful of reasons connected with the primary character given off by this album, I found myself repeatedly reflecting upon folk, country, and Americana. If that sounds insane, read on. There’s a darkness to both the musical approach and to Devoldere’s singing style — an almost spoken character to it. When taking them in together, there are many a moment when instances of similar combinations by very specific artists, come to mind. The deep and dark (but instrumentally lively) tones of the Charlie Daniels Band classic, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” seem amusingly befitting at times, for vocal and lyrical reasons both (“You want magic / well count me in / You want Jesus / well I’m not him”), as do the slow, deliberate, and mildly unsettling sexual exploits narrated by UK Americana band, Curse Of Lono. (See their tracks, “Saturday Night” and “London Rain.”) Where the world born from We Fucked A Flame Into Being deviates, is in its instrumental preferences. Groups of horns, (“Beaches“) and intermittent hand percussion (“The Good Lie“) establish more of a modernized association — like with that of dark, often dangerous alleyways of NYC in the 1980s more so than that of the lone wolf found out in the badlands like Curse Of Lono’s dark Americana tends to elicit. Still, there’s also no denying that Devoldere also channels a very noticeable amount of Leonard Cohen’s vocal aesthetic all across the record. By the end of the 10 tracks, it’s hard not to wonder if, with a simple change of backing band and mix arrangement, Maarten Devoldere could pull of a serious outing in folk rock.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
Warhaus managed to surprise me. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the one-man-band’s one and only release, but I was introduced to some good old fashioned Lou Reed worship. In all seriousness, this was just what I needed to ramp up my weekend. It starts with some moodiness, and a sense of hesitancy. I loved how intricate and well-composed every track on this release was. It’s truly a half hour of power, with plenty of Velvet Underground tones to take you on the ride. And if you’re not a Velvet Underground fan now, you’ll at least fall in love with Warhaus’ subtle melancholy tunes. I was shocked to learn that this record was released just last year. I felt as though I had hopped in a time machine and taken off to another, more bohemian time. It’s wonderful to know that music like this still has its place. There are so many bands out there that have been inspired by Lou Reed, and all of them sound completely different from each other. It’s incredible to watch his influence impact the world to this day, and to watch musicians follow his suit and make art that is just as versatile, accessible, and amazing. Warhaus impresses me in what they’ve managed to do with so little. This is just the beginning for the band, and the future looks bright.
Catherine Dempsey (@coffincutieee)
Emo Kid Seeking Hardcore Band
I really hate the bad boy archetype. This is not some nice guy/neckbeard posturing — I really do just hate it. Nothing new has been done with it for decades, and it just falls flat in most mediums these days. In fact, it’s just a crutch of storytelling. The rebel with a heart of gold, or the bad boy the hero finally gets the courage to dump. You don’t need it. You want to show growth in your protagonist by having them leave a toxic relationship — do it and leave the motorcycles and leather jackets out of the story. And if you’re focusing on the opposite, trust me when I say there are hundreds of ways to show growth in a flawed character that don’t revolve around a realization that breaking the law is bad. Warhaus reminds me a lot of that bad boy archetype, stemming mostly from Devoldere’s drawl and phrasing. Just listen to the way he sings the word “fuck” on the record. It’s so corrupting, almost like he’s saying to a youth group follower who’s never even lied to his parents before. I found myself rolling my eyes at some lyrics, cringing at others (uttering “cunt” was a terrible idea), and I prepared myself to write the whole record off as a bad example of toxic masculinity foaming over into ’50s motorcycle lounges. But then I put it on again. And again. And then three more times and it happened. I found Warhaus’ own heart of gold within the music, just like a cheesy Lifetime movie. I loved his ability to subtly bring out a melody. I loved his willingness to step away from the mic and just let the smoky sounds take over. Most importantly, I loved how he deferred to Sylvie Kreusch in his own sonic world. It’s not that he ever let her take full reign of a song — it’s his world after all — but there’s a sense that he didn’t give too much direction to her in this music. It allows her to be her own person and makes her roam quite prominently across the whole record. For most, that should come across as just a given for working with musicians. But I highly doubt most musicians, when dealing with a sonic environment as dutifully crafted as this one, would allow anyone in such a vital role to have so much freedom here. When I realized that, well… I conceded that the bad boy in Warhaus had grown up after all. Warhaus proved to be that rare “rebel with a heart of gold” that rises above its clichés to deliver something equally enthralling and empowering. Well done. But don’t get any ideas, cinema writers. Just throw your version in the trash. Leave the reimagining to melodic geniuses like Devoldere.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Cities by Anberlin
Chosen By Kira Grunenberg