The Philosophy of Velocity

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The Philosophy of Velocity
Studio album by Brazil
Released October 3, 2006
Recorded Tarbox Road Studio, Cassadaga, NY
Genre Progressive, Rock, Psychedelic, Opera, Storyteller
Label Immortal
Producer Dave Fridmann and Brazil

The Philosophy of Velocity is a 2006 concept album by the rock band Brazil. Many of the songs on the album are lyrical short stories and vignettes, focusing on themes of isolation, paranoia, anxiety, and the supernatural with an emphasis on absurdity, dark humor, and camp. It has been recently hailed by critics as a crucial maturation and vital realization of Brazil’s vision and artistic approach, which combines a variety of genres, eras, and sound sources into a unique but recognizably signature style. It is the first Brazil record listing the band as a co-producer.

Concept[edit]

The Philosophy of Velocity is conceptually a two-layered work. The meta-layer focuses on an unnamed author trying to write a novel but suffering a severe mental block. This is alluded to in the opening sequence with the sound of typing over a delicate piano etude. The author eventually falls into bouts of paranoia and delusional psychoses, episodes of which are illustrated in several places on the album including the backwards speech between The Vapours and Cameo, the haunting whispers and absurd lyricism of Strange Days, and the disconcerting sub-harmonic frequencies used in The Remarkable Cholmondley Chute System. The second layer focuses on the songs as individual short stories or small vignettes, the subjects of which form various fragments of the author’s reality. The album ends as it starts, with the nameless author continuing to type away at his novel that will never be completed. Singer and lyricist Jonathon Newby said his major influences on the album were Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Mark Smith, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, and the poetry of Edward Gorey.

Musically, Brazil strove to create a sound as haunting and ethereal as the lyrics and purposefully blurred the edges of the sonics to create an aural tapestry that would envelope the listener in colors and volume. Fridmann was instrumental in helping the band achieve the spacious and expansive sound on the album, borrowing from production values not in mainstream use since the sixties and seventies to create a warm bed of sonics reminiscent of cassette tape hiss, and pushing the EQ levels far above normal to harness a level of volume not heard in most current music.

Recording[edit]

Brazil was actually scheduled to go into the studio with John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Blood Brothers) in January 2006, but due to problems with their former record label they were forced to postpone recording the album until the following May. The Philosophy sessions with Fridmann were scheduled only one week prior to entering the studio. Many of the songs on the album were recorded in pre-production up to three separate times in separate sessions over the course of eleven months leading up to the Tarbox sessions.

The album was tracked in May 2006 and mixed the following July at Tarbox Road Studio in Cassadaga, NY. Along with traditional rock instrumentation, the band used a wide array of non-traditional instruments, including grand piano, upright piano, Rhodes electric keyboard, Wurlitzer electric keyboard, Hammond B3 organ, timpani, concert chimes, glockenspiel, and Latin percussion. During the tracking sessions, the band would record with Fridmann for twelve hours, followed by another five or six hours of self-tracking. Guitarist Aaron Smith acted as second engineer, recording extra tracks of guitar, keyboard, percussion, and vocals until daybreak. A few inventive mic techniques were used on the album, such as a taxi dispatch microphone on the vocals, the use of Leslie on the keyboards and vocals, and the recording of certain guitar parts using a cigarette pack-sized practice amplifier.

The bubbling water and submarine sounds on Captain Mainwaring were produced entirely by guitar and effects pedals. Guitarist Aaron Smith employed up to three guitars looping simultaneous delays. There are nearly forty vocal tracks on certain sections of Au Revoir, Mr. Mercury. The backwards talking effect between The Vapours and Cameo was achieved with a taxi dispatch mike. The words being spoken are the children’s fable “The Magic Fish.” In keeping with his tradition of mispronouncing foreign and obscure words and phrases, Jonathon Newby pronounced the actress's name “Cap-oo-shee-nay” instead of the correct pronunciation of “Cap-oo-SEEN” in the song A Year In Heaven.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars link
MammothPress.com 8.5/10 stars link

The Philosophy of Velocity has been met with critical acclaim from many national print and online publications. Allmusic called it “a natural extension of all that has come before, yet a giant step forward for the band.” Alternative Press says “even name-dropping…their peers can’t contain or adequately describe what they have crafted for their follow-up to 2004’s A Hostage and the Meaning of Life.”

Track listing[edit]

  1. "On Safe-Cracking and Rubella" - 1:16
  2. "Crime (and the Antique Solution)" - 3:15
  3. "You Never Know" - 3:49
  4. "The Vapours" - 2:50
  5. "Cameo" - 3:21
  6. "Candles (Cast Long Shadows)" - 5:09
  7. "Au, Revoir, Mr. Mercury" - 6:20
  8. "Captain Mainwaring" - 5:50
  9. "A Year In Heaven" - 5:12
  10. "The Remarkable Cholmondley Chute System" - 0:49
  11. "Breathe" - 3:47
  12. "Strange Days" - 6:29

The Songs as Short Stories (and reported meanings)[edit]

On Safe-Cracking and Rubella
No known meaning. Jon Newby has hinted in at least one interview that the fact that the typewriter chimes five times may be an important hint.

Crime (and the Antique Solution)
The story of a man who discovers a rip in the continuum of time in his antique duvet. He exploits this discovery to change regrettable facets of his past, only to find himself fading away in the process. References Houbigant’s Chantilly perfume, a popular antique fragrance of yesteryear for women.

You Never Know
The story of a man who finds a mysterious business card in his jacket pocket. When he calls the number, he finds himself rendezvousing with strange characters of dubious existence. The phrase “Rappelez-vous?” is purposefully poor French for “Will you remember?”

The Vapours
No known story, but the song illustrates intense feelings of paranoia and neuroses. In regards to turn-of-the-century psychology, vapours was a colloquial way of referring to depression.

Cameo
A brief story in which the narrator feels he is being followed by characters in the films he watches.

Candles (Cast Long Shadows)
The story of a man who falls in love with a ghost named Adelaide that haunts his apartment.

Au Revoir, Mr. Mercury The story of three steam robots facing an existential crisis after all humans mysteriously disappear. Ultimately unable to find purpose, all three machines shut themselves off at the end of the story. The lyrics reference several everyday facets of yesteryear, including runabouts (automobiles), steam technology, and tea rituals. Also referenced are the L. Frank Baum (Return to Oz) characters Smythe and Tinker, of whom it is implied were the creators of Mr. Mercury.

A Year in Heaven
A lyrical three-part drama involving three nameless characters in their own pursuit of happiness and their inevitable discoveries at the end of the chase. The mysterious bridge in the song’s middle section contains several references to both serious and comical subject. Forsyth and Zebulon (the purported intersection where Duane Allman died), Earhart and Komarov (the legendary missing female aviator, and a cosmonaut who perished during re-entry), Capucine (a French model and actress who suffered severe mental disorders before committing suicide by jumping off a building, leaving her three cats), and the passengers of the Sultana (a steam ship that exploded killing over 1700 civilians and soldiers returning home from the Civil War, resulting in one of the United States' worst naval disasters) are all referenced.

The Remarkable Cholmondley Chute System
No story, but borrows musically from parts of Crime (and the Antique Solution).

Breathe
No known story, but the song possibly follows a last-ditch resort by the author to overcome the demons that plague him.

Strange Days
No linear story, as the song illustrates the author’s final descent into dementia. The lyrics reference Shel Silverstein (“…a place the sidewalks don’t go”), the Marquis de Sade and René Magritte (both of whom titled one of their works “Philosophy in the Boudoir”), the esoteric guild of Rosicrucians, and Brazil’s own secretive Ministry society.

Credits[edit]

Jonathon Newby – Vocals, keyboards, timpani, chimes, glockenspiel, tambourine
Nic Newby – keyboards
Aaron Smith – electric guitar, engineering
Eric Johnson – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, classical guitar, 12-string guitar
James Sefchek – drums, timpani, chimes
Philip Williams – bass

With

Dave Fridmann – co-producer, engineer
Greg Calbi - mastering
Jason Markey – Immortal A & R
Matt Miller – pre-production
Brand Smith – pre-production
David Schrott – album photography
Sons of Nero – sleeve art

Quotes[edit]

“PoV has a lot more pure noise. We pleaded and pleaded with our label to let us release the album on 8 track format, but due to fears of poor sales to a music-buying public that had moved on into the digital era, they wouldn’t budge. So we recorded it to sound like an 8 track in all its hissy, tapy glory.”

-Jonathon Newby, August 2006 Interview

“After more or less nine years of living out of a suitcase I started to become enamored with the concept of absurdity because I had seen and experienced so much of it in my life already. Absurdity became the order of the day in writing and recording the new record. Absurd subject matter, absurd lyrics, absurd volume.”

-Jonathon Newby August 2006 Interview

External links[edit]

Official sites[edit]