Flake Music – ‘When You Land Here, It’s Time To Return’
By Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Before we confused Broken Bells with Gorillaz every time we heard ‘The Ghost Inside’ – before Natalie Portman placed her comically oversized headphones over Zach Braff’s lusterless coif and out warbled ‘New Slang’ while our tender hearts melted – there was a little project called Flake Music.
Burgeoning New Mexican band Flake (later Flake Music), was a rambling, collaborative quartet back in the yore of ’92, consisting of James Mercer, Marty Crandall, Neal Langford and Jesse Sandoval. During their brief span the fledgling project worked to pin down a cohesive sound (rays of shimmering indie poking through heavy handed, somewhat maudlin alternative) and left behind one full length album, the neither mixed nor mastered When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return (Omnibus Records) in 1997. Remastered, remixed and cleaned up with newly updated artwork to boot via Subpop on November 24th, a scrubbed take on Flake Music is up for grabs.
This is exciting whether or not you’re a staunch early Shin’s fan or Mercer enthusiast. It’s a compelling education in the evolution of a band, where you can pinpoint how the development progressed as though it’s splayed out in front of you on an operating table. Kudos to Mercer and Sandoval for retaining the aspects that resonated the best when they formed side project The Shins in 1996 (which would eventually encompass all four members of Flake), heightening the favorable facets while diminishing the less enviable components. Even though I’m an ardent appreciator of 90’s noise, I’m grateful they ditched some of the clangor for happier guitars and (mostly) quicker melodies.
There are moments during When You Land (such as ‘Vantage’) that sound like perhaps somebody had come into the room and made the switch to a prehistoric Death Cab For Cutie playlist you had lying around without telling you. ‘Faded Polaroid’s’ finds Mercer experimenting vocally, sounding like a listless echo of Apples In Stereo, but you can palpably see the spanning of different concepts, with some tracks (‘Spanway Hits’, ‘The Shins’) sounding unapologetically Shinesque, while other’s drone and channel a little too much atmosphere. Mercer’s vocals are as characteristic as ever, but lower and more deliberately shrill, a shade sterner than the jaunty pitch he’d perfect years later on for Oh, Inverted World.
“I had really fallen in love with bands like The Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel, stuff where they were really writing songs and they were getting experimental with the recording,” says Mercer. “I wanted to do that, and that just wasn’t what Flake was about. We were about something that was different and very powerful—that thing of doing things together and everybody taking part in this sonic effort. There’s something really, really cool about it. So I knew that I would miss it in a lot of ways, and I did, but I just needed to do this new thing.”
So an indie statue was erected and The Shins became inextricably linked with quirky sensibilities and manic pixie dream girls everywhere, but just like any coming-of-age tale it’s hard to forget those first initial steps.
“I’m so happy about this record being remixed and sounding the way it does,” says Mercer. “Partly because it feels like what could have been looked at as a real waste of time, like all of the effort we put into Flake, all those hours hanging out, it’s like we’re undoing some sort of injustice, you know? It’s like some strange kind of redemption for us all.”
And that, ladies and gentleman, is what I call catharsis.
Stream When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return:
When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return Tracklist:
01. Spanway Hits
03. Blast Valve
06. Candy Dish of Diamonds
09. On the Playground, In the Wind
10. The Shins
11. Faded Polaroids