The Pleased: Luckey, Genaro, Rich, Noah, Joanna, Jay

left to right: Luckey, Genaro, Rich, Noah, Joanna, Jay

A bio: The six people in The Pleased were dropped at different points on the wide planet and all rolled, over time, toward the current geographic center of their world; San Francisco and its surrounding environs. Singer and guitarist Noah Georgeson and keyboardist Joanna Newsom didn’t have far to travel. They both grew up at the feet of the tall and pleasant Sierra Nevada Mountains, a setting that fostered their respective studies of music. A recommendation from composer Terry Riley allowed Noah to earn a Master’s degree in music from Mills College, where he learned to write music for orchestras and computers, and where he met Joanna. She is a trained harpist and pianist who, on her own, makes music of increasingly renowned beauty, and has toured with the likes of Will Oldham, Smog, and Cat Power. Rich Good, guitarist and vocalist, had the furthest to travel. Growing up in the same small town in the south of England as Robert Smith, Rich played in numerous bands that he is unwilling to talk about before following the sun and a lady over the wide wet ocean with an art degree and a headless Flying V. From the East Coast (New Jersey in specific) came Genaro Vergoglini, who, previous to playing drums in the Pleased, toiled as a professional skater and got an art degree of his own, occasionally being chased by men with baseball bats through the neighborhoods of south Jersey, and becoming mildly obsessed with the work of Marcel Duchamp along the way. Bass player Luckey Remington was raised among the forests and lumber mills of Oregon. One summer, he managed to escape from marching band camp to Utah, where he managed to escape from the Sundance Film Festival to San Diego, where he managed to escape from the sunshine to San Francisco. Luckey makes movies, and is largely responsible for the band retaining something of a plot. And out of the northern fog a new face arrives; Jason Clark now brings his untethered charm to the band. A change was gonna come and he made the move before it made a move on him. A broken down car, no fixed abode but a way with a Korg synthesiser brought us to Jay and he to us.

The Pleased played their first show at a (legal) herb seller’s shop in the fall of 2001. The shop promptly burned down just a few months later; the night before the band played their first big show—a spot at a sold out Great American Music Hall with the beloved Clinic. Things proceeded nicely—and with slightly less fiery destruction—from there. The Pleased found themselves playing larger venues than they had expected, and sharing bills with nearly every interesting band that passed through San Francisco. One day in the summer of 2002, the band decided to go to England for a tour, and ended up, for two months in a row, in The Face magazine, who named them one of the bands to watch in 2003. The Pleased didn’t even have a release, and so they had to smuggle their self-recorded, hand-burnt, self-designed, hand-stamped EPs through customs to sell at the venues. Upon their return, the band recorded enough songs for a 12-song double-EP, One Piece From the Middle. They would only sell as many of these CDs at any show as they could put together in the time between sound check and their performance. Again, it was completely band recorded, designed and assembled. Around this time, their music started being played on radio stations in the US and abroad, notably on the legendary Rodney on the Roq show in Los Angeles, and XFM in London. In the winter of 2002, the Pleased again sent themselves to England for a tour (still with only their self-released double-EP), this time as headliners. While there, they were asked to do a live session on XFM radio, and were again treated very nicely. They returned to the US to play more big shows with more well known bands, and finally, in the summer of 2003, were presented with an offer from a label that they decided was one that made sense. It made the most sense because the Pleased were again allowed (encouraged, even) to produce, record, master, and design the album themselves, but were freed from the chores of having to duplicate, assemble, and distribute it themselves. This allowed them to rest between sound check and performance, and the fruit of this newfound leisure is their debut album, Don’t Make Things.

On Don’t’ Make Things, The Pleased play songs about disasters, doctors, soldiers, horses, surgeons, money, conversations, Canada, and teeth. The sound is that of five people who are coming from different places to the same spot on a field, each in their own fashion—one of them lurking through dim hallways, one of them landing in a hot air balloon, and so on. It is an album about a great many things, but most of the songs evoke first and foremost a cluster of simple colors and shapes. The Pleased are aesthetically self-conscious, ardently so; their songs are deliberately, carefully wrought, militantly economical in their arrangement, and undecorated by that unapologetic sloppiness which is often mistaken for abandon. Instead, they layer their nervous, crackling, angular rhythmic sections with shimmering, extravagantly lush guitar stomps, embroidered throughout by vocals that are, in turns, raucous, glassily detached, decadently honeyed, raggedly elegant, and terse and clipped; the whole thing occasionally breaks spontaneously into a romping dance rhythm, or an almost baroque keyboard counterpoint passage, or a swell of thick, shaggy noise—none of which reads as discontinuous or disingenuous, but rather like the sleep-talk of a fevered child, veering between lucidity and lunacy, as the songs flare up into loose and looming aural shapes and then decay again into bristling restraint. The Pleased are no less passionate for being carefully thought-out; and, as ratiocinative as their sound seems, it is equally radio-ready, buoyed by a feral persistence shot through with an unavoidable glow of California sunshine. Noah, whose dynamic croon falls somewhere in the wide valley between Marc Bolan and Johnny Cash, and Rich, who has a sly English baritone in the vein of Brian Ferry or Jarvis Cocker, provide vocal melodies that are sturdy and enduring, and harmonies that soar and stack unexpectedly into choral masses and sunny swaths. The songs vary in subject from the obliquely political comment of Oh Canada, in which the band “eyes the provinces” and implores our northern neighbor to “please take us over,” to the absurdist fable of One Horse, the simple lesson of which is, “We all ride one horse.” We are the Doctor is sung from the point of view of an overbearing protector, and asks “where will you go when they’re knocking on your teeth?” and Another Disaster begins with the dig, “It’s getting too late to begin to act your age.” The words on this album are not merely placeholders or utterances upon which to hang a tune—they are measured and smart, and often paint unusual and fantastic images.

Don’t Make Things is an album of layers and textures bound together in intelligent and thoroughly memorable songs. The music isn’t scattered or stolen—it is precise, but it breathes, and while each song creates an individual space, the album as a whole is coherent and complete. The Pleased have succeeded in creating an album that is singularly glorious upon first listen, yet continues to reveal its full depth after many more.

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