Critic's Pick - Best Albums of the Year
"The most significantly stirring and addictive musical accomplishment we've come across in some time." - Ground Control Magazine
This double-record is of, for and about the group's fallen bandmate, Michael's Love & Partner, Summer Serafin. From NYC's premiere Minimalist Indie Dreampop Rock band...
"Of Love and Loss, the new record from NYC-based Bipolar Explorer is something of a departure from their previous work, it is at once quieter and more far-reaching. It is eclectic and spare, and altogether haunting.
The band, it turns out, was already staking out new ground before they recorded the first wave of songs for what would become this record. Having pared down to a drummerless core of two guitars, bass and vocals, BPX’s new sound was emerging as something more taut, emotional and urgent, and Serafin-Wells found himself writing different kinds of songs. “Somebody said of the last record that it was Westerberg meets Pavement by way of Wire, and that’s probably about right because that’s where we came from. But writing for this line-up and without drums changed that. And, of course, I met Summer and that changed everything,” he says, speaking of Summer Serafin, his love and partner, the band’s female vocalist. “I mean, she changed my life, clearly. But just in terms of the music, I think we started to go toward something that better served all that and closer to the kind of thing people – Low, Death Cab, Bon Iver – we love, were getting up to.”
Then, after a series of transcendent live shows and halfway into basic tracks for the new record, tragedy struck. Just thirty-one, Summer died from injuries sustained after an accidental fall.
Eventually picking up the pieces in the midst of their grief, the reconfigured band (with Jason Sutherland on second guitar and Eva Potter on bass) - armed with a second wave of songs written in the aftermath –completed the record, now a double CD. “It’s really of, for and about her”,
Michael says of Of Love and Loss. “My everything”.
Perhaps fittingly and, I learn, entirely intentionally, the post and pre-tragedy batches of songs are interwoven together. “Yeah, it’s not chronological”, he tells me “in terms of when things were written. But I spent a lot of time on the sequence. Of both discs. What was on disc one or on disc two and where it went. And we tried to keep in mind doubles that we liked. Like Zen Arcade. Or Being There. To tell this story.” Love is a mixtape, I think to myself, because Of Love and Loss isn’t merely a collection of songs or anything as prog as a quote/unquote concept album.
It’s more a testament. A testament of love which leaves one with more emotions than thoughts, in a way. Alive, infused with love and spirit and resurrection – Summer’s presence palpable and ever so slightly haunting (that word, again) – in a magical way.
“We just wanted to be together all the time and I just wanted to write for her. And she was so fucking magic intuitive. I mean, you can hear it on the tracks. Especially the one that closes Disc two, the second version of “Moulding,” which is essentially a rehearsal with me playing through my practice amp and the both of us singing a new song and the whole thing recorded just for reference on my iPhone. For reference. Thank god I have it. Not just because I fucking miss her, but – and this is why it’s on the album and this is why it closes the album – she follows everything I do with the most incredible sensitivity. Her harmony is unusual and perfect – this is why I say Low and X, she’s like Exene or Mimi – and she goes from loud or quiet, light head voice to deep chest voice not just when she hears me go but in the exact instant that I do. It’s not a moment later, it’s right fucking on it. Like telepathy. She knows where I’m going before I do, even. And all of her stuff on the record is like that. And we did those parts in one four-hour session because we didn’t ever imagine that we wouldn’t be back to do more. And that’s also why there’s so much outtake spoken word stuff of hers – like "talkback" – on the record. If Summer was here, there wouldn’t be any need for it – and she’d never allow it, probably – but I just wanted people to get the most visceral sense they possibly could of what a delight it was to be in a room with her. And another thing, it wasn’t just me bringing her along. She turned me on to some amazing music that I frankly did not even fucking know about. Goldfrapp for one. And you can hear Allison in Summer’s vocals – “No Answer,” especially, which we wrote sitting on my futon in New York. I wish... I wish like hell she was here. Not only because she was the love of my life and my best friend and my partner but because she made this band amazing and I wanted to make records with her forever.”
I’ve always imagined the greatest gift to someone we’ve lost, to their memory, is to live a stronger life than we did before, so that they can be proud of us from the beyond. The memories of them here are all we are guaranteed. Hearing this story could give one more courage to carry on. That indeed may be the greatest legacy of this testament to love.
“Every last step of this – the final mixes, the final mastering, the final art (the double CD comes with a collage poster of photos and an incredibly arresting cover, Alex Alemany’s painting “Mediterraneo”) – it was really hard to let go of because it felt like something was ending, “ says Serafin-Wells. “But, playing these songs out – and we’re not trying to replicate Summer’s vocals, no one could – it’s still something going forward. It’s like a kind of prayer to her and we know, we can feel it – she’s around.”
- Ground Control Magazine (May 2013) "Of Love and Loss" at CD Baby
"Of Love and Loss" on iTunes
"Of Love and Loss" at Bandcamp