IN THE VALLEY BELOW
“Come with me to the Pink Chateau/Down in the valley below”
For In the Valley Below’s Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail, their new album, The Pink Chateau, represents the latest chapter in an ongoing relationship that is rooted in both the music they create and the family which has followed. Relocated from their tiny, one-bedroom Echo Park apartment in Los Angeles, the now-married pair have moved to a 93-year-old house they bought in Grand Rapids, MI. There, they installed a basement studio that served as the birthplace for the sophomore release on acclaimed Bay Area, ADA-distributed indie Bright Antenna, three years after The Belt and its worldwide alternative hit, “Peaches,” was released.
“After spending three years on the road, we wanted a place to come home to that was quiet, and not so claustrophobic,” says Angela about the decision to flee L.A. “We found Grand Rapids to be a city with full of young artistic energy, a lot of people we’ve met moved here around the same time we did from the West Coast. It’s been inspiring.”
Solid touring in Europe and the US included festivals like Reading and Leeds, Austin City Limits, Rock En Seine and more. Appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, and other international appearances all seemed to happen at once “like a dream”. However, this sudden success wasn’t sudden at all. They spent years in LA playing in bands looking for a break. They self released a 5-song EP and shortly after signed to several record labels across the globe. “Peaches” first found the airwaves in Europe, debuting on BBC Radio One and climbing the charts in France and Germany. Becoming #1 on French Alternative radio. Over a year later, it became a staple on US alternative radio.
The Pink Chateau continues the pair’s thematic concerns – sex, relationships, power, temptation, paranoia, existential angst and mortality, the title track a metaphor for either erotic desire or the lure of hearth and home itself. The hybrid, atmospheric dance-rock synthesis they introduced on The Belt – which incorporated Memphis native Jeffrey’s primal rockabilly influences with Angela’s Stevie Nicks folk vibe – has now been seamlessly interwoven, the thick, drone-like buzz enlivened by surprisingly catchy melodies, sort of Jesus & the Mary Chain meets Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
Listen close enough, and you can hear Jeffrey and Angela’s story on these tracks, from the sparking synth squiggles in “Hold on Tight,” their own meditation on the miracle of the birth of their son – which coincided with their debut album starting to take off – to the scramble for power in “The Beggar” and the cinematic depiction of childhood innocence in the crisp electronica and grungy guitar of “Brass Ring.” “Sink or Swim” quotes a bird call for its lilting melody, a deceptively catchy ditty that captures the absurd turmoil of these modern times with lines like “X-ray man scanning my body/Yankee boy looking for war.”
The pair took advantage of the freedom of having their own studio to expand their songwriting and production capabilities, continually striving to do something “that we want to hear, but haven’t found.”
“Bloodhands (Oh My Fever)” was inspired by the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO. A story they hoped would fade but continues to haunt with documented police violence and racial tensions that beg “tell me why we do it”. The song ends with the benediction of a soaring gospel choir, which was recorded in Grand Rapids and led by local music phenom Debra L. Perry. The music video is a surrealist cinematic endeavor touching on race and sexuality and how we will all end up in the hands of our children.
“Control” is a jab at the relationship between the music business and artist. “Mr. Watchful Eye,” with its sly organ and clipped drum machine beat, is a cautionary tale about online invasion of privacy, couched in terms of violated sexuality.
“Elephant” is an ominous dirge about the push-and-pull of being together and the difficulty of communication that started as a lullabye, one of many they’ve penned for their own child. They traveled to Mexico City with inflatable elephants to film the accompanying music video. With picturesque land and cityscapes, they wanted to highlight the beauty of our neighbor country and its people. A timely statement during the current tensions between our uninformed president and his misconceptions of the Mexican people.
The story of this couple is rooted in their music – the thrill of finding one another, the pitfalls and setbacks along the way – are all exposed in the midst of seductive, slabs of buzzworthy pop that is at once a dream come true, and a glimpse at the reality within.
It sure looks like they’ve finally found their Pink Chateau in the Valley Below… and who would have thought that it would be in Grand Rapids, MI? It’s a success story, captured in what amounts to a soundtrack of their lives. No longer just reaching for the sweetest, sweetest peaches, Jeffrey and Angela have managed to take their own big bite out of one.