Planks | O

Of course we are kind of far apart from a musical perspective. It matches nonetheless from a “mood of the music” perspective and especially on a human level. There needed to be some kind of collaboration. (Yves)

Front cover

Front cover

With these words Yves of the Belgian/Dutch/German Post Rock outfit Ο (pronounced as “circle” and a SEO nightmare) explained the reasons for the split 7″ of his band with Germany’s PLANKS. The exceptionality of such a collaboration is not the mere fact of a split 7″ of course. But when two extremely strong innovative forces of the current underground music scene find themselves on the same record it is remarkable for sure. All the more because both bands feature a cover song on their side of the EP: PLANKS perform an hauntingly beautiful interpretation of the 1980 The Cure classic A Forest, Ο come up with the Laura Palmer theme from the 1990 television serial drama Twin Peaks by Mark Frost and David Lynch – a score that features a strong subliminal gloominess in its original conducting already but reaches a whole dimension in Ο‘s recording.

When asked about his opinion why the collaboration with Ο happened, Ralph of PLANKS states:

I forced it onto Ο, haha. No, seriously: I’ve been friends with Yves and Peter from Ο for a long time. We always wanted to play music together, which only brought a brief existing project which did not satisfy any of our needs. I moved away from Aachen, the city where we all came from. Nothing ever progressed after that. PLANKS already existed for a while and Yves started Ο. From the first demos I heard I knew this band will be way awesome. After their demo and their first LP I was kind of jealous, as it was a way of playing music I wanted to try for a while. Since I can’t change PLANKS into this direction and since they already do this thing so brilliantly I wanted to be part of it somehow. I threw in the idea to do a split and Yves was down for it. (Ralph)

The long-lasting friendship of certain band members probably did not lead to a similar mood in both band’s musical visions – but surely consistent friendships are often based on resembling views and preferences, especially when it comes down to music.

Ο‘s music exists for the pure creation of atmosphere. One might even dare to say, Ο‘s music IS pure atmosphere. The reference above describing Ο as Post Rock is actually quite inaccurate and falls way too short. The term in it’s commonly used sense just doesn’t transport the unbelievable, naturally flowing complexity of Ο. On its previous output the band created compositions so fragile and aesthetic that the listener immediately found him-/herself in the eponymous Black Sea Of Trees, on a strange and sometimes frightening journey through the wilderness in our hearts. The almost orchestral interpretation of the Laura Palmer theme on this split EP manages to keep this fragility and dreaminess, yet also recreates the tension between melancholy and uncertainty of the inital score.

For us it wasn’t that easy [to choose a cover song]. We worked with a female vocalist for a while but didn’t continue doing so. This would have made playing cover songs easier. Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” was an idea of ours. This got abandoned once we decided not to proceed with the singer, as this didn’t pan out. Our ideas shifted towards an instrumental track. Pretty fast we found a common denominator in the Twin Peaks soundtrack. We all love this song we chose. It has been covered before but sounded mostly very cheesy. It had to sound like a Ο song more than “just a cover” and we are pretty okay with the outcome. (Yves)

PLANKS‘ choice on the other side seems almost compelling. The band’s love for gloomy Post-Punk and Dark Wave became more and more audible with time, especially on last year’s Funeral Mouth.

I love The Cure. They are among my top 3 bands of all time. “A Forest” is, in my opinion, one of their strongest songs from a songwriting, lyrical and aesthetic perspective. It is definitely among my Top 3 songs by them. (Yes, I do a lot of thinking in lists). Also it seemed possible to transfer it into something we could play and make it sound right. (Ralph)

Just as Ο, PLANKS didn’t just play A Forest and made it one of those mediocre cover songs nobody likes to hear. To the contrary PLANKS made A Forest their own song. The interpretation stays very close to the original song for the first minute, which is basically the introduction of the main theme, also featuring that beautiful, short bass interlude. When the drums set in, PLANKS recede from The Cure‘s version – although never so far that one could not recognize the origin. Whereas The Cure (re-)created the blueprint for Goth and Dark Wave music due to the mechanic, uptempo rhythm, PLANKS choose to slow things down, giving the song a overall heavier feeling without destroying the hopeless, dark atmosphere. PLANKS version of A Forest features guest vocals of Mike Hill of New York’s Tombs, a band PLANKS shared a split 12″ with in the past and could be considered as PLANKS brother-band in the US, from a musical as well as an aesthetic point of view.

Ralph describes the difficulties of recording A Forest as follows:

To get the overall dark vibe of the song and mainly the vocals. Smith’s voice is just not possible to copy. My “melodic” singing is also not the best. So we tried different stuff. I invited my good friend Mike Hill to sing on that song. He invited me to sing on Tombs’ cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” a while back. Since I knew he loves The Cure as much as I do he was down to return the favor. The result turned out way better than expected. I had a different approach in mind first. Way more delay and reverb, but PLANKS is not only my persona. But now it is a really tight interpretation of a song we love in the sound we play. (Ralph)

As one might expect, Ο had to face quite some challanges as well in recording the Laura Palmer theme. It’s always hard to recreate synthesizer sounds with a more classic intrumentation, and even more to maintain the inital feeling of the theme while expressing it through one’s own voice.

Pretty much everything was a challenge there. Ben took a guitar and figuered out the basic melodies. This was the foundation. But as we wanted to stay “orchestral” we reduced the drums as much as possible. We ended up with only two sessions of working on the song as a whole band. Ben and myself met up to work out the details together. A lot of things were improvised in the studio and just happened naturally. It shows that we grew together as a band a lot. The track was recorded in one day. Everybody took himself back and therefore the song is not too stuffed with sounds and effects. This can become a problem if you have so many different instruments in one band. Everything is in its right place. (Yves)

Inlay frontside and record

Inlay frontside and record

Everything is in its right place – this phrase perfectly summarizes this record, not only on musical but also on visual levels. The artwork was done by Yves of Ο and perfectly supports the mood both songs create. The record sleeve is situated in a printed wrapper; the insert is printed on semi see-through paper.

Overall the PLANKS | Ο split is more than just another split 7″. It’s a record that shows both bands from their strongest sides. A split record that makes is impossible to pick a “winner”, because both bands sound so different, yet the consolidation on one record seems like the most natural thing. It’s astonishing how two bands can approach music so differently yet are nonetheless so close to each other. PLANKS | Ο are a perfect match in every aspect. Not to mention the tasteful choices of the cover songs.

And both bands seem to be quite satisfied with the outcome, too:

From a musical point: 95%. I aimed for an even darker mood, but you just can’t beat the original. The vocals are, again, like with the The Afghan Whigs cover [PLANKS did a while back], the Achilles Heel. We kind of cheated our way out of it, haha. But no, it’s cool and all, but I feel the urge to work on my voice more for the next recordings we do. Also there are still three songs that I want to cover somewhere along the road, and they will need a better voice for sure. (Ralph)

There is always room for more. But for the short timeframe of interpreting, arranging and recording we’re happy. Sounds and arrangements may have been better with more time. Overall we’re satisfied. It was definitely cool to play even more orchestral than on the first LP. We try to make to song playable for our live sets, but there is much work to be done for this. (Yves)

The PLANKS | Ο split was released on Alerta Antifascista Records on 7″ vinyl. The record is limited to 500 pieces: 300 on black, 100 on clear and 100 on white vinyl with black haze.
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