‘Supersonic Parachute’: If this is music from another planet, book my one-way ticket
Composer/guitarist Andrew Boscardin is a musically well-rounded genius. He probably hears soundtracks in his head wherever he goes.
Singer/songwriter Whitney Lyman can bring out the lyrical hook in any rough track, with a sound that’s a cross between nostalgia and visionary.
What happens when these two Seattle artists band together for an authentic, post-modern throwback, complete with an elaborate vinyl package? Supersonic Parachute, an album two years in the making and one guaranteed to kickstart another vintage movement.
Boscardin’s a well-known musician about town, always trying to find a different mix. He released a major jazz-fusion big band mix with his Zubatto Syndicate not that long ago and had planned on moving to the East Coast to get his graduate degree. Somewhere along the way, the next, cool sound grabbed a hold of him again and he began to dream of the ultimate collaborative pop project with his musically-inclined friends. Graduate school could wait!
Boscardin went to work on mock-ups of his tunes, as well as rough tracks he recorded with musician pals, drummer Adam Kozie, bassist Tim Carey, and keyboardist/synth player Mack Grout. “I sent all of these to a bunch of different friends looking for someone to work on them with me,” Boscardin said in press for the record. “The idea was going to be something like Broken Social Scene, or the New Pornographers, where I got a bunch of different friends together to make a record.”
How about just two?
With the exception of an East Coast colleague, Lyman was the only other one to take Boscardin up on his collaborative idea. Boscardin didn’t see any point in pursuing this dream recording project further, because nobody else he reached out to followed up on their initial interest. They were just too busy. But then Lyman came back to him with something she’d put together with the bare bones of his music. It would be the spark to the morphing of Supersonic Parachute.
Boscardin didn’t know it but his basic tracks inspired Lyman to do more than one or two songs as initially intended. “Originally, Andrew asked me and a few other people to write for this ‘Secret Project’ he was putting together, aka, ‘Project Fun,’ where he just wanted to make an awesome pop record with his buddies,” Lyman explained. “He sent me the midi-instrumental tracks and I picked a few of my favorites to sing to. No one else he asked had responded with anything and he was about to quit the project, until I showed him what I had worked out, then he asked me to write the rest of the record with him, reviving the project, and it became a 50/50 collaboration.”
Blown away by all she’d done, Boscardin shifted his focus from group effort to a duet, letting her creative juices flow with his. “At some point last year, when the whole thing looked dead in the water, Whitney let me know that she had words/updated melodies/ideas for almost all of them,” he marveled. “That was really the catalyst for finishing the thing. At that point, it made sense to make it a collaboration between the two of us, so we re-did the two songs that were already in the can, with Whitney’s words/melodic ideas. It was just the best way forward for the project, to create a unified thing that was the sum of my and Whitney’s sensibilities… So Whitney really saved the ‘secret project’ from staying on the shelf for at least a good while longer. She tied it all together, turned all of those ideas/tracks into songs and provided the focus I needed to go raise the money, plan the rest of the sessions and get it done.”
Flowing over Andrew Boscardin’s fertile groundwork came naturally. The theme, vibe, and general outline of a story — a futuristic electro-pop world — just kind of wrote themselves. Whitney Lyman described the fun process: “The idea was to do something nostalgic yet current, but mostly just FUN! I wanted to unleash this side of my singing I’d been holding back and this was the perfect palette. Andrew wrote the instrumental tracks and I would listen to them over and over making up fun melodies and harmonies to sing on top of them. The tracks he sent were just numbered: Song #1, Song #3, etc., so I wrote all the lyrics based off the mood or feeling I got from each song, and used that to tap into my personal experiences. Most of the poetry I wrote is about love of some kind, whether it’s past relationships, friendships, self-love, or love for everyone. There’s a little heartbreak in there but it has this silver-lining attitude, because I’m grateful to have had those learning experiences even if they were painful.”
Besides the melody, harmony, and lyrics performed with that amazingly surreal, sweet voice, the multi-instrumentalist also contributed percussion, synths, electronic beats, and arrangements to the pieces.
Every song on this album is an instant hit, easily translatable to Top 40 radio for the mainstream and alternative crowds. Not an easy feat, but accomplished by this magical duo through equal parts natural affinity for all kinds of music (it shows, their genre can’t be labeled), a killer instinct for melodic hooks that transcend language and generation gaps, and a deeply ingrained musicality.
Described as an electro-pop album, Supersonic Parachute isn’t a no-brainer, manufactured piece of sugar pop. It’s serious, layered, eternally evocative ageless music that will play on repeat long after the needle’s put back in its place and the stereo phonograph’s turned off.
Everything’s done to near-perfection, without being done to death the way today’s artists tend to with the auto-tune and the electronica obsession. In that vein, the album sounds fresh, new, and different, yet strangely reminiscent from the best of the 1960s-1980s. Most definitely, the listener will feel déjà vu as the spirits of Devo and Procol Harum phase into a whole new universe altogether.
Intriguingly enough, sci-fi artist Franco Brambilla came up with the futuristic album art of a young female astronaut launching herself out of a rocket ship in the middle of the galaxy. She could easily be singer Whitney Lyman. Equipped with the vintage feel of vinyl, as opposed to the sterility of a CD, the art lends itself well to letting the imagination go wild and the mind wander, attaching far-off, romantic stories to the songs — just the way Baby Boomers, and now, 20-to-40-something hipsters, used to back in the golden era of taking the time to really enjoy listening to songs on a record player, “flying above, floating below.”
The entire project feels like it was meant to be, whether the participants realized the kismet or not. Andrew Boscardin wanted a group-friendly electro-pop project. Whitney Lyman found herself overflowing with an over-abundance of lyrically melodic spells. And this world-renowned sci-fi artist just filled in the blanks, connecting the two by osmosis.
“I’m All Mine” has already been released and embraced by discerning Northwest audiences. The third track off the album is the perfect amalgam of flirty girl power wrapped up in a tantalizing pop-funk come-hither, and a sing-along beat. Lyman can do more with one or two notes than anyone alive. She can take a note and turn it into an entire song. Every listener with a heartbeat will fall in love with her in this song. But remember, “Baby don’t you know you can’t have me, you can’t grab me, I’m all mine.”
“Love Is A Spark” comes in a close second as the next, radio-ready pop song. So many lovely notes hitting all points in a gush of a first crush, jammed up against a wailing, ‘60s-worthy guitar stretch. “Not Afraid” might very well be the perfect pop song as well, with a retro-guitar hook. “Bright Smile” is a lesson to all auto-tuned Disney casts everywhere; when done well, electronically manipulated vocals can be mesmerizing madness.
“The Skin I Live In” is a natural, organic opening to this space-age album. A cavalcade of techno synth combined with Lyman’s borderline inhuman descent immediately call to mind the album cover of the space girl flying out of the rocket ship for another exploratory adventure or the hunt for a new home (“I go hunting after dark. I’ve got my ear to the ground. Never missing a sound”). The lyrics both speak to earthly — adjusting to change — and unearthly concerns — literally adjusting to major change: “How many times must I shed all my skin?”
“Above Below” is Lyman as that space girl “falling below, floating above” galaxies before her, an amazing coalescing of thought, vision, and execution for all three major parties of this recording project, the mastermind, the melody maker, and the sci-fi artist. Through judicious use of synth and touch, Lyman’s voice takes on an alien form, projecting from the rings of Saturn down to earth, represented supersonically in the steady rock of keys and some wailing guitars.
“Stars Burning” elevates Lyman as a vocal aerialist. Her voice lifts into this weightless matter. Again here, she turns spare notes into a symphony. The almost robotic chiming of the angular orchestra heightens this hypnotic effect.
“Dreamboathouse” should cement Lyman as a songwriting master. Her light, lilting caress over easy-to-digest, yet calorically rich lyrics will resonate with every girl longing for true love. “Oh you’re a dreamboat, making the room float, oh you’re a house I wish I could reside in, spending every night with you… Wanna solve your mystery, wanna dive into those eyes.” Oh yes, please.
The coolest song on this album comes in at #9, “Super-Meta (#33),” an electro-pop song for Millennials: rapid-fire, cyclical, “floating in a stream… floating on a dream” of sub-conscious fuel, a rowdy supernatural confluence of dark material (“I’m not going to pretend, that my world’s about to end, no one’s listening when I talk about eternity, they’ll just have to wait and see”) in an impossibly perky exterior setting. “Super-Meta (#33)” wants to be and is a mix of many things fighting for a clearance — chaos, order, frenetic dance, Zen ballad, the dangerous fallacy of assumption, social masquerade, and inevitable truth — making complete, bi-polar sense. When Lyman repeats “Waiting and waiting and waiting” and “what I am what I am” toward the fade, brought on by galloping, jarring percussive grooves, she somehow makes each word count, familiar and new, simply with her intonation. Digging the piercing drum echo chamber punctuating her “Supernatural” mantra.
There’s a review for every one of the 12 songs from “Supersonic Parachute.” Singer Whitney Lyman found recording each and every one of them a blast. But the one that stands out with her the most is the vocal stretch of the last track, the powerful “Knockin’ ’Em Down,” for professional and personal reasons. “It’s a song where I really get to let loose and use my full voice and am practically yelling at some points,” she described. “I wrote this song at a time when I really needed some self-motivation to push through any obstacle. My close friend and roommate at the time, Jamie Maschler, and I had this thing where one of us would say, ‘Knockin’ ’em down!’ and the other would say, ‘Takin’ ’em out!’ anytime we accomplished a goal, overcame a challenge, or just needed a boost to get through the hard times. It makes a big difference to have a good friend who’s there for you to give you a little inspiration, and I hope this song can do that for others who listen to it.”
This entire album will.