Brooklyn-based indie label Kanine Records — the one that reps hip buzz bands like Grizzly Bear and Oxford Collapse — has had its ear on Florida over the past year and a string of worthy bands have benefited from it. West Palm Beach's lo-fi hang ten-flavored Surfer Blood is the most widely recognized Florida export, although St. Pete's own dreamy electro experimenters, Blind Man's Colour, were snagged by Kanine first. The label's latest Sunshine State acquisition is Viernes, a Winter Park psyche pop two-piece that never intended on becoming a band at all.
Alberto Hernandez and Sean Moore originally became acquainted via a mutual friend as teens tooling around the Winter Park music scene. That meeting didn't spawn an instant connection at the time, but several years later — after both musicians had graduated from their respective colleges and returned to the Orlando area to settle down into their respective Winter Park lives — their paths crossed again. The timing was just right; both were looking for a creative outlet, and shared similar taste in music as well as the desire to create it purely for the love of it. They also had coinciding free time on Fridays.
"He was living literally, like, five minutes away from my office in Altamonte, so I would cruise over on Fridays. I got out at 3, and he was done teaching at 3, too," Hernandez told me when I asked him and Moore about the evolution of their partnership in a phone conversation with both musicians last week. Since their significant others worked normal day jobs 'til 5, "we had this two-hour window every single Friday where we'd just get together and record some stuff and see what happened. It wasn't ever something we'd intended to make into a band. We just wanted to have fun." Hence the reason the duo eventually dubbed their project Viernes, which translates to "Friday" in Spanish.
That was in 2008, and over the next year the pair met religiously and holed up in their home music studio to jam and experiment. "The recording process for Sinister Devices [the new album] was a lot of this, like, spontaneous, two-minds-locked-in-a-room sort of creation, just basically spewing out whatever it was we could at the moment," Moore explained.
At the halfway point in their process, the two realized their spontaneous creations really flowed together well, and none of it had been arranged in any manner before they were set to tape. "We were literally writing the songs as we recorded them. And that's kind of how we made this record," Hernandez said.
The music that eventually became Sinister Devices is hypnotic, lushly-textured, acidwashed dream pop. High piping two-part coos, wails and sighs are delivered in gently rising and falling vocal harmonies; dazzling wall-of-sound sonicscapes and grandiose buildups march forward to unexpectedly quiet moments of loveliness; and despite the analog rhythms, synthesizers, samples, and electronic noise and quirks that make no secret of the music's electronic machinations, the tunes manage to retain an undeniable organic feel by way of the live instrumentation. Hernandez's primary instrument was guitar, but he also played his father's cuatro, a Puerto Rican instrument similar to a mandolin. Moore, a multi-instrumentalist versed in violin, guitar, bass, piano and horns, focused on everything else, with both musicians taking turns on synths and various other laptop techniques.
A fortunate series of circumstances led to the duo's association with Kyle Wyss of Blind Man's Colour, another area act with a similarly dreamy aesthetic. Hernandez and Wyss traded e-mails and Wyss was impressed with the duo's recordings. At that point Wyss' own outfit was in the process of working out a deal with Kanine, and the two then teamed up last summer to put out a free, digital split 7 — which included Viernes' "Swimmers Ear" single — and embarked on a short series of live dates in support. Pitchfork.com caught wind, requested a copy of the 7, and after Viernes earned high marks from that very important online music rag, the calls began coming in.
"Kanine was basically one that I had been interested in," Hernandez explained on his decision to go with label. "I liked some of the bands they had put out in the past, and Kyle was just like 'Hey, we're going up to New York after our album comes out and I'm going to pass this [7 recording] on to them because I think it's really good.'" Hernandez says the most surreal part was talking to Wyss about it online. "And he's like, 'I'm gonna play this for them [Kanine] and they're gonna sign you guys and we're gonna tour the world together.' And I'm like, 'Yeah right.'" Wyss did indeed pass the recording along to Lio Kanine after one of Blind Man's shows, and while the outlook seemed grim since the label only signed two bands a year and had already reached their limit, the whole thing ended up working itself out. "He actually e-mailed me the day after he got the CD, and said he really liked it and wanted to hear more."
Sinister Devices had its official release a few weeks ago and so far, the band's debut LP has impressed critics across the board. Here's hoping it will further help to alleviate the Florida music stigma. For far too long, the Sunshine State has been considered, at best, the place where talented artists leave to become famous somewhere else, and at worst, a musical wasteland boasting such natives as Limp Bizkit, Creed and Matchbox Twenty. With bands like Surfer Blood, Blind Man's Colour and Viernes paving the way, perhaps more of our wealth of talented musicians will finally get their due.