Sick Yellow Flower

by buttercup

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about

March 03, 2005
by Gilbert Garcia

Buttercup debuts with 'Sick Yellow Flower'

To get the sound Buttercup wants for a song, they will bang on cookie cans, play broken ukuleles, or scrape car keys against piano strings. When these myriad noises are stirred, boiled down, and garnished by the attentive hands of the band and producer Mark Rubenstein, the result is Buttercup's disc, Sick Yellow Flower, an ambitious and eccentric, but never self-indulgent, debut.


Quintessentially a San Antonio band, the members of Buttercup have roots in the local scene and perform in other groups. Bass guitarist Odie Cole and drummer James Roadman are in the blues-rock outfit Los Mescaleros, guitarist and lead singer Erik Sanden plays in The Mechanical Walking Robot Boy, and guitarist Joe Reyes was nominated for a Latin Grammy for his work with duo Lara and Reyes. Yet, Buttercup is the culmination of their shared talents: a San Antonio supergroup. Their music is experimental indie-pop, catchy but challenging, and performed with a remarkable degree of musical skill.

In its current lineup since 2002, Buttercup hadn't recorded anything but home demos until 2003. James Wilton, a friend of the band, provided the impetus - and the funds - to begin making an album; he dumped $100 in change on the stage at one of their performances, and announced it was the beginning of their recording fund. "When Wilton dropped the money, and said you guys should record, then we started taking it seriously, and started doing preproduction work for the record." says Reyes.

The band went to work with Rubenstein, a musical veteran who guided Buttercup through the recording and production process. Sanden is quick to credit Rubenstein for his contributions, especially for the overall feel of the album. "It's a document of how we sound."

Yet, the band encountered several setbacks in making that definitive record. Originally, the band holed up in a San Antonio studio to make the album, but the experience was nearly fruitless. "We went to a fancy studio, at $85 an hour. We got there and found out that the studio was in a state of disrepair," says Sanden. "We were led to believe that the system we were going to use was ProTools, this fancy cutting-edge program, but the version they had there was ProTools Jr., the free version that you get off the Internet. And Mark came, and he was aghast".
Nonetheless, the band recorded 22 songs, many of which were unusable. Salvaging what they could from the studio sessions, Buttercup started from scratch to make their first album at Reyes' home studio.

"In essence, I think we really wanted to come out with a bang and have like a really bold statement record ... but those turned out to be the ones that weren't recorded as well," says Reyes.

The result of their home recordings, Sick Yellow Flower, contains songs their website describes as "quite thick, including string arrangements, horns, and lots of piano" and others characterized as "virtually live takes, the only overdubs being percussion and backup singing."

"Cutting Daisies," Sick Yellow Flower's opening track, shines with grand arrangements, while the following cut, "Twin Cities," sounds muted and intimate by comparison. Some songs are precise in their composition, and others leave much more to chance. "Epithalamium" is a sweet, straightforward pop ballad, whereas a disjointed and loose feel pervades "Parallax View," a song Sanden describes as "swimming through black Vaseline."

To unite potentially incongruent songs into a cohesive whole, Rubenstein and the band used the less-is-more approach. If a song needed a string arrangement, it was added, but if the song sounded powerful enough without tons of overdubbing, synthesizers, or multiple guitar parts, it was left alone. The best way to hear this aesthetic at work is to listen to the eight-minute "John Glenn," Sick Yellow Flower's opus. A song that potentially could have been drenched in layers of instrumentation was recorded with just guitars, drums, and vocals. "It would have been so easy to cop the whole space thing, and do like the filters on the voice, and get a Moog and make all the spacey sounds, but 'John Glenn' was perfect; it didn't need it" Reyes says.

To record Sick Yellow Flower, the band had to choose 12 songs from Buttercup's repertoire of about 60. "The wealth of material wasn't a problem, it was just kind of like editing it down to the best stuff" said Reyes. While recording, the band was surprised that they preferred the feel of such quieter songs as "Nov. 1" to louder, more up-tempo songs like "Johnny Appleseed."

"I think ultimately it worked out best," says Sanden, "because I think the record is really moody in a way that reflects better what we do and what we are." •

credits

released March 4, 2005

Produced by Mark Rubinstein. Buttercup is: Joe Reyes, Erik Sanden, odie., Jamie Roadman. Bedlamb Records BL-002 copyright 2005.

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Track Name: Cutting Daisies
How will we recover from the bombs in the war
As they tore the city apart?
I need a lover, not a killer’s smile
As she pushed the knife up higher

Of course you live with fear
Walking down the street
Shirt sleeves in the heat
Sickness in the alert
The rich pay to stay clear
From the rocket’s smear

If this new beauty has a mark
It’s grown ugly like our hearts
It had a lover
On channel three
But they kissed so hard, more like enemies do when they kiss each other

This lunar scene
Has no history
Is more like a dream
If the crater’s curve
Gives ya what you need
Watch the children bleed

Ahh, Ooooh oh oh oh (2x)

Bah Bah Bah Bah Bah
Track Name: Twin Cities
Mary touched the hand of her best friend on TV
they didn’t start out that way, you know, but they grew close
twin cities filmed live

Minneapolis lies under the moon
shining lakes like the window’s spill
of lamplight across the snow
it’s as cold as the moon tonight

in this world without men Mary held the pen
shaping all of the news in her leather boots
girls everywhere sit and stare like into the sun
to she her do all the shapely things they haven’t done

love is all around
she turns the world on with her smiling self-love shove
push then pull
I’m in love with the world tonight
Track Name: Epithalamium
“easy to find, in your face
a silence or a tower of grace”*
tiny fingers upon the cake
I denied my franchise
in a gazebo for love’s sake

if you had to arrange it again
would you elect this name, this day?
if you’re feeling blue under the veil?

satin rustles like snow on aspens
near Grand Marais near the lake
a bride at the turn of the century
“so crooked to move as a capitalist
a cancer, or a fresh young flower”*

as you sashay down the aisle
I know you, you know me
if you had to arrange it again would you?
would you?

Mary Beth the treeline swells with the wedding bells
Mary Beth the treeline swells with the wedding bells
Mary Beth in America but it’s so far north
Mary Beth the treeline swells but you feel like hell
marry us in America, almost Canada
Mary Beth, marry us, Mary

* from the poem “A Bride in the 30’s” by W.H. Auden
Track Name: In Spain
You got off that train
You packed way too much luggage
I felt my back strain
I waited there for you
We went straight downtown, the hotelier smiled
You replied with a frown
I waited there for you

In spain
the pain you felt will melt away
Just twist your arms and dance my love
It’s only lovers leavin’, a young breast is heavin’
Tears like the flood, tears that just come


I want to go dance
But not in English
So I can romance and gypsy twist the air
You know what it means to lose your mind
Escape everything, everything that is you

In Spain
the summer night could ease the pain
Just close your eyes and feel the loss
It’s only castles burning, a new path unfurling
Straight to the heart

In Spain the summer sun won’t fade away
Just stop your thoughts and feel the glow
It’s only lifetimes crumbling away
The venus hum inside your head
It’s only cities sinking
Under your endless thinking
That the pain bears no love
Track Name: Instant Coffee, pt. 1
Instant Coffee (pt. 1)

you’re there in your room
dispelling the gloom
L.A. haze like lake effect snow
the new police, you know they know
that you’re making coffee
it smells so good

now on a train
you’re moving away
to New York for an undetermined stay
what do you do?
who do you see?
when you’re speaking you’re speaking shaky Arabic
or is it Farsi?
take some more sour cold instant coffee

so it’s eight weeks in a New York cell
your wife don’t know if you’re doing well
only that you’ve gone
and that the men were cold
intractable late in the night

roll back, way back
roll back, way back
roll back, way back
roll back, way back
Track Name: John Glenn
John Glenn

tight white flight suit will cover me like a pall
i breathe with a mask and a golden mirror
bubble will spin it’s reflection back down
to the ground the reflection of me

me

i’ve got my thigh-high fly by boots
i smile while i play the camera’s goof
spinning so free oh my sweet wife half asleep
circumspect in the way i orbit you with the lightest touch
a touch of me

me

zero g and i feel fine oh lord
zero g and i feel fine
just afraid
i’m afraid
that i’ll come down
i’ll come down

the soft padding sound
of my slippered feet in my batman suit
the crack of dawn on a december day
mother mommy ma
daddy came here for me
mother mommy mommy ma
santa’s spinning spinning me

me

zero g and i feel fine oh lord
zero g and i feel fine
just afraid
just afraid
that i’ll come down
i’ll come down
Track Name: Parallax View
“Parallax View” (Sanden)

Parallax view
My sight was not quite right
I moved to see you
But something shifted slightly
Something inside of you

Further up hill
Now you’re riding higher
The lift’s schreech shrill
Your skis pokin’ sky

I follow you still

Long shadows cast oe’r the snow plow
Your smile maybe we’ll try it now

A pair of cats mewl
I saw that look of longing
Scratch a cat a place for two
But the pair was fightin’

How I long for you
Parallax View

Squinting against the glare so loud
You eyes just make me fall apart
Track Name: Cold to Me
Cold To Me (Sanden)

in the city it’s so hot
and the summer air when I’m trying to sleep
up and over
out to the balcony
wet a towel in the hotel sink
and stare at the lights below

you’re so cold baby
so cold to me

I wore my whitest
I wore my tightest shirt
I polished up my shiny new shoes
I imagined Neil Young much younger
his music in my head
where I could almost dance impossible moves
across the frozen food section

you’re so cold baby

from my home fires burning down
to your Alaskan palace
your Alaskan palace
you cold white goddess so cruel

you’re so cold baby
you’re so cold baby
you’re so cold baby
so cold to me
so cold to me
so cold to me
so cold to me
Track Name: Nov. 1
Nov. 1 (Sanden)

I make an altar to my dead
and I sit longing but I’m not giving up yet
all these friends have gone
so I’m partially cracked
and hapless, oh lord

if I ask you
I ask you
I’m begging you
to please show me how to make sense
of the way that you love

out by the entrance a photo of Tom Smith
on the pool’s edge ready to drop in
are you so lonely so that you can’t really give?
but darling you gave, I know

I ask you
I ask you
I’m begging you
to please show me how it would feel

there’s so much more than this
how the night and the half-light flows
the day recedes but you won’t
the old heart begins
the old heart begins
the old heart begins
waking, shaking with love!
with a new love
grown out of the half-light of us!
Track Name: Confirmation
Confirmation (odie.)

when you descended down those stairs
in the way no one ever should
you were good breathing the way of Syd
completely opposite, amazed at the would
engraved within the truth with every hit that is it
that is when you became God

this isn’t accidental though
to forget to remember those in greedy times
what he really thinks of that is this:
of those days that may exist
may they pucker up their lips
lean over and then kiss
your every incidental instances

I know you think this is my confirmation
but this isn’t over yet it’s a trilogy of vignettes
and so the sooner that it gets said
the sooner it will flow in your body and your head
the sooner it will grow in the caverns of your mind
the sooner it well fester embracing discord and rhyme

I pray that my god likes me now
he seems to forgive me and he converging
we’re in the dark now I and I turn on the light to see the dawn
with us writhing and enthralled
at the writing that is scrawled
on the proverbi-able three walled plastic curtained stall

I think that my god likes me now
he seems to forgive me somehow
he likes me now and then, now and then
he forgives me now and then, now and then
he digs me now and then, now and then
he likes us now and then, now and then
he likes me now and then
now and then and now
Track Name: Sick Yellow Flower
Sick Yellow Flower (Sanden)

here’s a sad story about sick yellow Tina
she used to work with Joe
she’d follow him around to the storage closet
and she'd start to breathe like this

you meet me early and direct
you smile slightly and stand so erect
yellow flowers in a vase
cotton blouse slipping down to show too much lace

this lovely fantasy turned sick on me
and I was snared with my hand unwittingly touching

you push against me I try to escape
yellow hair upon me
no incidental rape
you, I hear you breathing
why are you and I alone here in this filthy, dirty little room?

this lovely fantasy turned sick on me
and I was snared with my heart unwillingly wanting

you
you
you
you

it was you, long ago
breathing, heavenly
on the phone, long ago
breathing, heavenly
breathing, feeling some kind of sick yellow crush

you
you
you
you uh-huh
yellow
yellow
yellow
yellow uh-huh
Track Name: Downslide
Downslide (Joe Reyes)

you’re looking away
I’m looking at the worst drought in years
you’re feeling the strain
I’m feeling my own stare in every mirror

downslide, caught you on my downslide

I’m doing the math
you’re doing your best Enola Gay
I’m putting things off
you’re putting your bags right in the way

downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide

and we won’t name any names
you drink the remedy
and I take the blame

you’re right where I stood
I’m right in the path that you have carved
you’re so resolute
and I’m so emotionally starved

downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide
downslide, caught you on my downslide