'Scented Pictures' by Nonpareils is the solo debut album by Aaron Hemphill, his first recordings since his departure from the band Liars in 2016.
Includes The Timeless Now and the title track. Glitched, processed and off-kilter, Scented Pictures is metaphysically restructured pop. It was in a German class, talking with a Serbian classmate, that Aaron Hemphill stumbled across the perfect album title for the debut of his solo nom de plume Nonpareils; his first recordings since amicably departing Liars in 2016. The classmate told him about collecting ‘scented pictures’ as a child, and Hemphill imagined her as a child, taking photos and scenting the prints with spices; gathering multisensory memories. “I later found out that in Serbia they made the equivalent to baseball cards targeted for girls that were basically cheesy landscape cards with really strong artificial scents added,” Hemphill explains. “Then I thought maybe this is even better! These still have this strong connection to memory precisely because they’re so artificial. It forces your brain to connect something that doesn’t fit with all the things that fit around it.” The songs on Nonpareils’ debut album Scented Pictures were directly inspired by these concepts relating to memories, or more accurately the sensory experience of memory. They brim with poppy ideas and lush colour, yet their structures aim at defying logic, filtering the songs into strange new psychedelic corners. Hemphill believes that encouraging the brain to fill-in the gaps in something—be it a piece of music or a specific memory—leads to an amplified, more vivid experience for the listener. The snippets of sound and image inside Scented Pictures’ songs were mostly culled from the musician’s own memory, and tinted by his entry into a new solo phase in his career. “It became the title because I wanted to make something equivalent to either version of a scented picture—whether it’s a cheesy perfume-drenched baseball card, or a hand-assembled photograph.” Based in Berlin since 2015, Hemphill started working on Scented Pictures by recording stacks of acoustic instruments while, in his words, “doing the silliest things”. He played drums without click tracks, encouraged his engineer to distract him, and played the piano while allowing poorly set-up microphones to fall away from the body of the instrument. Ultimately the sound palette grew out further, taking in a vast array of virtual instrumentation too, all glitched and processed into off-kilter pop music. While Hemphill’s relationship with the technical nuts and bolts of the recording process stays intact from his Liars years, going solo has had its inevitable effect. The songwriting displayed on Scented Pictures is metaphysically restructured pop, the wealth of sounds and sonic processes at Hemphill’s disposal having diversified and warped since Mess, his final studio album with Liars. Having played as a core member of the unpredictable and constantly evolving Liars right from the group’s inception at the turn of the millennium up until his departure in 2016, Hemphill’s no stranger to reinventing his approach. As part of Liars, Hemphill spent a decade-and-a-half finding oblique new angles on the rock band format along with the group’s other key songwriter, Angus Andrew. “It’s no secret that with Liars we always worked separately. Instead of jamming together, Angus and I would give each other finished songs. The difference with this is that you don’t have that other person to give you notes. You miss out on those suggestions—but then you can also get lost in it more easily. I really discovered the difference between writing six songs alone and finishing a record on your own.” Over seven studio albums with Liars, Hemphill disintegrated post-punk and noise rock, gradually reassembling it into widely varying records of scarred experimental synth pop and electronically-fuelled art rock. Having sought out new sources of inspiration following a long period of focusing solely on instrumental music, Scented Pictures sees Hemphill’s songwriting take on yet another new form, mutating into something woozier and increasingly abstract—without sacrificing the hooks in the process. “It came to a point that I just hadn’t written a song with vocals in a really long time - and I got scared. I didn’t know if I could still do it. I just wanted the vocals to add something more approachable. Writing the vocal part has been my favourite part of songwriting for a while, as it’s the most difficult part. It’s the gateway for a listener to hear the other details. Well, that’s the kind of listener I am. I get very attracted to a great chorus!” As well as getting back in touch with vocal music, diving into oldies where “every line could be a chorus”, and listening religiously to oldie compilations by legendary LA disc jockey Art Laboe, a quote by French special effects pioneer Georges Méliès was another key inspiration behind the record. "I must say, to my great regret, the cheapest tricks have the greatest impact." - Georges Méliès (1861 - 1938) “When I first read that quote I misread it as emphasizing his delight from fooling the audience. But then I focused on “to my regret”, which made the quote, to me, emphasize the difficulty in letting go of the rewarding elements of process in favor of what fits. Here’s this guy who’s a pioneer of special effects, and at the end of the day it must be actually frustrating that the simpler tricks work best; you have to get out of your own way I guess.” Hemphill took Méliès’ words to heart, letting go of his expectation that catharsis can only come through struggle, and let the ideas spill out in the studio, several of the songs coming together in no time at all. On the flipside, the eight-minute album centrepiece of a title track took Hemphill three months to happily finish. Via his own Méliès-esque sonic sleight-of-hand, the track guides the listener through a hall of mirrors of process vocal and piano samples. “I wanted the listener to forget how they got to this point, and forget how the song had evolved into its distorted crescendo—and I wanted to see if I could create this while only using the same piano from the more peaceful moment in the track.” The head of the album is a willfully woozy, thoroughly effective opening section, ‘The Timeless Now’ and ‘Cherry Cola’ creaking through slow rhythms, the latter fracturing a live drum kit into stuttering confusion beneath Hemphill’s consciously nebulous vocal delivery. The album periodically picks up the pace, the sequence having been notably pored over seeking to disrupt the listening experience of journeying in and out of Nonpareils’ cracked memory bank. Elsewhere on the record, Hemphill applies his hazy production to songs exploring a variety of murky memories. The jangling acid pop of ‘Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls' title fondly references a titular group of girls from Hemphill’s high school days, while the title ‘Ditchglass, They Think’ takes elements from skating around abandoned concrete regions in LA, the ditches littered with broken glass with tagger grammar. When the album was completed it sounded more to Hemphill like an album made by an obscure group rather than a lone producer, imagining a bunch of people being responsible for the sounds rather than a single person in an office chair. Hoping to further emphasise this idea the name Nonpareils was preferred over simply Aaron Hemphill, the first and most obvious in cheap and hopefully effective tricks employed to fool the listener. The confusingly written and pronounced Nonpareils in fact refers to (pronounced "non-perils" in American-English, known as Hundreds and Thousands in the UK) candy dots sprinkled onto cheap candy—”to make it more exciting” as Hemphill says. Notably, the French translation of nonpareil is ‘unparalleled’, “which I found quite nice for such a cheap candy,” jokes Hemphill.
- I Can't Feel The Freeze Or Fade (Intro)
- The Timeless Now
- Cherry Cola
- Ditchglass, They Think
- Invisible Jets
- Makes Me Miss The Misery Girls
- Scented Pictures
- Press Play
- The Fever That Goes Up And Down
- Fast Hat, Main Hat
- Most Boys