Welcome to another installment of The Pitch, wherein one of our senior staff members tries to sell the other on an album they haven’t heard. This time, Bruce unearths a release from an obscure ethereal band that has long held his fancy.

Judgement Of Paris - Conversion

Judgement Of Paris
C’est La Mort/Projekt:Archive

Bruce says: Back in 2001 I was doing some impulse late night record shopping downtown (God, do I miss actual record stores), browsing the excellently curated goth/industrial section run by a friend who worked at the shop (God, do I really miss actual record stores). I came across a name in the racks I’d never heard before: Judgement Of Paris. There were a pair of records with closely matched cover art from Projekt at a ridiculously low price, and feeling a bit flush and whimsical, I took a gamble on both.

I later found out that these were reissues of the two records the Minnesota band had released in the early 90s before summarily disappearing off the face of the map. I liked the idea of having this little chunk of the past which had almost floated through the aether to land in my stereo almost by happenstance, but moreover I liked the music: an elegant blend of stately ethereal and charming dream-pop which somehow has a distinctly 90s feel to the production. I’m curious to see if the band’s first record will send Alex off on the same late night reveries and meditative spells as it has me for the past twelve years.

Alex says: Man, I have such a conflicted relationship with so-called “ethereal” music. Bruce is especially familiar with how hit or miss it is with me, seeing as he was the recipient of a gross of Projekt CDs I inherited in a break-up a few years back. I guess part of it is that although I like a nice chillin’-in-the-crib-drinkin’-and-meditating-on-my-own-mortality joint as much as the next dude, it seems like bands tagged with the e-word often drift into medieval and new age sounds I just have no interest in at all. You hear me Loreena McKennitt? If your name isn’t Lisa Gerrard or Brendan Perry you can hit the bricks, we ain’t hiring. Alright, admittedly I fucks with This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins too, but that’s basically contractual for music nerds with my background.

Speaking of which, Dead Can Dance seems like the most obvious point of reference for Conversion, albeit a bit weaker in the vocal department (pretty much a given if you’re gonna make the comparison). Judgement of Paris effectively wrap all their songs in that ambience that comes from liberal use of reverb and chorus, each instrument staying clear in the mix. Between that and the use of big dramatic synth pads, eastern percussion and hammered dulcimer, songs like “Answer” and “The Lessons” basically sound like outtakes from Toward the Within, except that Judgment of Paris dropped this album 2 years before the DCD classic live record.

I do really dig the production on a lot of these numbers though, especially the ones where the guitar and the vocals take a backseat to keys of various stripes. Where I find the more darkwave-influenced numbers like “Answer” and “Spheres of Influence” a bit dry and overwrought, I can’t find fault with super atmospheric cuts like “Sixteen”. Stripped down to their bare essence, it and “Thirteen Months” have that gothic (distinct from “goth” in this usage, although there’s some of that in there too) sense of scope that suggests open space and… duskiness I guess? Not dark, not light, just bare and emotive. They’re pretty songs, and I even felt myself getting pretty accustomed to Christian Erickson’s voice, which at first seemed like it was straining to achieve a stately baritone just slightly out of his singing range.

All that said, maybe my favourite moments on the album come in the form of the shorter instrumental interludes that divide up the record. “Untied” has a really lovely use of some kind of wind instrument that plays off the synth textures really beautifully, as does “One”. There’s an economy to how they’re composed and played that I find really effective, uncluttered with additional instruments or production touches for maximum effect. Especially when they’re taken in context with the more traditionally song oriented numbers, having “Denial” split into three parts, with the first two as instrumentals building into the third which is actually a pretty lively culmination of all the musical threads on the album. I’m usually a proponent of brevity in albums, but if you’re going 60 minutes plus you could do worse than Conversion in exploring a few different configurations of instruments and song styles without varying too wildly.

So yeah, this is actually a pretty solid record. I’d honestly never heard of Judgement of Paris until B asked me if I’d be willing to check out one of their LPs for the site which is honestly a bit surprising considering how totally together their debut sounds; you’d think cats would be proclaiming it from the rooftops as a lost classic of sorts. For all the bands that have messed with this formula, few are able to pull it off without straining themselves, and most fall short of the quiet majesty that it requires to succeed. It’s dignified, it’s understated, and it went well with the three or four glasses of scotch I drank while writing this up. Couldn’t ask for much else.