Big Sir is the longtime collaboration between singer/composer Lisa Papineau and bassist/composer Juan Alderete (The Mars Volta). Since its inception in the late 90s, Big Sir has explored a vast array of work centered on the fulcrum of electronic and analog beats, Alderete’s fretless bass and Papineau's dynamic voice. Their third official full length album Before Gardens After Gardens is the culmination of the duo’s enduring musical partnership. Says Alderete, “I think the beauty of what we do lies in our commitment to each other as artists. We will always put out music together because we respect each other's artistic perspective so much. I run everything I have ever created by her.”
At times danceable, others darkly haunting, the album is as visually evocative and it is musically compelling. "Something that Juan and I have shared since our last album is that we've found out that we have chronic life-threatening illnesses," Papineau explains. "Illnesses that make us face that our bodies are not permanent. More and more I started thinking, or really, was needing to think about how you don't fold up in terror having that constantly in the foreground." The fear and uncertainty that we all face in contemplation of death, and the varying ways we all make peace with it is the basis of the album's overall concept. “The hymn ‘Amazing Grace' speaks to the death of pride," Papineau says, "the death of believing yourself to be omnipotent, and how joyful and sweet this humble giving-in can be. So, on our album, Death is a ship, and her name is The Calico." It's an album of dance and celebration in death's insistent embrace.
Though created mostly in a back and forth between each other’s laptops, Before Gardens After Gardens features special guest appearances by The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala on drums, Broken Bells’ bassist Jonathan Hischke, multi-instrumentalist Matthieu Lesenechal, violist Heather Lockie (Mike Watt, Listing Ship), Matthew Embree (who also collaborates with Papineau in the duo ME & LP), Mars Volta drummer Deantoni Parks and a host of others on backing vocals. Bonus tracks also include performances by Money Mark Ramos-Nishita and David Sims of Jesus Lizard.
The album opens with a slithering fretless bass line that climbs alongside a round of Papineau's voices swirling around one another on "Regions." The unabashed pop hooks of "Ready On the Line" follows with electro-pulse beats, chiming synth bell-like loops and Papineau's powerful siren song highlighting the album's melancholy joy. "The Kindest Hour" begins with Alderete's soft bass chords and Lockie's violent viola trills leading into a distant, shimmering organ and lightly brushed drums reminiscent of the neoclassical innovations of Talk Talk's legendary The Colour of Spring. The song builds as the instruments intertwine before breaking wide open into a driving rhythm section. A plaintive piano leads the somber "Born with a Tear" underscored by delicately pirouetting bass line and pattering drum beats as Papineau intones, "You say the words and all the words make the tongue go numb..." Throughout, it's an album of subtlety and masterfully arranged voices -- both human and otherwise merged into one enveloping whole.
Big Sir began with a self-titled debut album and a remix disc in 2000 and 2001 respectively. The next Big Sir album Und Die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer was released in 2006. Alderete and Papineau first met in the band Pet. Throughout their relationship the two musicians have also continued their collaborations with other artists. Papineau has lent her vocals to a spectrum of projects such as the last two Air albums (10,000 Khertz, Talkie Walkie), M83’s Before the Dawn Heals Us, and soundtracks for the films Watchmen and Super. She has released two solo albums, Night Moves and Red Trees, and recently co-wrote (with Jun Miyake) and sang on a song for Wim Wenders’ Academy Award short-listed film Pina, as well as releasing the ME & LP collaboration with Matthew Embree in late 2011 via Sargent House. Alderete has played in Grammy award winning The Mars Volta since 2003 as well as playing bass with rap legend Kool Keith’s Dr. Octagon and the Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group. In 1999, he formed the project Vato Negro and released the album Bumpers on drum & bass label N2O.