There used to be a live-action Saturday morning TV show called Star Stuff about two lovelorn teen pen pals kept apart by geography - the boy lived on Earth and the girl on a space station. Those old and lucky to remember the program no doubt still find themselves haunted by the conspicuous sense of emptiness and intimacy the supposed children's show conveyed. The same souls certainly remember the show's music, a powerful score wholly different than the pap heralding The Bugaloos, The Great Space Coaster and Smurfs of the day. The theme music was from Holst's The Planets, expressing the gravity of life more than the gravity of orbits or planetary ellipses.

Such is the universe of Her Space holiday. On Manic Expressive, one of the most original albums of the year, wiz kid Marc Bianchi expands on the textures of the critically acclaimed Home Is Where You Hang Yourself with songs richer in orchestration. Still, Bianchi's interstellar layers of electronic ambiance and chilling orchestral arrangements are les likely to turn to grandiose movements than intimate contact. The space dealt with in these songs is the space between two people. It should come as no surprise following a tour with Bright Eyes, were Bianchi and longtime girlfriend Keely transformed the bedroom pop of Home Is Where You Hang Yourself into a live show, Her Space Holiday should tweak its recording style.

"Every record I made up until Manic Expressive was a completely solitary effort," says Bianchi. "This time. Keely was involved every step of the way - from the melodies to the arranging. After all the time we spent on the road dividing the work into a 50/50 split, bringing her into the recording process seemed like a natural progression."

Bianchi now says he's like to continue working as a duo. It's not a bad idea considering the stunning braid of genres on Manic Expressive--a record with a sound all its own, maybe best placed somewhere between Radiohead's Amnesiac and Air's Moon Safari. Her Space Holiday has created an album of mood and groove, of classical emotion and electronic dance beats, folk music feelings and the sterile freeze of the future.

Labeling music fusing such seemingly disparate structures proves a difficult task even for the most tag-happy music critics. Bianchi himself doesn't fare much better.

"I really wouldn't know how to classify my own music," he shrugs. "I don't think that many people who play in bands could really comment on where the songs they make fit in exactly."

While Her Space Holiday's earlier releases were comfortably identified by critics as ambitious space rock, Bianchi's subsequent releases left some at a loss of words. This lack of vocabulary eventually prompted the invention of a new term - just what music needs. Bianchi even incriminates himself employing the new term, stating," The new material seems to be steering more into the electronic or IDM genre."

IDM - Intelligent dance Music - certainly seems a relevant label, but the songs are more personal and organic than what many associate with electronic music.

"Lydia" spurts and stutters like Kid A rolling on the bedroom floor, but Bianchi's lulling, whispered voice ensures the song makes contact as he sings, "The saddest melody just won't go away."

The lyrics are eye-opening throughout Manic. On the galactic, uplifting "Hassle Free Harmony," Bianchi ponders, "I used to think the world was round 'til I filled my head with sound." Meanwhile, "The Ringing In My Ears" is like Bright Eyes covered by Grandaddy's Jed the Computer. The song could have been composed by a poetic robot with a propensity for alcohol and a penchant for infectious hooks trailing listeners long after the music has stopped.

"There will always be human songwriting elements in there, but technology is definitely playing a larger role in the process than it used to," confesses Bianchi. "I think Manic Expressive is still a bedroom pop record in the sense of intimacy."

By his own count, laptops, samplers and plug-ins were all used heavily in the making of this latest album. It is undeniably an album of fractals - of nature approximated by technology, a flower rendered by a computer and calculus. Marc Bianchi, despite his incurable modesty, is a production genius. Stephin Merritt, indie pop's Phill Spector, comes to mind as a comparison. Both Merritt and Bianchi craft a multi-faceted, intricate sound from relatively minimal elements. There's a temptation, even on this latest, more collaborative album, to focus on the production as the real highlight. Bianchi himself admits he is most interested in the production side of the musical spectrum.

"Songwriting is my weakness," he confides. "That's why I enjoy remixes so much. I get the opportunity to work with singers far more talented than myself, but still have control of the arrangements.

Her Space Holiday is engaged in a quiet revolution. Marc Bianchi proves bedroom pop music is a match for the money and resources of innovative bands like Radiohead and Spiritualized. With those bands as peers, Her Space Holiday obviously leaves the corporate rock machine in the dust. Sometimes it's a wonder Bianchi is able to pull it all off without leaving his audience there too.

Bianchi fittingly cites the surreal filmmaking of Lars Von Trier as inspiration for much of this new album. Von Trier, although not widely known in American rock circles, is recognized, like Bianchi, for his ability to capture reality and interpersonal relationships. While Von Trier's lush film Breaking the Waves serves as one of two main forces shaping Manic Expressive, traveling serves as the other.

"It was all the incredible places we visited while touring both the United States and Europe," Bianchi shares. "It really opened my eyes up to how great some things still are in this world."

There's a line from "The Ringing In My Ears," one of the strongest tracks on Manic, best expressing what's going on in Her Space Holiday's music and how it reaches its intent.

"Maybe if the melody is filled with both the pain and the ecstasy of loving me," writes Bianchi.

It's very simple. And very human.


Mush Records