La Scala

La Scala

In the nefarious areas of Chicago, at an hour when nothing noble can happen, La Scala was formed. Their trade is in fully blooded rock songs, complete with guitars, drums, hooks, and all, sure. But, there is one important difference here, for these are songs that are heavy on the haunting, melodramatic air that used to be so common. Yes, yes, you know quite well this type of melodrama, and this type of song – anyone with a pained heart surely does. It is the kind found in the Sicilian alleys frequented only by the forlorn street singer, or in the smoky cabarets of prewar Paris, or in the tiny hillside villages of the Eastern bloc, tucked away all those years behind that iron drapery. It is this spirit, this old world sense of melody, that La Scala employs with such expert skill, creating a sound that is equal parts rock, Eastern European folk, and saccharine 1960’s Continental Pop music.

The frontman at work here is Balthazar de Ley. A childhood split between Paris France and Champaign USA taught him the art of melancholy and the art of song, both of which he honed in his previous endeavors with bands such as Menthol and Hum. The driving rhythms are provided by drummer Joshua Lohr, formerly of The Dirty Things, and bassist Jacco Kuipers. Rounding out the lineup is Kirk McMahon, responsible for the tremolo guitars and the thick blanketing of reverb.

The band made its live debut in early 2007 with a commanding performance Chicago’s Empty Bottle. This first live set and the general sense of elation it spread throughout the club quickly earned the band invitations to appear at a number of other esteemed Chicago venues such as Metro, the Double Door, and the Hideout.

Roughly six months after this first performance, La Scala began work on its debut EP, The Harlequin, which was released in early 2008 by Highwheel Records. It was recorded in one of Chicago’s dark corners and mixed by renowned producer Brain Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse, etc.).

The Harlequin [02/26/2008]

"Sounds like a nice strange mix of stellastarr* and Gogol Bordello."
"La Scala, Balthazar de Ley's next band project after Menthol and Hum, gets started with this energetic EP, which finds the domineering singer fighting for power over a driving gypsy band propelled by the rhythm section of Ryan Jewell and Josh Lohr, and the tremolo-laden twangy guitar playing of Kirk McMahon. De Ley has the gift of gab in lyrics that run on and on with no discernible meaning. ("Bon Vivant," the leadoff track, begins like this: "When love cries at you like the call of the wild, and adrenaline fills your very soul with desire, when lovers' eyes bat eyelashes like telegraphs gone wild, announcing every child you will sire. But with chemicals procured from some cartel who killed ten men in just one day so you could pay to put this veil before your gaze, ensconced in some inebriated phase, with no clear way out of this haze." Huh?) But he sings them as if they meant something, something important, in fact, and that's enough, really, especially with the music crashing along behind him. La Scala is a band with attitude, and listeners are likely to sit up and take notice if the rest of their music is as compelling as this brief taste."
"La Scala is a somewhat new local band that plays driving songs that are melancholy without being depressing."
"This Chicago combo is new about town, but does include ex-Menthol and Hum member Balthazar de Ley as well as drummer Josh Lohr of the short-lived but impressive Dirty Things, so it isn’t too much of a surprise that the songs on The Harlequin, La Scala’s debut, come out of the box fully formed. The sound here is another take on the sweet spot between the Thin White Duke affectations of de Ley on lead vocal and the band’s tightly-wound, new wave and new-new wave-inspired instrumentation. There are probably 500 bands trying to figure out how to dethrone the Killers, but there’s no reason why La Scala shouldn’t, especially since there’s such a charming arrogance to tracks like “Bon Vivant” and the title cut. “Should I ask you sweetly or indiscreetly,” de Ley deadpans on “Harlequin,” and the guitar chimes in an amplified approximation of harpsichord music — you can just see him holding out a bejeweled hand to some velvet-bustied ice queen in the high concept video they’ve almost certainly storyboarded already."
"LA SCALA is releasing a four-song EP, The Harlequin, by this energetic and buzzy local quartet, on both seven-inch and CD. The band's sound sheathes a core of shameless New Romantic-grade Bowie worship in retro-Euro duende that reeks of Serge Gainsbourg's cigarette ash. Why does this mix work so well for them? Mainly because they rock: they leave in the melodic melancholy of cafe music while cutting out nearly all that draggy ennui."
"The dilettantes in La Scala dress like Sicilian intellectuals and drape a similar style over smokey new wave, garnished with a touch of the Gypsy."