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Bitter: Sweet Symphony

Craigslist has been getting a bad rap lately. The List (an online community featuring a network of free classifieds) accepts millions of visitors each day; people in search of everything from a Friday night date, to concert tickets, to a slightly-used toaster oven.  It’s a great site. Enormously useful. But it’s also been very efficient […]

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Craigslist has been getting a bad rap lately. The List (an online community featuring a network of free classifieds) accepts millions of visitors each day; people in search of everything from a Friday night date, to concert tickets, to a slightly-used toaster oven.  It’s a great site. Enormously useful. But it’s also been very efficient at attracting crazies, some more dangerous than others.

Last spring for instance, we were introduced to Michael John Anderson, a 20-year-old man from the Midwestern United States, who was convicted and charged with murdering a babysitter he found through the site. Weeks later, it was Philip Markoff, a clean-cut medical student from Boston, Massachusetts with a dark side. People were quick to nickname him the ”˜Craigslist Killer’ after word spread that he had found a masseuse online, lured her to a hotel room and killed her.

But the site brings people together in more positive ways too. Ways that don’t involve”¦ you know, death. It is, for instance, how the Los Angeles-based musicians Shana Halligan and Kiran Shanani met to form Bitter:Sweet. The latter needed a new bandmate and posted a call online. “ ”˜Electronica producer, looking for female vocalist,’ it said. Something like that anyway,” remembers Shana (daughter of Dick Halligan, the Grammy-winning composer and a founding member of the Seventies jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears). She responded, but not without some hesitation. “I’d been doing music for a while, and I was growing very disenchanted with how everything was,” she says. “It was more about the business of it. I had hit a lowpoint.” Answering the ad was, she admits, “a last-ditch effort.”

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When they met, Shahani was revealed as a former member of the Supreme Beings of Leisure, a popular Californian trip-hop group with record sales topping a quarter million. Halligan gushed that she was a fan, and had even seen them in concert recently. They clicked. The two began working on a song together almost immediately. Called ”˜Don’t Forget to Breathe,’ it would become the first track on their debut album The Mating Game, released in 2006.

Since then Bitter:Sweet has acquired a following that is significant. Today, their number of MySpace fans hovers near the 28,000 mark. Flip through the comments they post and you’ll notice references to commercials and TV shows. That’s because many are introduced to the duo not through the radio, but through television. Their tracks have been used in advertisements for Korbel Champagne, and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. They’ve been part of prime-time programmes like Grey’s Anatomy, Lipstick Jungle, Nip/Tuck, Entourage, and Desperate Housewives. The soundtrack to The Devil Wears Prada includes their song ”˜Bittersweet Faith,’ and more recently, a sassy bit called ”˜The Bomb’ was featured in the Julia Roberts/Clive Owen film Duplicity.

All of this has been great for their exposure, obviously. While the recording industry continues to struggle with eroding album sales, the popularity of promotional music booms. Its success has allowed Bitter:Sweet to bypass the whole big record label thing altogether.

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But the bad news of course, is that music like this runs the risk of being dismissed. A great injustice in this case, given Bitter:Sweet’s songs are fantastic: textured and subtle, their topography ripe with emotional possibility. There is something vintage and cinematic about their performances; something very James Bond, lush and brimming with sex. Halligan, a striking woman with tumbling, thick red hair, coos and purrs through songs, delivering them in a way reminiscent perhaps of a Billie Holliday. Suggesting Bitter:Sweet is just a jingle-pop group doesn’t seem right at all.

This summer will mark the end of the band’s second full US tour (they’ve also performed in Europe). Being on the road, playing for fans who sing along to their songs is, says Shahani, “a real high.” They tell me they’d love to visit South Asia as well. “It would be a dream,” Halligan says, “to do something in Bollywood.”

Their sophomore album, Drama, will be out in India next winter. And the twosome is already at work on a third. The title? “After The Mating Game and Drama,” Halligan jokes, “it might make sense for this one to be called ”˜The Break-Up’.”

Yes, perhaps it might. But here’s hoping they never do.

Bitter:Sweet

bittersweetmusic.com

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