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Despite the amount of bullshit they endure on a daily basis, working bands know a thing or two about cosmic luck. On their way home from an LA gig last July, Brennan Roach and Jorge Rios of Time and Energy watched helplessly as their gray Dodge tour van with all their gear inside turned into a fireball on the side of a busy 5 freeway. The engine had severely overheated and caught flame off the Broadway exit in their native Santa Ana. It's an image that registers on every musician's list of worst-possible scenarios. But as luck would have it, firefighters got to the location quick enough to put out the blaze and even managed to get their guitars and equipment out unscathed. Well, almost.
"Everything surprisingly still worked, but it still smelled burnt," Roach says. "We played at La Cave the next night, and our gear smelled up the whole room and gave off a really weird vibe."
Hints of destruction and melted veneer seem to be an ever-present part of Time and Energy's aesthetic. Built on a flurry of frenzied guitar loops, hazy feedback, skittering percussion and cool keys, Roach and Rios perform the work of four band members with only a standard amount of sweat. Their lush, pop mosaics develop slowly—spatters and slaps of whatever instruments they happen to have at the ready. On any given song, they trade off instruments a handful of times, recording parts on top of each other on the spot. The album cover of their sophomore record, Strange Kind of Focus (out Nov. 16), is a surrealist mural that meshes both of their heads to create one wide-eyed amorphous being you can't help staring at. It's a pretty solid metaphor for their sound.
"It's about correlating and improvising together," says Rios. "When it comes to time and energy, you can't have one without the other."
For seven years, Roach and Rios played in a previous indie-rock band with four members. Two eventually bowed out, leaving them to figure out how to fill the gaps. Their solution: a pair of Boss RC-300 loop stations and a little imagination. After three and a half years together, things are shaping up nicely. Some tracks, such as "Hot Air" and "Tree Salad," are indebted to the moody, bookworm virtuosity of such bands as Minus the Bear, Battles and Don Caballero, while others favor acoustic, backwoods balladry. Rios' warm, soulful vocal tone ties it all together, teetering between English and Spanish lyrics inspired by travel, personal reflection and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
You can also hear the influence the band's surroundings had on their songs during the recording process. With a little bit more of that cosmic luck, they were able to find a gorgeous, forest-covered cabin in Santa Cruz on Craigslist and rented it for a week. Setting up their own studio, they recorded and edited everything themselves, including a music video for "Hot Air" that shows them wandering in the woods, gazing hypnotically at tie-dye hallucinations and banana slugs.
But as much as the two love to trip out on the ethereal, the serendipitous things that happen to them in real life always end up inspiring them more. Like the time some of the band's luggage was stolen from their van during a tour through Portland. Among the items taken was a book titled Music Explained As Science and Art. Feeling sorry for Roach's loss, his girlfriend bought a used copy from Amazon—which wound up being the copy that had been stolen.
"I opened it, and all the highlights and notes were the same ones I wrote," he says, "and I looked on the back of it, and it was sold from the same bookstore we visited when we were there on tour." Talk about cosmic luck.
This column appeared in print as "Cosmic Collaborators."