With the amount of new music we're preparing to digest, critique and swoon over in 2013, it's only natural that
--still one of our favorite LA-by-way-of-OC acts--should be in the conversation somewhere. After all, while watching the amazingly long ride they've taken on 2009's Gorilla Manor was exciting to watch, the South County-bred band must be dying to move on to the next chapter by now. So it was perfect that just over a month before the release of their sophomore effort
(out Jan. 29)
the band capped a short stint of intimate, secret shows with a private, live session at
Apogee's Berkeley St. Studios
in Santa Monica, courtesy of
last Friday. Having heard a number of these shows over the airwaves before (the last month's show with
Gary Clark Jr
. was insane!) we were more than happy do drop by and show our support for one of the biggest recent OC bands to leave the nest.
We got a chance to hear a total of eight tracks from the new album (which they worked on with producer Aaron Dessner of the National), in edition to throwing in a few gems from the last album at the end ("Wide Eyes," "Who Knows, Who Cares," and "Sun Hands." But here's what we thought about each of the tracks after hearing them live.
"You & I"
No, this sounds nothing like the hit Lady Gaga single from 2011. Sitting in the acoustically pristine performance area of Bob Cleamountain's Santa Monica studio (a legendary producer with insane credentials...look him up!), the song is built on slow, undulating bass bridged over by Kelcey Ayer's soulful vocal croon with background vocals from guitarist Taylor Rice. It feels similar to a "Sticky Thread" kind of vibe. It's got a funky stride to it, with pretty, sparse tones that fit snuggly into the previous catalog of contemplative tracks the band has turned out over the band's history. Of course that doesn't mean it wouldn't benefit from a multi-million dollar, gender-bending Ga Ga-style concept video.
If you're a fan, chances are you've heard this song to death on the radio already. But in a live setting, the the bending synths and moody vocal swells carried well and certainly ranks as one of the most entertaining jams in this new batch of songs. Harboring a mix of Gorilla Manor's muscular percussion with Hummingbird's stripped back motif, this feels like a true marriage of both of their albums. A smart pick to warm you up for some of the new creative brush stokes to come.
This is easily the most tropically-inspired track they played from the new album. We're talking piña colada tropical, guys--smooth, Paul Simon-esque and full of rumbling rhythm section that had people on the staircase of the Apogee studio bobbing their heads, even incorporating some shoulder shakes. Oh yeah, this one's a winner.
A little too slow for our liking, Ayer is singing lead with tight contributions from Rice and guitarist Ryan Hahn. Feels like it could make for a good solo piano jam. But there's times where it felt a little aimless compared to the other tracks. There's a really pretty piano/ snare drum build up toward the end, but that was pretty much the highlight.
Ayer rides a trippy, vocal delay throughout and the track is built on more of that sparse, fluttering piano that is basically the common thread through most of these tracks. It sets in slow and before you know it, there's a big finish that feels like as big a reward as anything we heard all night. Plus it's pairing really well with the red wine we're drinking. A decent buzz sets in as we try not to bump into anyone or spill anything on the spotless floor. That sense of caution is rare for us at concerts.
The patters from drummer (and former Weekling) Matt Frazier are immediately grabbing, as is the lyrical story telling, a bit of the poetic romantically tinged verses that we've come to love from these guys. Even though hardly anyone seems to have heard the song before, we noticed a lot of people already mouthing the words to the chorus "Aaaaaafter, everything! Leeeeeeft in the sun, shimmering Aaaaaafter everything!" This is probably the catchiest song they've written since "Airplanes." A definite highlight.
More of the smoldering touchy-feely sound with a hint of jazz. Seems like we've heard a lot of where they're going with this already so depending on where this is in their record, it may be a bit easier to lose interest. For some people in the crowd, the sound isn't getting old--the guy in front of my is rolling his body in a pretty sexual manner--we try to edge away and give him some pace.
Rice takes the lead vocal as strands of synth stretch out and tighten until the song breaks into a über-catchy falsetto refrain and shimmering cymbal work and the rest of the guys get in on the harmonies. This song is driven by tension and heavy-handed snare that keeps your attention focused for the entire four minutes. This seems like an easy, smart candidate for an album ender--though we'll have to wait to see where it falls on the tacklist.
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Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.