November 24, 2009 | 12:34pm
This week's "Release the Sounds" begins with a very simple question: If you were in an indie rock band that was going to be stranded on a ship in the middle of the ocean, what would you bring?
It's an odd question, but a good one to meditate before absorbing Shallow on the Draft
the latest EP from Orange County band the Steelwells. After listening to seven songs of lofty pop ingenuity, we can certainly speculate as to what this five-piece would carry on board: stacks of empty songwriting journals, a spyglass, iPods stacked with albums from [insert favorite college radio rock band here] and a pile of instruments.
Armed with swells of dreamy guitar, pounding rhythms and vivid lyrics, the band invite us on a nautical adventure filled with emotional jaunts of peril and peace on a vast, anonymous sea. It's hard to describe the kind of amped-up, dramatic folk vibes that this band conjures up throughout the EP because they give you so many different shades of it. From one moment to the next, you could be dancing to the crashing waves, driving snare and lilting harmonies of "This Dance is Out of Our Hands," or siting quietly on the stern listening to the soft strumming and quaky tenor of vocalist/guitarist Joseph Winter on "Compass." Settling atop a sturdy vessel of guitar, drums, bass and multi-instrumentation performed by his band mates (Andrew Eapen, Brain Manchester, Robbie Gullage, and Billy Kim respectively) Winter crafts some very potent imagery.
On standout gems like "El Capitan," exotic drum textures and Beach Boy harmonies unfold into a tale of a treacherous sea and a frightened crew: "We're still sitting here waiting on the portside of hell/while starring down the barrel of a dark steelwell/ Can we sink ourselves?/ Just to sleep for a spell."
As the song rumbles to a close with sprawling Arcade Fire harmonies, it's clear the band made a concerted effort to paint a picture of adventure and dynamic emotion with every weapon in their recording-studio arsenal. Shallow on the Draft allows listeners to fully experience the fleshed-out sound of a band with their eyes set on broad horizons and a bright future.