Friday, June 19, 2009

Sound & Shape - The Love Electric

Imagine if the Mars Volta were transported in time back to the 1970's and decided to form a pop band, and you'll begin to get a feeling for the marvelous, complex-yet-infinitely listenable 5-song EP from Nashville's Sound & Shape, The Love Electric.

Combining mind-bending guitar arpeggios, soaring harmony parts, colossal baselines, and octopus-armed drumming with simply gorgeous songwriting and melody, this three-piece stand right at the top of the pack of the new brand of punk/pop/prog. Touches of Pink Floyd, loads of the Mars Volta with a heart of punk run rampant through the complexity of the arrangements, all infused with the sweet vocal harmonies and melodies of '70's pop AM. A contradiction in terms? You bet, and all the damn more impressive because of it.

"The Love Electric," sums up just about everything that these guys have to offer. Kicking off with a blistering guitar and bass run, reminiscent of Return to Forever, or Al Di Meola-style prog jazz, the band immediately drop into a sugary sweet vocal harmony right out of the 10cc catalog. This is a vocal line to capture your imagination, set it adrift upon the wild ride you're about to take, as seconds later, dissonant guitar rips through the verse and a series of time changes follow that mutate between themselves faster than the human mind can conceive. Another remarkably beautiful vocal verse follows, perhaps suggestive of very early Ambrosia. The tone of the guitar solo two and a half minutes in is sublime, then the time change seconds after that launches the song into a new level of intensity. And after all this drama and precision, we're still only half way through.

Perhaps most amazing to me, is that despite all the richness of layers and the positively serpentine nature of the composition, the song never wanders aimlessly. Yes, the boys veer off the beaten path to explore whatever musical idea happens to drift through their songwriting ADD, but it all hangs together, remarkably well. In fact, the song craft is so strong, and the performances so tight, I somehow feel smarter just listening to this piece of music. It clearly was created by a group of intensely intelligent minds, and every time I play it I keep hoping that IQ will rub off on me. It hasn't so far, but that's my own personal problem.

As hard as it is to believe, this is the work of a three-piece band. Ryan Caudle on guitar and vocals, Jerry Pentecost on drums, and David Somerall on Bass; each musician telepathically linked to the others to create some mind meld of musical synergy. Just taking one look at Ryan, a bearded bear of a man and you can see that he's an unassuming frontman, but don't let that put you off. Ryan's clean tenor adds just the right tones to bring these musical explorations into the here and now, emotionally evocative without being overly reaching. David's bass work is subtle, never flamboyant, yet fully anchoring for the band. Meanwhile, Jerry throws in time changes, fills and rolls at the drop of the band's astronaut helmet. And overall the strong songwriting allows the boys to explore the vast universe of their own musical ideas, jutting off on spatial journeys of whimsy, without ever letting the whole thing sucked off into some self-masturbatory black hole.

"The Space Between," picks up right where the title track left off, shards of spasmodic guitar piercing over the spartan back beat. Spacier vibes whoosh in, like the sprinkling from the dust of a near-flying comet. Again, despite the flourishing prog textures and tones, real melody lies at the heart of these tunes enhanced by the perfect blend of clean and harmony vocals. This is big, expansive prog, but down to earth and intimate at the same time. As I listen to this song, I can't help but feel that I'm being privy to some secret private performance in some ridiculously cool club that very few people know of yet. But outside, as the sound whispers up through the open vents, a crowd is beginning to form. Enchanted by what they hear, they're drawn as if to the piper.

Without revealing all the EP's secrets, the final three songs throw their own muses into the mix, like altered reggae beats, maracas intros, spiraling saxophone solos, and more mind-melting guitar work. And still nothing will prepare you for the jazzier prog touches of the epic closer, the 11 minute-plus "The Solitary Journey." Guitar lines twist and turn, snaking in and out of the melody, faster than changes in the cosmic winds. And while some passages veer towards noodling and progged-out experimentalism, as a whole the song never loses it's roots, it's basis in melody, it's overall direction.

We've been blessed recently with a new wave of prog-punk bands, such as Farflung and now Sound & Shape, and our musical landscape is all the more wealthy because of it. I use the term "punk" here very loosely. The music isn't punk in sound, but has a punk heart beating in it's chest. This is prog from the underground, just bursting against the invisible ceiling, begging for release. For anyone with an ear for a sound that soars well beyond our stratosphere, The Love Electric will find a home.



Dimaension X said...

These guys far out-class The Mars Volta - Their singer "sings" like a guy, not like some girlie-ish teenager. The music is far more competently played and written, and does not try too hard to be hip and cool. This is a very good band. They remind me more of The Flower Kings or Magic Pie.

Cosmos Gaming said...

I reviewed these guys back in early January, I think before this EP officially came out. It was stellar and they really have the potential to become a big name.

The RIpple Effect said...

I agree with both you guys. This is an extremely talented group to watch. I saw your review, Cosmos, it's nicely done.

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