Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

But I Don't Need to Argue Anymore -- Sound Team

I often attempt to wrangle others into the concerts I attend² but find myself rarely successful. It could easily be chalked up to the volume of my friends who identify themselves as flakes (who happen to comprise the most music-oriented and local of my friends, albeit only coincidentally), but it helps nothing--nor, I'm sure, does it help readership of a scattershot blog like this--that my tastes are unpredictable, and I look at a wide range of shows when I'm in the mood to attend them. Six years ago in October, though, I casually suggested it to a friend (one of the "flakes," oddly) that she attend a show with me, which she agreed to as it apparently was the thing for her to do that day. We were going to see Sparta (remnant of At the Drive-In, and the show where they did this) and they had a pair of opening acts with them: Lola Ray (touring on the heels of their second album, Liars) and Sound Team, a fellow (to Sparta) Texas band (Austin, not El Paso, though) who had just released their first officially recognizable and available full length, Movie Monster.

Lola Ray appealed to me via their vocals more than anything else, coming from John Balicanta. But Sound Team pulled out this furious, hypnotic drum-heavy song in the middle of their set that was instantly engaging, where the rest (like a lot of live shows where I don't know songs) sort of blurred a bit. That song was called "Shattered Glass":

No, no I don't know why it was coupled to an image of Steve Martin ironing a kitten.

It's difficult to explain the impression I had at this: drummer Jordan Johns was magnetic, somewhere in that realm of Nirvana-era Dave Grohl (when we would only see him drumming, hair a-flying), but with hints of the Keith Moon mannerisms that put his body, face, and every movement into a finely tuned embrace of drumming itself. You can see a bit of this--which I don't exactly know how to describe, to be honest, it's like seeing him in the groove of the music like Grohl, but so attuned that every movement seems internally relevant to him--in a live performance of Sound Team's "TV Torso":

But his drumming is at half the tempo in that song it is in "Shattered Glass," and it lacks that hook-y chorus from Matt Oliver's vocals, making itself, instead, into a fade-in, fade-out, endless groove. To get the full effect, you have to hear at least a little of the studio-produced version, with its angular jabs of guitar from Sam Sanford:

Jordan is an absolute machine underneath the wandering synthesizers of Michael Baird and Gabe Pearlman, Bill Baird pulsing along on the bass inbetween the drums and synths as Matt Oliver wails and moans--in a tuneful way, mind--as if from a distance, near this electronic soundwave.

I walked out of that show with a few items alongside my signed Sparta vinyl and a signed copy of Liars:

Less pretty and exciting visually, I also walked out with Movie Monster, their full length from that year (2006, released June 6th). Little did I realize I'd just walked out with what would become my favourite song of all time, at least, for six years running, with no end in sight--and one of my all-around favourite albums.

Movie Monster was, as I've noted before, excoriated by the infamous (there is no better word) Pitchfork Media (who, as a rule, do not deserve a link when discussing their reviews, unless you find pretension and derision mixed together, then honed and sharpened the height of comedy, perhaps). Of course, most other places, it was pretty well-regarded, but the label behind it (Capitol in the US, Parlophone in the UK) inexplicably gave it a standard-issue MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of $18.99 typically reserved for new releases from major artists by that time, though the practice of new releases being approximately $9.99 had not yet come to the fore (indeed, I was still a few weeks from starting work at my longest-running job where I had the greatest interaction with music--Borders). Still, it killed their time on that label, and, shortly thereafter, killed the band, who broke up in 2007.

You can find pleas, requests, inquiries, ponderings and fantasies about Sound Team reunions littering the internet. Many still discover the band only to be crushed by the news or discovery that they've long since broken up. Of course, it's still a tiny minority of people, not a huge groundswell that will bring some change to all of this, sadly. They aren't going to spread far enough to bring them back or give them one of those "lost band" reputations, which is a bit sad, but there we are.

Movie Monster isn't a lost gem in the sense of some magical and unexpected ingenuity, but the sound of a group of musicians playing what they want to and not sticking to any methodology to do it, yet keeping a consistent sound, typically layering more melodic vocals over steady beats and grooves, using guitars and synths for the flavouring. Tempos and sounds vary wildly, and Matt Oliver's lyrics hit a pleasant ground somewhere between emotionally poignant, relevant and the absurd or obscure, keeping just enough distance to seem slightly vague and mysterious, yet thoroughly immediate.

Before they went away forever, Sound Team managed to sneak out two full music videos for us, both from their full length, "Your Eyes Are Liars" and "Born to Please," which was released as a real, live single (seen on red-orange vinyl above), including on CD (with different b-sides in each format, which gives me warm, fuzzy feelings).

"Born to Please" opens with stabbing guitars over a steady beat from Jordan (as always!) before they start spiraling outward around each other, eventually returning to a steady, sharp rhythm as Matt Oliver's voice carries most of the melody quite ably, until the electronic sounds swirl into the chorus, with reverb-drenched guitars building like horns under the vocals, falling back to thin, bare streaks. Look, I'm not going to pretend I can describe music wonderfully, just listen to it, and hear and see a band that clearly just likes to make music:

 "Your Eyes Are Liars" is another of the more "normal" songs on the album, but it does a few of my favourite things (which the band does throughout the album, which, as obvious as it sounds, is why I love it so much--it's not common, though, for a band to do lots of these things): the music follows Oliver's vocals beat-for-beat in staccato fashion at the line, "I'll let you get your breath before we forget what's happening," stretching at the end back into a slight crescendo that moves it back into melody. No, no, I didn't pay attention to most music theory, so bear with my clumsy usage of these terms, okay?

One of the lovely things you'll read about is their "Take Away Show," for the blog, "La Blogotheque," which had Movie Monster's "No More Birthdays"performed by the band on the move--literally, by foot--but sounding excellent, and then "Handful of Billions" amidst, of all things, a protest:

"No More Birthdays"

"Handful of Billions"-- the closing track for Movie Monster, which is a perfect closer, building to a crash, as the song becomes more insistent and desperate and Oliver sings, with backing from Bill Baird, "One more time before this is over/The monochord and bow were shoulder to shoulder, now/The picture don't remind me just why we came," and the instruments rapidly fall away to the trails of distortion that fade quickly and naturally.

2005's Work EP (seen above in orange vinyl, though I have a copy on CD as well, now--both purchased brand new, to boot) contains my aforementioned favourite song of all time, which I made very brief mention of once before, is "The Fastest Man Alive," the opening track from that EP, which I will leave you with, alas, only a sample of:

You can't hear the whole song, nor the lovely way it bleeds out into "It's Obvious What's Happening Here," the instrumental track that follows it. But you can hear the lovely opposing guitars that open it alone, before Jordan's rolls come in underneath, pushing the song forward into simpler chords over his manic fills, and Oliver's passionately strained voice that falls away to shrugs and lower pitches until the chorus, where it sits over a simple beat from Jordan and proclaims:

'Cause I can get along with anybody
As long as they leave me alone
What's the point of being king
If you're just gonna die with the keys to the throne?
 Words that have left my fingers on more than one occasion, a testament to the way they speak to something I can't articulate but appreciate--as I've been known for excessive lyrical quotations in much of my time.

Truly a shame we lost this band, and shame on Pitchfork for yet another asinine review, but one that came at a time before they'd become the butt of the joke and instead could make or break bands.

Back to Post ¹ I don't discuss them here as live shows are a peculiar thing to me most of the time, which doesn't seem to fit with my approach to things, nor feel like something I can write about in depth or to any real effect)

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