Thursday, February 28, 2013

Record review: Conductive Alliance - 'Opticks'

By Andrew Hertzberg

It’s hard to find a RIYL jumping off point with Conductive Alliance. Hints of free jazz, kraut-rock, indie-pop, art-rock, and more can be found throughout. They revealed to me last year that Bear in Heaven is one of their favorite artists. In that same interview, drummer Corey Brekher called guitarist/bassist Eli McLaughlin a “nature boy,” which may explain why most of the song titles on the bands third album relate to the natural world. That’s not to say Opticks is rolling in acoustical instruments: while they follow many rock conventions, there is great electronic influence on the album.

At times, they remind me of Broken Social Scene, but Conductive Alliance have the advantage of being more experimental, not always content to rely on obvious pop hooks to reel in the listener. Instead, each song is an exploration. Take "Deep Sea" for example: driving bass, wandering guitar, and swirling synthesizers. It reminded me of Mutations-era Beck before the anarchic saxophone rang in. The song kicks off the short album deceitfully with a slew of major chords. It’s not too much further before the darker side of the album reveals itself. On the other end of the spectrum, sonically and lyrically, is "Orbit," featuring a small string section and more ambiguous sounds to create the illusion of being sucked in by the gravity of the earth from space. The dynamic and impatient "Sand" is going to be perfect for a late night bike-ride along Lake Shore Drive once those electric summer nights hit.

While Eli and Corey remain the core of the band, this album finds help from many local musicians as well as the addition of multi-instrumentalists Caleb Willitz and Ben Simpson to the live performance. While nothing kills an album more than dragging on, the worst thing about Opticks is that the seven tracks only reach 27 minutes. These songs are mostly the output of various improvisations, which for an album as exploratory as it is, could have been made better by going even further; for example, "Rare Birds" fades out much too soon, leaving me wondering to what landscapes it could have possibly gone. Luckily, of what’s there of the songs manage to maintain a complex layering without becoming cluttered, making the album ripe for repeated listens throughout the rest of the year.

Opticks is currently slated for an early spring release. See Conductive Alliance play some of the new stuff at the Empty Bottle on Monday March 3rd (9 PM, 21+, FREE) with Killer Moon, Soft Jolts, and Leif Vollebekk. More details and tickets here.

Now go turn off the lights and watch an abstraction of globe-trotting below:

Conductive Alliance - Deep Sea from Conductive Alliance on Vimeo.

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