Wednesday, April 25, 2012

T0W3RS - If All We Have Is Time (DiggUp Tapes)

T0W3RS began as a solo project of Derek Torres (ex-Soft Company, etc.).  I was intrigued early on.  Before seeing them play some months ago, I checked 'em out online, and it surprised me that their recent EP prominently featured a cover from another local band, Summertime (by Lonnie Walker).  Kind of a gutsy (foolish?) move by an upstart local.  But I had been wearing out my copy of These Times, Old Times, Lonnie Walker's debut, so I'm curious: "What are these guys going to do with it?  And more to the point, why?"

My answer was immediate.  They were paying respects to fellow travellers, yet somehow simultaneously breaking totally new ground.  See, Lonnie Walker is a pretty rootsy, twangy band.  While still exerting a little twang, T0W3RS turned the song completely on end... into an electronic, slow-dance apparition of its former self.  Then there was another song, OUR5!, an Animal Collective-inspired rave-up released in support of the Occupy movement.  It had nary a string in earshot, but plenty of rolling keys, beeps, and a steady kick drum.  Okay.  I was interested.

Now, after giving their debut full-length, If All We Have Is Time, a few listens... well, let's just say I'm still interested.

...Time starts with the slow plucking of electric guitar and Torres' plaintive wail on Swim In, bemoaning an obviously dysfunctional relationship ("Your love's like a drain or a hole in boat / I should be swimmin'").  It's a brief, dark intro, which somehow jumps seemlessly into the upbeat pop bliss of eee!  This song realizes the meld of geetar & electronic hinted at by the earlier EP.  It's driven by jaunty acoustic strumming, echo-y electric, and knocking drumsticks.  But there's so much more clatter, warped static-y noises, and vocal cleverness that it goes way beyond relying on a pop hook.  And, really, how can you NOT love a song called eee!?

Over & Ov'r then detours us towards a darker, slower side of T0W3RS.  It's an unexpected, albeit welcome, development; one which sets the tone for the album.  The mournful waltz is punctuated mid-song by the swell of nightmarish organ that calls to mind some tripped out, mid-70s, midnight movie.  It's a bluesy, shadowy number with lyrics full of bite and spite ("Oh, you've got me tonight / that's when I act like I gave a fuck about you / and your kind...").  Next is Scout/, which begins with simple, sustained piano keys, but is buoyed when the gentle electric beat kicks in.  We get the feeling Torres is lifting out of a fog., a feeling accentuated by segueing into the (slightly) more up-tempo The Cardinal/The Finch, which continues the sparse piano and drums before sweet lilting vocals begin to pull us back into the sunlight.  

Before going much further, I should mention Torres' voice.  It's a great voice, but not in a typical way.  More in the way that Robert Pollard's voice is great... just the way he uses it.  A similar range to Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), and perhaps in the way it's mixed, explaining some of the Animal Collective comparisons.  But there's a vocal cleverness in the way he uses lyrics and sounds; from wordplay like "so keep what you make-k-K/your capital" ("you're capital"?), to simple breaths and croaks at just the right times.  It's one of the highlights of the band.  And although most of the album's vocals are Derek's, the addition of female vocals to the band really adds something to the sound, and the live show. 

Another highlight of T0W3RS is that the songs are always moving. By that I mean something is always going on, at every turn of every song.  Beyond the main song structures, under the surface, in the background, are surprising little tweaks and touches.  It's easy to throw a bunch of sounds together and call yourself "experimental".  Making it all flow together is the tricky part, a trick T0W3RS has mastered.  Even the quiet, slow songs, or parts of songs, are never boring.  Again, this is something captured well by the full band.  Multiple, varied instrumentation and voices come and go to great, restless effect, making for a very fun live show.

But back to the LP.  Each song sounds like a movement, progressing into the next.  After exiting the fog, we get to, appropriately, Big Sky (which, although they do cover Kate Bush live, is NOT the Bush song of that name).  Reverb-laden guitar and thumping drums make you almost see the distance and space.  The title cut then continues into the more optimistic bent, spare piano and strumming building to the realization that "If all we have is time, then we'd be allright".  Darla picks it back up, with a jumpy guitar line invoking Texas blues.  This most upbeat song on the album is followed by perhaps the simplest, quietest number, Logan.  While it may sound like the album is a bit of a roller coaster (and maybe it is), every hill and valley work together.  Darla and Logan, for instance, share a penchant for Deep Southern musical roots.  Logan is almost country, plucking it's way through Georgia, Austin, and back to Carolina, and "hoping for someone to soothe my heartache".  But then it's back on the coaster for the closer, the psychedelic (and again, a little Southern) rocker, The Seams, The Tangles & The Sum of My Brain.

T0W3RS is nothing if not diverse.  Influences are all over the place.  There's the afore-mentioned southern rock, blues, and electronic/experimental.  But I also hear a bit of 70's arena rock... can't really place it... Emerson, Lake, and Palmer?   But they rarely wear them on their sleeves.  There are just too many ingredients going into the pot to come out sounding like anything but, well T0W3RS.  Though this was recorded largely before the band took shape, props to the what has now become a great live band (Sam Logan, Karen Blanco, Jacki Lee Huntington, Zeke Krautwurst), and to the production by Logan.

T0W3RS play at Kings Barcade in Raleigh Friday, April 27th, to celebrate the release of If All We Have Is Time on DiggUp Tapes.  They're playing with Lonnie Walker (also great, see here), and Coastal Vision (who I haven't seen, but if the bill is any indicator...).  Plus, it's FREE!  You can put your money towards getting the LP.  It's worth it.

PS:  Derek's got a thing for math, numbers, punctuation, etc. (or should that be #s/punctuation/3TC?).  He and Robert Schneider, apparently.  Thus the band name and some of the song titles.  So no, not a bunch of typos above.

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