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Double EP Review!

2 Jul

Pick up a copy of City Pages this week and you’ll find two EP reviews from yours truly. In print! Remember that thing? Thought not. Whatever. Bloggers are just jealous anyway that their work won’t get scrapbooked home to Mom or left in a public restroom. ‘Cause who’s gonna leave their Macbook in a Port-O-Potty? Not this guy, that’s for sure.

Anyway, two EPs from two promising local bands- Dreamland from Gospel Gossip and Art Work Pays from Digitata- came out and here are the reviews. Consider the two in tandem and they make for a nice dialogue on what makes a strong EP, and the relative merits of the shorter form. Both bands had release parties this weekend, scroll down for our coverage of the Gospel Gossip party, and click here for a CP slideshow of the Digitata shindig at First Amendment.

Gospel Gossip- Dreamland (Guilt Ridden Pop)
3566786.47It might seem strange to call a band that plays live shows full of thrashing energy subtle, but Gospel Gossip’s new EP, Dreamland, is full of subtleties. The six-song record tightens up the sound from 2007’s Sing into My Mouth, relying less on extended jams in favor of denser, mutating song structures that signal a young band taking greater control of their melodies and making what could have just been a pleasant wash into an enveloping cocoon of sound.

The degree of control is evident in the surprising textures throughout the disc—Ollie Moltaji’s stutter-step drums punctuate the bridge of opener “Nashville” (a song that garnered praise from the poobahs at Pitchfork) and kick up the straightforward guitars-and-distortion fuzz. Justin Plank’s bass lines pulse throughout, but really drive “Home,” propelling the song through Sarah Nienaber’s crackling guitar and breathy voice. That voice is something of a Chimera-like beast; it seems to be fixed between fierce howls and a delicate disappearance—apt for a band that balances cinematic sweeps of fuzz with piercing melodies.

With the first half of the record being narrative songs about relationships and moving on, the B-side is given over to more instrumentation with only occasional bursts of vocals. “Space/Time” and “Big Steer” are energetic breakdowns that bring in some of the tectonic energy of Gospel Gossip live. The title track closer lives up to its name; it’s a slow burning fuse lit by Moltaji and carried by Nienaber’s vocals and guitars as the elements fall hauntingly into place. The pace builds and the track smolders; it is a record that makes you want to curl up on a bare mattress with your lover and count the stars through the ceiling.

Digitata- Art Work Pays (Totally Gross National Product)
3566785.47With nine songs in 30 minutes, Digitata’s new release, Art Work Pays, is billed as an EP, but feels something like a 85-minute feature film—a little too short to be fully realized, a little too long to pack an immediate punch. But there is a strong EP in there, and the standout numbers make the record a seductive and engrossing summer soundtrack. This is due in no small part to vocalist Maggie Morrison (also of Lookbook), whose ethereal voice glides between breathy come-ons and clear sustains, like Feist with a darker, swirling feel.

The driving tension in Digitata’s music is between organic and synthetic elements, with Drew Christopherson’s drums on one end and Ryan Olson’s sequencer, squiggly synth, and loops on the other. Morrison’s voice often rises clear above that push-and-pull, occasionally layered through effects to mixed results. When Olson passes Morrison through a fader on “Sawdust City,” like a DJ scratching a record, it comes off as gimmicky, but the layers of distancing distortion on the frantic “Leave It Alone” heighten the effect of the breakup tune.

“Weak Teeth,” the longest and most textured track on the disc, is a great example of when the tension of the full band works. Olson’s beats punctuate Morrison’s vocals, and the tune sways between the synthesizers and Morrison’s dreamy Wurlitzer chords as Christopherson’s drums build to a thunder of low toms, covering a spectrum of sound. Not all the tracks are as compelling, and sometimes the disc feels like only incremental progress from 2005’s Sexually Transmitted Emotions and 2007’s II Daggers. Despite the plateau, album closer “mbaby” is a sweet song that takes full advantage of Morrison’s melody, supported by stripped-down backing. More of those strong production choices, and Art Work Pays could be a killer full-length.

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