(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Recording review - Callers, Reviver (2012)

Extends Callers' dreaminess into lush, progressive spaces

It's great to hear a strong band build on their strengths and reach into new spaces. Reviver is a phenomenal follow up to Callers' last album, Love of Life (review). That album seemed to use Sara Lucas' rich voice as an inspiration for each track. Lucas' sound still suggests strong singers like Phoebe Snow and Joan Armatrading, but the music is more forward and exploratory. It's a joy to hear the band develop their sound into progressive and art rock directions. Ryan Seaton's guitar/bass work were already impressive, but now he's developing more complex, interlocking parts.

Lucas and Seaton remain the core members of Callers. Drummer Don Godwin helped finish the album, but has since left the band. Meanwhile, Keith Souza and Seth Manchester of the recording studio Machines With Magnets collaborated on the album and eventually joined the band. Despite those changes, Reviver is a very focused album.

Like their earlier work, the new album is anchored in an emotional vibe. The sound is evocative and richly expressive, creating a range of moods beyond the core dreaminess of Life of Love. That expansion allows for poppier moments like Heroes (via Black Book Magazine), off-kilter dance rock like Howard 2 Hands, and jazzy progressive jams like It's a Ringer. Seaton denies that Callers are a jazz band saying they don't really improvise, but Reviver emphasizes a jazz feel based on an openness that allows for contrasting parts and interesting rhythms.

Crush Times opens by repeating a pretty ascending bit of guitar jangle. This peels back to a sparser instrumentation when Lucas comes in. The bass line simplifies and the guitar drops the occasion chord splash, accenting the vocal line. Lucas effortlessly floats on the breeze of the tune, smoothly wafting up or catching a brief, swift current. On the chorus, the guitar and bass mesh together on the melodic climb from the intro. The bridge challenges as it drifts away from the tonal center with a staccato counterpoint. It builds like a circle of fifths progression until it collapses back into the chorus changes.

The title track, Reviver, is a complete change of pace. The speedy guitar tosses out sharp edged chord fragments with frantic energy. Reminiscent of Robert Fripp's playing, it's a departure from Callers' dreamy side. When the vocals come in, the groove shifts into a bass driven space with open sounding guitar riffs like the Police's earlier work. The song evolves into a heavier progressive rock feel. Lucas' voice is as lush as ever, but shows a touch of steel:
You are closer to the sun
But I have got a window
We are older than ourselves
And I am your reviver
I'm your reviver
I lost myself, I lost myself
I'm guessing that Godwin is drumming on this; the way the drums leave some holes to accent the guitar while maintaining the tight beat sounds like his style. Seaton's guitar work shows off a palette of sonic textures, moving from burnished copper smoothness to warped and rippled sheet metal sounds.

Another change up is Long Control. It starts out in familiar space for Callers: down tempo and introspective. The light swells of keys add a nice touch. The first departure from the standard script hits when vocals come in, laying down a spacy, close harmony line. This is just a brief interlude. The phrase winds down and the song transforms into a poppy psychedelic soul groove that could be a deeper album cut from the 5th Dimension. The whole piece is so short that it feels more like a sketch than a worked out song, but it's really intriguing.

While Callers music is anything but derivative, these two songs alone suggest the band's growth, offering comparisons to Robert Fripp, the Police, and the 5th Dimension.  Meanwhile Lucas and the band have found a different balance that still relies on her range while giving the music more room to surprise and impress. If Reviver is indicative of what Manchester and Souza have brought to the band, they will likely continue to challenge the band to evolve their music.

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