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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Recording review - Passenger Peru, Passender Peru (2012)

Gentle indie psychedelia goes experimental

Justin Stivers and Justin Gonzales of Passenger Peru create a dense sound packed with rhythmic complexity and experimental decorations. The production on their self-titled debut emphasizes the percussive nature of all of the instruments. Stivers, who played bass on the Antlers' Hospice, seems to drive this half of the band's sound. His bass lines tend to drive the songs even as they integrate into the tight syncopation. Gonzales layers in interesting ambient samples into the mix. Several songs feature his sonic collage intros to set the mood. The vocals are often processed with a distancing echo so they're almost trapped in amber. When the song slides into Beach Boys style harmonies, this takes on a dreamier feel.

Passenger Peru leads off with Your Hunger. It opens with a nostalgic arrangement of samples before the bass kicks in with a snaky riff. Initially, the bass and tight rhythm sound like retro new wave, but the noise flavored fills shift that into more of an indie psych space. The low-fi, thick vocals and distorted drum sounds contrast with the clear stereo production. The steady beat glides through the whole song, but the breaks have an off-balanced feel due to the spooky bass line and detuned bits of sound packed into the track. The song takes an interesting twist as it slips into a hard rock/light metal grind.

This edgy ending pumps up the trippy happiness of In the Absence of Snow, which recalls Animal Collective's psychedelic obsessiveness and Freelance Whales' hippie earnestness. Like most of the songs, the lyrics are more sketches than carefully constructed messages:
Your naked memory sits on the floor
I just don't bother clothing you no more.
My favorite track was Weak Numbers. The sweetly retro guitar sound meshes perfectly with the indie pop shimmer. The lazy beat and high pitched vocals suggest Marc Bolan and T. Rex on downers. Over the course of the tune, the backing stays calm and constant, but that intro guitar gets more mutated and chaotic. It's a delicate balance between the gentle procession of the chords and the more expressive bad-trip guitar, but the net effect is somehow calming and accepting.

I don't always understand Passenger Peru's point. Occasionally, there's a cognitive dissonance that keeps the songs from full connecting. The upbeat, cheery sound of Health System doesn't really work with the pseudo political statement of the lyrics. I enjoy the music well enough, though. Similarly, the closing track, Life and Death of a Band creates a dark tension that doesn't match the kind of progression suggested by the title. Once again, the punchy drive and solid drumming sounds great, it just needed a better concept at its foundation.

Passenger Peru's overall sound suggests a pair that are still working out how to blend their visions together. Both men bring some interesting ideas to the table. The experimental elements add depth, while the rhythmic focus grounds the songs. As they develop their balance, I hope for more tracks like Weak Numbers.

Check out the uptempo experimental sound of Tiger Lilly on YouTube. Also, drop by Passenger Peru's Bandcamp page to sample and buy the album.

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