Interference Patterns LP
(Snappy Little Numbers/Topsy Records)
While the idea of well-known musicians reappearing in new bands with some new musical ideas isn’t particularly new at this point (OFF! revived Keith Morris’ stake in hardcore, Kathleen Hanna’s comeback with The Julie Ruin has been spectacular and Paul Leary’s appearance with The Melvins was excellent – even if it was frustratingly short-lived), Guest Directors have taken that idea in some unexpected directions on their debut full-length album, Interference Patterns. Here, guitarist Gary Thurstensen steps away from the far grungier ground that he tread upon with TAD and gazes far more intently at his shoes while Chinchilla/Drolls journey-person Julie D. has stopped doing a bit of everything (seriously – her resume is exceptional) to focus specifically on a more gentle and less dire angle with Guest Directors – and the results are absolutely captivating. Throughout the nine cuts which comprise Interference Patterns, Guest Directors reaches in several directions and never misses once.
As “From This Distance” opens Interference Patterns‘ A-side, listeners will find they have no difficulty at all sliding into the rhythm that Guest Directors is laying down. Right away, the band begins gently but quickly building in volume and focus with enormous guitar tone driving the proceedings – but rather than allowing the sound to become an unrelenting hard-charger, drummer Rian Turner lays up and keeps the song from getting out of control, and Thurstensen and D. intertwine their vocal parts together tightly to make sure that one voice does not outshine the other. The result is an absolutely gorgeous performance which doesn’t actively seek to amaze – it simply builds an unexpected power and grace that proves to be beautiful and is capable of hypnotizing listeners easily.
After having generally established what listeners can expect from them on this album with “From This Distance,” Guest Directors immediately shift up a gear and pick up speed with “Perfect Picture.” There, Thurstensen’s guitar takes on a more wracked and nervous demeanor while his vocal takes on a melodic and offhanded tone similar to that of J. Mascis. While listeners might expect them to, the band never leaves the space they create for themselves early in the song, and so end up implying a sort of inevitability within “Perfect Picture” which ends up getting nicely punctuated by the deep crash in the low end at the cut’s conclusion. Reading that description doesn’t quite do the sound justice; the splatter of the bass at the conclusion of “Perfect Picture” is excellent and gives the cut some finality, but will also leave those who hear it energized – the crash and blast in the conclusion of “Perfect Picture” will leave listeners hooked hard and hopeful for more of the same. Of course, the next step the band takes is to lighten up dramatically and allow Julie D. to make a better first solo introduction on the mic (“Raise A Glass” wants to give Julie D. A greater and more formal introduction and the descending cadence in her melodic delivery succeed at that – but such an introduction requires a more energetic delivery than the singer or the song muster) but, happily, “Blackout Dream Blues” effortlessly recovers its predecessor’s loss of energy and even ups the ante by including some mid-tempo malaise similar to that with which Alice In Chains played on Jar Of Flies – but with a far sweeter and true-toned vocal from D., which closes the side very well.
The general sense of understated malaise that “Blackout Dream Blues” closed out the A-side of Interference Patterns which is exactly the same sort that “Skinless” employs to open the B-side, but it feels far less tangible, the second time. D. illustrates just how formidable a talent she is as she delivers a vocal performance so strong that Thurstensen’s guitar can only orbit it – not eclipse it no matter how good it is. After that, Guest Directors try their collective hand at a genuine, unrepentant ballad (called “Nico,” but not really resembling the icy, deadpan vibe of that aforementioned singer at all) before re-entering their world of worry with even better results than they accomplished before on “Laser Hands” and finding the only really irredeemable pitfall on the album (“Stare It Down” – which isn’t so much lugubrious in tone as being flat-out melancholy) before closing brilliantly with “You’ll Never Know.” On “You’ll Never Know,” Guest Directors collect and re-present the best elements that alt-rock developed in the Nineties (compelling chord progressions, engaging vocal melody and mammoth hooks) with a fresh coat of paint, and some great, clean and refined production work which pushes the song along perfectly. Here, the vocals and guitars sparkle and there’s an understated thunder in the delivery of the drums which reaffirms the hypnotic spell that the band cast on listeners earlier in the album’s running. A little over halfway through the song, the chord progression spontaneously shifts to a minor key which completely reshapes the cut and gives it a desperate tone (which works perfectly with the “you’ll never know” vocal refrain) but, when the band begins to shift back and forth between keys in the final seconds of the song, the final development proves to be the sort which will have listeners wishing there was more to find on the album when “You’ll Never Know” fades the album to a close.
After the needle lifts from the record, no one who runs front-to-back with Interference Patterns will be able to deny that the album has charmed them. True, it would be impossible to claim that the album is flawless – but those flaws are completely permissible when the peaks in performance and style are as high as the ones which appear on this album. Without question, it’ll be interesting to see what Guest Directors does on their next album – we can only hope that we don’t have to wait long to find out. [Bill Adams]
Guest Directors’ Interference Patterns LP is out now in a limited vinyl pressing of 200 copies. Buy it here, from the band’s official website.