It’s been four years since local indie rock quintet Magnetic Flowers released a new record, and many, many months since they began crafting Old, Cold. Losing It., the group’s third full-length and finest achievement to date.
Painstakingly recorded over a year-and-a-half of weekend sessions in Rock Hill with Elonzo’s Jeremy Davis, along with a couple of tunes captured by Jay Matheson at The Jam Room, the nine tracks that comprise Losing It are loose-limbed and restlessly experimental, fearlessly toying with and at times entirely discarding the formula that made the band’s past efforts — 2007’s Presents, Pasts and Futures and 2009’s What We Talk About When We Talk About What We Talk About — so successful.
As with most things Flowers-related, the inspiration for this dramatic left turn was more literary than musical. Co-founder Jared Pyritz stumbled upon a book about a man who ate an entire Boeing 747, and he became entranced by the idea of doing something at once both so extraordinary and so inexplicable. “If a man can eat an airplane” became the motto the band — guitarists Pyritz and Patrick Funk, multi-instrumentalist Adam Cullum, bassist Albert Knuckley and drummer Evan Simmons — would follow off the proverbial cliff.
“What the other records lacked was the will to throw everything on there,” says Pyritz. “We just said, why not make the record we really want to make, with all that big cinematic noise and everything else? So any idea we had, we were willing to try.”
“We really wanted nothing to be out of bounds,” Funk agrees. “[Our attitude was], ‘We’ll figure out how to play it live later if we have to.’”
Having given themselves the freedom to think outside the box and take as much time as they needed, traditional expectations of who writes what, who plays what, and even what instrument makes what sound dissolved into a cacophony of distortion effects, odd percussion and late-night sonic melees. While the impressive array of vocal parts, the dense wordplay and the kinetic melodic rush of the Flowers of old is still present, the song’s narrators are facing a messier, noisier world, so rarely do these tunes maintain a consistent sonic structure from beginning to end. Instead, shifting percussion and enigmatic instrumental parts drift in and out over the course of a song, twisting and turning over lyrics that probe growing up, getting older, and (not quite) losing it.
“Trout Fishing in America,” one of the album’s advance singles, is a great example of this approach. (It’s subtitled, fittingly, “If a Man Can Eat an Airplane.”) The band recorded the opening, coruscating sample on pitched wine glasses, which got chopped up and filtered by Davis; a synth-like guitar line fades and returns over the course of the song. And the first verse is backed only by the inscrutable rhythmic throb of an unrecognizably distorted ukulele line, the recording of which only Pyritz was awake for. Lyrically, the song references the Richard Brautigan novel of the same name as it abstractly works through the meaning of life rising up from the dirty ground, one of the many recurring concepts that pops up throughout the album.
“I wanted the song to sound like a computer in the middle of the woods,” Funk explains. “We had the goal of sounding like that: an idea, not like some [other] band.”
Another fascinating example is album centerpiece “Whittle It,” a dirge-like tune pondering mortality built on an odd time signature and not much more than an idiosyncratic drum part and intermittent bleeps and blurps. What keeps the song moving more than anything is Pyritz’s heavily treated vocal melody, a trick the band credits to Davis.
Each song on the record has its own particular story, but what emerges in talking about the individual pieces is how much the album is a truly collaborative effort, and that a collective consciousness speaks through these songs. “We were making a music so mad to be made,” yelps Cullum at one point in “Dirty Grounds,” and in that ambiguous-yet-joyous moment of yearning and celebration, a fleeting recorded moment captures just exactly what this band is all about.
Magnetic Flowers play Art Bar on Saturday, October 19. Art Bar is at 1211 Park St. in the Vista. Doors open at 8 p.m.; music begins at 9 p.m. With Elonzo, Dear Blanca. Call 929-0198 or visit artbarsc.com for more information.
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