New Time Zones Silhouettes at a Distance Album Review
Ah. That special moment. Like a cool brush of air sucking down in your lungs faster than expected, a gasp. We all as fans and musicians alike have all had that seminal moment when we hear something new for the first time immediately catching our attention. And for musicians, we have the opportunity to play with each other multiple times in our own local music scene. We get to know the styles, genres and set lists of our familiar fraternity. But every now and then, change occurs. We share a stage with a band we've never heard before and what they deliver is something that makes you gasp. Something that sticks in your ribs like a 5lb steak. For me recently, those gasping, put-their-CDs-on-repeat bands have been the likes of Machine in the Mountain, The Beaten Daylights, The Normandys and Kick Tree, and not just because we share fraternity in our community, but because the impeccable quality of their product and uniqueness of their sound(s). Now there is another to add to that list... the New Time Zones and their debut release Silhouettes at a Distance immediately puts them a force to be reckoned with atop the alternative rock scene in Tulsa.
Laura and I were first introduced to the New Time Zones a month ago when my band played a show together with NTZ at Blackbird hosted by Wither. We finished our set, cleared the stage and put the gear to the side, smoked a cigarette and got back in time for their set to start. My auditory senses were peaked from the start of the set to the end. Over and over and over, the songwriting pulls you in both lyrically and musically and never to disappoint. We were so enthralled with the set, that we immediately asked the boys for an interview on our podcast. The next week, we were able to meet them and do a short street interview and get to know the minds behind this chaotic and calming charm. They are the type of musicians that took an inordinate amount of time to write and put together a quality product in lieu of jumping out in the scene and playing gigs. Truth be known, they haven't played that many gigs at all. But the time put in collaborating together and the variety of influences from Johnny Marr and the Smiths to Big Band to Classic Rock are seamlessly melted down into an ear-pleasing set and now, a brilliant EP release.
Silhouettes at a Distance comes out on August 22nd. This 5-song EP is a reflection of the unique and creative sound that David Rey, Justin Shelton, Harry Duff and Michael Mangum have constructed, taking many influential alternative sounds and mushing them together into an ambient, but poppy radio-ready combination of tracks. Laura and I were able to catch up with the boys at the Vanguard this past Sunday where NTZ opened for City of the Weak. We went ahead and early bird purchased Silhouettes as Laura and I were eager to get in the car and drive home listening like giddy school children. Even today, we set down, put in the album and sat in silence listening to the tracks straight through with grins from ear to ear. As a fan, I can remember this feeling when two of my all-time favorite albums Strangeways, Here We Come and Disintegration were released in the late 80's. Droning synths and jangle guitar riffs with melodic vocals that make one search furiously to dissect the lyrics looking for meaning in the composer's penning. Silhouettes follows in the trends of these classic alternative releases, leaving the listener superbly satisfied but still wanting more.
I'm in love with the repetitive riffs throughout “113”'s verse and chorus alike harkening back to a lighthearted “Girlfriend in a Coma” Johnny Marr R&B riff. The hook is supported with a heavy, harmonious rhythm section that Boris Williams and Simon Gallup produced after years of performance and practicing together that is provided by musicians that have only been together a little over two years. And the lyrics... oh the lyrics. I often get to talk to a lot of musicians about their writing processes, what's going through their mind when they pen their compositions through our interviews on Porch Talk with Chris & Laura. We get to admire both the complexity and simplicity of many different artists' lyrics. In the case of NTZ, both the simple and the complex are delivered with tasty and saucy word play.
Simplicity - From “113”:
“It's something I've been running from,
It's you I can't be near.
It's something I, it's something I'm running from,
I wish you would disappear.”
Complexity - From “Passengers”:
“The machine is working overtime,
around the clock to keep us in line.”
These are the types of songs a songwriter puts together and can comfortably look on his or her work and be proud of the vagueness and ambiguity of the lyrics that force the listener to desire to dissect the composer's intent. Like the opening track “113”, “Passengers” has a jangly and catchy guitar riff and heavy harmony from the bass and drums that you can't NOT listen to with an Atlas Genius-type synth addition in the bridge that adds so much flavor to this already savory dish.
The meat and potatoes of the album are previously unreleased songs “Stagecoach” and “Arp”. Where the pizazz of “113” and “Passengers” catch your attention and keep a hold of you, the following three tracks keep you involved. “Stagecoach” with it's half time drop in the verse that speeds up in the chorus reminiscent of New Order, Radiohead and other greats building through an enormous bridge and then dropping back out half time to close the song. “Arp” opens with a speedy 80's clap beat followed by a relatively slow guitar riff but the bass and drums don't stop leading to the chorus that is an organized mess of punky, even flamenco-ish drum-laden patterns. An enjoyable mess nonetheless. Kind of like brown gravy and a patty on a piece of thin, white sandwich bread. But it's the closing song “Water” I feel where the band kept the same ethereal vein from “113” and “Passengers”, slowed it down with an even more droning synth background releasing palatable vocals where you finding yourself already knowing the heart of the writer as “It's just a dream.” An airy, spacey track that is heartfelt but lighthearted at the same time; something that reminds me of Death Cab for Cutie, another all-time favorite. And as soon as that ends, I again find myself wanting to hear more... so I have to go to ReverbNation and catch 2 more that aren't on the album (hint, hint).
The good thing about this young band is that even without a synth in a live setting, the droning guitar riffs and 'step above normal' rhythm section support Justin's superb vocal range and abilities. Truly alternative, sneaky good, hidden-meaning material brilliantly written and executed by capable, young musicians with old souls and vocals as sweet as lemon meringue pie.
On August 22nd, you can get your fill as well. https://newtimezones.bandcamp.com/album/silhouettes-at-a-distance
and Like them out on Facebook too! https://www.facebook.com/NewTimeZones/