Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's All Shimmy Like It's the Very Late Nineties

To Silently Provoke the Ghost EP
The Photo Atlas

What better way to begin a renewed commitment to music reviews in my new city than checking in with my old Denver homies, The Photo Atlas? One of the first local bands that really earned my attention when I settled in Colorado, I would be really broken up about not getting to see their Gang of Four-derived, dance-informed, energy-laden performances any longer -- only they're road warriors and they play here almost as often as they do in the 303. The Atlas got a lot of notice with their debut full-length No, Not Me Never in 2007 (the undeniable "Red Orange Yellow" remains their definitive statement), but their instant perfection of a recognizable style might have left them in a bit of a cul-de-sac creatively. This EP, which seems to have twice as many ideas in half as many songs, finds them managing to keep it fresh even as their basic sound remains essentially unchanged. Producer J. Robbins doesn't hurt any, and I like the Jawbox-like effect of Alan Andrews dueting with himself on "Jealous Teeth," with one line delivered in a melodic style and the next shouted.

Andrews has grown a ton as a vocalist after hundreds of shows, his voice sounding fuller and more assured on all of these tracks. Drummer Nick Miles, added since No, Not Me, also has a lot to do with the quality of this new one, as the Atlas sound more like a rock band and less of a producer-shaped dance act here, something that's always been reflected in their live shows. Disco beats are still in the mix, but Miles' kick and hi-hats are loud and that's as it should be. Harmonies on "It's Always About the Money" and "You Haven't Read Enough" are welcome developments, and I appreciate the way band and producer are thoughtful about putting unique details on every track, like the fuzz bass tone for "Class of 2012." The group still has yet to release anything that's a departure from their basic beat-happy template, even though a teaser EP like this one would have been an excellent opportunity to try a ballad experiment. I guess we'll have to await the next full-length.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the Photo Atlas after label problems and a lineup change sapped their initial momentum. To Silently Provoke the Ghost proves they're still full of energy, and that their chops have just gotten better. The one thing that remains is to find a method of transferring all those qualities into some tunes that shatter the mold they've built for themselves a little bit.

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