Wasn't sure what to make of the CD-R that arrived in the mail earlier this week with "FALCON BUDDIES- QUADRALITH" scrawled on it. Could be anything, from the band name -- backpacker rap, cartoon pop supergroup, trucker rock. In fact what the Falcon Buddies are producing is music that is distinctly their own. There are recognizable elements -- Rick Wakeman synth washes, Jeff Parker's glassy clean-channel guitar tone, sophisticated vocal sections that draw on Burt Bacharach and the Dan -- but the Buddies synthesize these reference points and numerous others into a heady mix that places them right at the top of the Austin progressive scene.
There's a trick to approaching improvisational music in the studio that many wrestle with for entire careers. Quadralith has its share of jamming passages, but the songs aren't overlong (only one tops five minutes) and the Falcons understand that more than four or eight bars of extended jamming over the same chord progression is seldom merited on a record. Rather, they show their range with songs that change feel frequently and never seem like showcases for guitar solos or vocal spotlights. Lyrically, they can traffic in the surrealism of the Thinking Fellers ("Bone Dance") but they can also craft a sharp narrative that dovetails with the mood of the music ("Free Parking"). At times the musicianship of all four players threatens to make the mix a little too busy; but it happens very seldom thanks to the assuredness of their excellent, articulate drummer. And their sense of humor is another saving grace -- I love the jazz combo-style off-mic babbling and caterwauling in the first section of "Bone Dance."
As it should for a band of this kind, Quadralith feels like the distillation of numerous live performances shaped into the definitive capsule version of each of these five tunes. The songs all twist and turn, but it's always clear when one is over and the next has begun. I can think of many other bands with as many ideas and disparate influences as the Falcon Buddies, but very few with the musical skill to present them all in this economical -- and flat-out listenable -- a package.