As best as I can tell, Ticonderoga's second full-length album (and their second since April) isn't named after a European theory of engineering or philosophy, though the disc's curious title--The Heilig-Levine LP--may conjure notions of transcontinental academia. Fact is, it references The Heilig-Levine Furniture Building, a long-standing Raleigh landmark that--over the next two years--will become an $8 million chattel of apartments, offices and restaurants. Ticonderoga recorded this album in that space.
Interesting enough, but what about the building--and its furniture? It's a telling perspective for Ticonderoga, a three-piece who moved to Raleigh from Grinnell, Iowa, two years ago. Their sound is an interesting contraption, juxtaposing sinister, foreboding tones and deeply introspective songs with one-liners and asides that showcase a sharp, childlike--albeit dark--wit. Incongruous puzzle pieces mark Ticonderoga's sound, too: Simple songs built on acoustic guitars take trips into sporadic campfire sing-alongs or settle into a noise that goes either way: a threatening, persistent din or a transient, ascendant crescendo. Ticonderoga doesn't do simplicity. Yes, as furniture goes, The Heilig-Levine LP would be ugly and unfunctional. And that's high praise.
Just picture three designers--Wes Phillips, Mark Paulson, Phil Moore--plying their separate crafts together in a Raleigh workshop, attempting to build some kind of new yet tradition-steeped ware: at heart plain and in soul, flashy and fancy. See "Fucking Around," the disc's chunky chord opener. It's solidly built, an oak frame held together by two-chords and big drums. Of course, there's stuff plastered all over it: Vibes, keys, a way wayward anti-riff guitar slinking in and out, an art-kid, art-deco mish-mash thrown haphazardly on hardwood. Or see "Why Do You Suppose?" with its Rosebuds pop carefully drowned in a Pacific Northwest haze, followed by the nervous, slightly arrhythmic "Sparrow," which eventually sails into the throes of a string-borne climax.
This furniture would be hand-carved, intricately shaped by perfectionists confident enough in each other to let mistakes go. For Ticonderoga, mistakes sound like badges of honor, bloodstains from young carpenters with ambitions and insecurities, comfortable and uncomfortable enough to say something like, "I swear on my Mom, I didn't flip through your notebook/ I've got my own." They wouldn't mind experimenting with new techniques: dropping stream-of-consciousness wordplay about sandwiches; singing the name of the band two songs in, one word after using their first band name choice ("Braggadocio"); mixing acoustic guitar songs with pitter-pattering electronics or harsh amps and sonorous underpinnings.
Mostly, they wouldn't mind the process of invention or the sound of getting there. The furniture would be an unshapely marvel. Two albums into it, Ticonderoga is finally done cleaning out (some of) the early vaults, and the future sounds unstable and awkward--and brilliant and complicated.
Ticonderoga's CD release show for The Heilig-Levine LP happens at Bickett Gallery on Wednesday, Nov. 2. They play with The Physics of Meaning on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Local 506.