According to the Raleigh rumor mill, former Swervedriver leader Adam Franklin paid STRANGE the ultimate compliment before he took the stage after them last November at Kings. "What country are these guys from again?"
Ostensibly impressed by the band's draconian guitar and trumpet swells and David Mueller's howl, Franklin's seven-word summary--a laurel for any fledgling, stateside psychedelic rock band--is worth evaluation.
Mueller's voice drips with a Bauhaus kinship, and the band--two asymmetric keyboards, trumpet, bass and Nick Speak's circumnavigated drumming--slinks and roars like some "Death Disco" deviant committed to quarter-inch tape two decades ago. STRANGE sounds neither of this time nor place, a somehow too-long-overlooked relic rescued from the mid-'80s Beggars Banquet, 4AD or Mute vaults.
But they're not: Mueller is an under-30 Raleigh lifer, a veteran of Olympic Mons who began looking for a new band only after a friend offered him an opening spot at Humble Pie. Speaks joined him for that first show and a few early, homemade recordings, while keyboardists Vince Carmody and Joel Rhodes joined two years ago after Chris Nilson and Mike Isenberg left the band. Ex-White Octave bassist Linc Hancock, a high school friend of Mueller's, eagerly completed the lineup.
And Things in Night--the long-awaited and long-overdue debut from STRANGE--isn't even an analog experience. Instead, the recording came as a sort of experiment for producer Greg Elkins, who has been making albums here for well over a decade. Elkins recorded the band to analog tape, but made the studio switch to ProTools before they had made much headway behind the board. That move eased an arduous mixing process that often included multiple microphones for the same guitar sound.
"You could assume that Greg would be open-minded because he was in The Horribles as their, you know, spiritual leader.... We knew he would approach things differently," Speaks explains.
As such, Elkins encouraged STRANGE to experiment at his Desolation Row space, essentially a small, round recording room in front backed by a commodious metal workshop. Guitars were miked twice, once at close range and then from afar in the reverb-heavy metal space. Extraneous ambient tones crept into takes. Percussion tracks were added by drumming on gigantic metal pipes or by experimenting with compressed air hoses.
"He upped the kid in the candy store aspect. In studios I've recorded in before, if I had something I wanted to try that was different, someone would always say, 'Oh, the frequency on this range will be out, so just do it this way' or whatever," says Mueller. "But with Greg, if I had an idea, he would just figure it out how to do it."
Carmody thinks that experimental synergy comes from the band and producer's similar musical heritage. A long list of referents--from the obvious Spacemen 3 and Joy Division to the less immediate Fetchin' Bones and Loretta Lynn-- follows. For Mueller and Rhodes, though, just one hero is written all across Things in Night.
"When we started the record, I had just gotten a huge stack of Miles Davis records at a loft sale and had just read his autobiography," explains Mueller, a pristine copy of Miles Smiles spinning on the Kings turntable. "It's that restless, kind of searching attitude towards music."
The results are as ambitious as that attitude: Things in Night revels in overloaded, abrasive atmospherics casually morphing into free-range epics. "Over There," the album's protracted closer driven by Speaks' cymbal cacophony and sheets of guitar and keyboard sound, unfurls with an aleatory spontaneity meant to match Mueller's surreal writing.
"I kind of write as a plus b equals c, not really from a to b. If you ask me what a song means, I would say it doesn't mean more than those parts taken together, or anything more definite than that," he struggles.
But his bandmates--all sipping and nodding--know exactly what he means.
As if waiting 30 minutes for this one question, Speaks--still impressed that Mueller reads Baudelaire--grins and announces: "That's what poetry does. It's poetry."
STRANGE will play its CD release party for Things in Night with Spader and Filthy Bird on Saturday, Feb. 19 at Kings in Raleigh. The CD will be available in stores through Pidgeon English Records on Tuesday, Feb. 22.