Tracing the patterns of “influence” — better described as confluence — is a fun game to play when it comes to your fave pop groups. It’s also a bit dodgy, because touchstones are often not so obviously placed, and the obscure ones remain tucked within the brains of the creators, obvious to them but hidden to the rest of us.
I was excited to get the new disc from the Faraway Places, Out of the Rain, the Thunder & the Lightning (Save It Records), because the proclaimed impact of German experimental gods Can on their previous album, Unfocus On It, from 2003, turned out — for once— to have been entirely justifiable. They did a good job of defining what they have now gone further to term a “West Coast Krautrock sound.” Out of the Rain is somewhat like its predecessor, a warm-sounding record full of well-constructed pop/rock songs whose raggedy melodic patches and insistent hooks that sound crafted yet stumbled upon grab you; these great pop things just as often fall into a sort of daydream-coma mode in the middle or at song’s end. And that there might be pinpointed as the principal Can “influence.”
Chris Colthart is the brains behind the Faraway Places. He lives in Eagle Rock, as do most of his band partners. Colthart has given the impression in recent times of having been out of the scene for a while, yet he’s mainly been holed up trying to finish this record, while trying out different formations and musical contexts — power pop versus sound art — of his band.
There was a good amount of agonizing behind the album’s creation, according to Colthart. “I would just work on it intensely, and then get kind of freaked out by it and take time off, and then reapproach it,” he says. “Then there was a little bit of just coming to terms with the transition of, like, being in a band was something I did after college or whatever to I still want to make music but I’m an adult now, and I’m having to put things together for real, just making an early midlife transition. [Laughs] Even though I’m not middle-aged.”
Making the new record found Colthart joined by his primary musical partner Donna Coppola and a few others from the pair’s old smart-pop band Papas Fritas and local pop progressives Bedroom Walls. Colthart did the bulk of the engineering work himself, recording in bits and pieces in his little home studio, and being “just way too perfectionist about the whole thing,” he frets. “I recorded it all myself, and mixed it with some friends. I’ve just been going Kevin Shields over the whole thing, you know?”
The prolonged effort was worth the wait, going by the fine craft of the songwriting that characterizes the album’s 10 tracks, and by the amount of shrewdly scuzzed-up, analog-board-twiddled sonic detail that lures you back again and again to the tunes’ mysteries. And that’s a sonic detail that doesn’t hurt to hear, unlike so many picture-perfect digital recordings of current vintage. Songs like “The Sun Goes West,” “You Can Cry” and “Just Let Go” evoke the very best massagingly rounded-edge power of great ’60s or early ’70s albums like the more jazzy-improv-psych late-Byrds stuff, or, more specifically, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush or, in fact, Boston’s eponymous debut disc.
Colthart has a lot of severely avanty musical/art interests that he’s in the process of reconciling — or not reconciling — with his rock-band career, for example, doing way modal psychedelic guitar stuff (“going Pharoah Sanders on it”) with his Myrtle Energy Music Configuration at Machine Project, or his large-group experiments at places like Sea and Space Explorations in Eagle Rock, “where it’s all acoustic guitars and clarinets and bells and chimes and bird noises, and the band surrounding the audience and playing this sort of chiming, Alice Coltrane/Philip Glass/Steve Reich–type of deal.” But he is plagued by a kind of, well, guilt about it.
“I get going into something like that,” he says with a laugh, “then I say, ‘No wait, I gotta get the rock band going again!’ But I really see it as all part of the same band. The band in one case is 20 people, whereas now we’re playing with six people. And then for a while also I was doing the rock band as a 14-piece orchestra, like Sun Ra–style. I went through that period and then — y’know, six people is enough; you can definitely make a wall of sound.”
So though he’ll continue to tinker with the formal/textural approach of his band’s sounds — he’s planning a freeform psychedelic EP for summer — Colthart has decided, somewhat shakily yet resolutely enough, that one can get profoundly progressive things said in the context of a small beat combo that frugs out short, catchy songs.
“Yeah, I’m really interested in Can,” he says with a shrug, “and I’m really interested in good power pop, too. Whenever I get really into one, pretty soon, I start getting called over to the other.” He laughs. “I think, ‘There’s something so great about the perfect pop song. Why am I screwing around with these sound collages?’”
The Faraway Places perform at the Silverlake Lounge on Wednesday, March 11, at 9 p.m.