Thursday, June 30, 2011

The December Sound drop a sonic boom


Order out of chaos. If making music is all about conjuring brief moments of something-ness out of the void, it's no wonder that it speaks to us on such a primal, biological level. What are our lives, after all, beside sad little symphonies, one part layered on top of the next — occasionally harmonious, more often discordant. And human civilization, just a really long EP. Houses are songs and cities are, too: songs that stave off the nothingness of the lag time between tracks.

A grandiosity-minded outfit like the December Sound cut through to the core of that metaphor by digging down past a few layers of artifice and erecting walls of noise that could be the soundtrack to some creation myth. Consider the track "Massed Senses," from their still-in-production second album Beneath the Ruins of Me — with its giant vistas of celestial feedback and colliding asteroids — or the planet-sized buzzsaw of "Never" from their 2005 homonymous debut. Or, if that comparison doesn't work for you, let's leave deep space behind and try deep ocean. To wit, what does the ominous drone of an expanse of underwater mountains eroding over a millennia sound like? That's the idea they're going for.

They usually get there. Sonic mastermind Zack Sarzana (who returned from a sojourn to New York City a while back) and bandmates Jimmy Rossi Jr. and John McGuigan have always had a knack for finding the plot in a vast haze of feedback, occasionally shaping that cosmic stuff into a pop song cloaked in noise; or, at other times, simply laying waste to the room with power blasts of guitar-pedal mayhem.

It's a process you might call shoegaze, or noise, and it's one with many possible antecedents in the recent and distant indie past, but Sarzana said he was detached from any specific references when writing this new record. "There wasn't anything contemporarily, or retroactively, being used as an influence — at least on a conscious level. These sounds were a result of isolation."

The band had ceased to exist for about a year at the time he was writing. "We'd pretty much disbanded due to a black period that fell upon me, leading to a metamorphosis that would change the outlook on what music meant personally. As opposed to writing tracks that we felt we wanted to write, there were songs that had to be written. It all came from a pure place. I feel the December Sound finally sounds like the December Sound. I remember having a discussion with a loved one about music, breaking it down. We were on the topic of traditional and classical music, and she turned and told me, 'The intent was different, they were making music for God.' That statement haunts me."

Sounds a bit dramatic, but you could easily picture God scrolling through the giant iPod in the sky to the "D" section and thinking, "Yeah, this will do. I'm about to build me a canyon."

No '60s-style British sound or '90s feedback vapor trails for the band this time out, Sarzana says. "The only movement I'd ever want to be a part of is Mascagni's Intermezzo." Perhaps paradoxically, that classical music way of thinking applies to their sampling techniques as well.

"Though we use technology to our advantage, it's still an organic process," Sarzana says. "Any sample that you hear is an instrument being played as a sample for the duration, as opposed to just sampling an instrument and looping it. There is a big difference in the feel and the discipline. 'Classical' instruments in a modern way? Yes. Putting timpani through fuzz, orchestral bells as the lead instrument, castanets and harpsichord to create rhythm tracks. . . . It's still the wall of sound, but we are trying to forward the technological approach by using the old toys in a new way, while blending and breaking rules with new ones. A bit claustrophobic now, but there's no doubt about it: the sound is bigger than ever and has so much color. I think we found the fine balance of those components. It just sounds massive."

Boston Phoenix

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