(Bear Minimum Records, CD)
For the last couple of years, In Memory of Pluto have reigned as an incomparable pop-punk juggernaut — especially live — taking their place alongside the region’s more promising young bands. But recent months have seen that group recede into the background somewhat as various members pursue other musical outlets. Lead vocalist/dynamo Seth Gallant has carved out a humble niche in the local singer-songwriter scene, while also lending bass chops to Maryse Smith’s much-ballyhooed new project. Meanwhile, the Jandl brothers, Billy and Zach, have busied themselves with an intriguing new trio, along with drummer Dan Smith, called Spirit Animal. The band’s debut EP, Pizza Party, is a tantalizing first attempt that will certainly appeal to IMOP diehards. But the five-song gem also suggests an artistic — and architecturally postrock — curiosity that was not evident within Pluto’s angular pop constraints and high-octane assault.
“Ubercannonan” fires the first shot across the bow. Overdriven, shimmering guitar sustains balance frantic squeals of feedback as the din swells to a tenuous breaking point. Tension releases as Billy Jandl’s serpentine lead riff slithers through the washout and lithely curls around brother Zach’s punchy, staccato bass line. Then, with little warning, Smith jolts the song from its asphyxiated fog, the Jandls joining in lockstep behind him. Over a lean, driving groove, vocalist Billy Jandl delivers husky, almost sub-melodic lines with a steely coolness. That is, until the chorus arrives. Then the entire ensemble explodes in a flurry of soaring guitar and bristling back end. Unpredictable, taut and volatile, the song has more curves and surprises than Christina Hendricks.
“Nabisco” is next and begins as sweetly as its namesake would suggest. A bright, high-toned guitar line bubbles to the surface, popping pleasantly at the top of each melody arc. In comparison to the gooey layers on the preceding tune, this cookie feels more like a Nilla wafer. But don’t be fooled. The Jandls coat an otherwise relatively straightforward biscuit with whole milk, softening the texture and enriching the sonic flavor. (I’m hungry.)
“Gossamer Bay” is both the EP’s literal and figurative centerpiece. The song combines the band’s tendency toward challenging melodic constructs with an innate knack for tempering those intellectually fancy flights with pure, unhinged, visceral appeal. It’s post-punk by way of Explosions in the Sky, art-rock by way of At the Drive-In.
Both “Mastabon” and closer “Ol’ Glory” represent the EP’s most accessible cuts and should sate antsy IMOP fans. The former’s opening line even resembles a Valium-laced version of the IMOP classic “Cutting Open the Fiction.” The latter is a vigorous romp, propelled by spasmodic, rhythmic fluxes, hairpin changes and Billy Jandl’s pleading vocal howls. In other words, it’s a fine end to an alluring, if at times mentally demanding, debut.
Catch Spirit Animal this Friday at Nectar’s as part of the Seven Days-sponsored Burlington Bands 101 showcase.