Absinthe Blind – Rings

It’s hard to be floored – honest-to-god, outright floored – by a record you aren’t introduced to. I’ve been lucky enough to have the pleasure, albeit mostly when I was 12 and had an allowance, and could therefore rationalize dropping $15 on something I thought I’d heard mentioned by Billy Corgan in an interview once. Now that I’m all grown up, though, and pay federal taxes and can be drafted and all, the chance to get sonically cold-cocked by a band who isn’t Radiohead gets slimmer and slimmer the more bands I have recommended to me, from one source or another. And I’ll be honest – I’d heard about Absinthe Blind before, from friends of mine to whom the band is local. They hadn’t said anything quantitative about them, though, and certainly nothing about the contents of the album just released on Mud Records, Rings, so when I got the album in to review, I was surprised to note that Matt Talbott, former HUM frontman and current Centaur mainstay – two of my favorite bands of all time – had teamed up with Keith “Spiritualized/Flaming Lips” Cleversley to run the decks. So I expected, being the cynic that I am, to be able to pick out the work of talented producers in a competent-to-good local band’s work. Happily – amazingly – confoundingly – Absinthe Blind are more than happy to hand my ass directly back to me, pre-kicked.

The first draft of this review consisted of me just typing “WHAT THE HELL! WHAT IS THIS! THIS IS – DAMMIT! THIS IS FANTASTIC” a whole bunch, and while that’s overkill, it’s entirely attributable to that inital shock of hearing something so deliciously juxtaposed to the rest of indie rock. The first song, “The Break (It’s Been There All This Time),” starts off with 30 seconds of ambience, after which the organ patch from “Everything in its Right Place” is used to create a cut-up riff, and after some processed drum machine starts ticking, the singing starts – and that’s when the inertia hits. The guys in this band can fucking sing, people. We’re talking Sting-Bono-Peter Gabriel “flag-waving staring-into-the-stadium thrown-panties-dodging frontman” singing – strident, eager, polished singing that has nothing in common with either the off-handed drawling of indie rock bands of yore, Kevin Shields’ quiet sussur, or even, say, Swervedriver’s audibly-mixed vocal delivery – this is a voice that, given radically different (and infinitely more unfortunate) circumstances, could sell SUVs or duet with Michelle Branch.

I don’t know how to adequately explain this without using references that will automatically be labeled unhip – it’s like suddenly being in a world where Peter Gabriel didn’t leave Genesis and found the Infinity Gauntlet and married Jonny Greenwood and moved to outer space and hand-built analog Moogs. Jefferson Starship are probably listening to this album and crying. It makes me want to get a vocal coach. Remember how awesome guitar solos suddenly were the first time you heard Siamese Dream, even though Corgan was all into Queen and Journey and whatever? That’s the kind of awesome this is. And the production – God, the production – Rush would probably pay ten million dollars to sound this good. This whole album sounds like it’s coming from the moon. The instrumentation is rarely anything grandiose, despite a few guest trumpet spots and whatnot, but the songs have a density and weight that would bely that. Cleversley’s previous work with Spiritualized has its thumbprints all over this album, except that the songs he has to work with this time around aren’t boring.

Quite the opposite, really, with only the possible exception of the just-a-little-too-tongue-in-cheek “The Dreamers Song” (in which “It’s our turn to write the Beatles song / So you can sing along / And I can leave this,” et al, is sung over a dead-on Rubber Soul-era chord progression on a piano – cute, sure, but not three minutes’ worth of cute, which is how long it takes to get really good). These songs have their roots in not only The Beatles, but also Simon and Garfunkel and The Beach Boys, as well as whichever guitar-centric wall-of-sounders inspired the guitarists in this band to buy stock in Big Muff. The results are wonderful – you end up with songs like “Shields,” which starts off with Mates of State-esque boy/girl harmonies over an acoustic guitar – which smash directly into thick-soled multitracked guitars supporting a syrup-thick My Bloody Valentiney guitar loop. Or there’s “Do You Know What You Mean to Me,” which cuts up sampled guitar and drums and unrolls rumbly bass-synth over them – the vocals and lead guitar come in, slowly and tentatively, sounding not tacked-on but cautious, and by the time you realize there’s piano and little beepy stuff starting to come in too, the drums have already picked up and the song crescendoes into a shimmering beach-party-on-Venus swell. While the lack of true dynamism is occasionally a little dissapointing – no “Every Rose Has its Thorn” to follow an “Unskinny Bop” here – it should be implicit that this album serves its one purpose ridiculously well. I don’t fault Rings for its lack of internal juxtaposition any more than I would fault Iron and Wine for refusing to take a fuckin’ solo already.

What can we learn from this experience, then – from my gape-jawed introduction to Absinthe Blind? Two things, I feel – one is to always listen to your friends when they recommend a band to you, just in case – but the other, more important one, is that as good as the “Jed Clampett Striking Oil” feeling of finding something new can be, it’s often infuriating when you realize that your diamond in the rough isn’t getting the press they deserve. Absinthe Blind should be touring nationally on the strength of this album; they should be getting write-ups. If my general ignorance towards their talent previous to this review is an indicator that they’re still working their way to the top, then let me be the first to tell all of you this: This band does not deserve to go unheard.