The Focus Group – s/t

The Focus Group – s/t

The Focus Group – s/t

The Focus Group‘s self-titled debut album is a powerful blend of sound craft and songwriting. This San Diego-based four piece recruit a little help and dream up 12 songs of subtlety and steam power.

Like a musical truffle, piercing guitars mix with deep tones, surrounded in atmospheres drenched in reverb, echo, phasers, and all kinds of effects. Misshapen instruments conjured by synths line space, spotted here and there with non-traditional rock instruments. Highlighted by a rich bass tone, the tight rhythm section is versatile, too. From the back of the mix comes the vocal. This adds to the hazy wax coating on the music, an audiophile’s fancy channeled through a fisheye lens. I liked the production.

The mood on most of The Focus Group is open to interpretation; I came away with a lonely, sometimes eerie feeling. With good results, the vocal on “Moonlit Side” bears more affectation than some of the album’s other performances. The strain of vulnerability there blends well with the simple guitar chords and basic rhythm. The first few songs on the album are relatively bare compared to those in the album’s latter parts. Another exercise in modesty, “Sting of Hail” introduces more processing and effects. Choruses feature a rolling tom drum boosted by a rolling bass line and a guitar lead that swells to a screech as the song flourishes, briefly, before giving way again to the verse. Altogether, the sounds seem to stretch towards the edge of the room without filling space and suffocating ears, leaving lots of room to breathe and still plenty of atmosphere. “Halo of Snakes” starts with guitar riff joined by a processed guitar that picks through chords while a second guitar chimes out high accents. Pieces of the song gather meditatively. Some guitar dissonance later creates a little tension, but the vocal harmony at the chorus is reassuring. Often the listener is left feeling laid back and under water.

Four and half minute “Kill the Wolf” is less successful. After some development, a high end guitar line pierces through and starts dominating the mix. This proves a bad omen because the song soon dries up. Although the rich tones are there, the songwriting isn’t. This one lacks focus.

The snare rolls, rumbling bass, and swirling guitars that kick off “Borrowed Blood” search for and find a chorus, repeating their hide and seek game before the song altogether stops. A bass figure and unobtrusive vocal pick up there–a new start to the song– and eventually welcome a host of guitars. After a few laps, the song returns to where it started: a cacophony of swirling, wah-wah guitars. With its variety and creativity, “Free From Now On” grabs attention. After circulating through a number of effects and approaches, the song starts off anew with a basic guitar riff. The riff persists, waiting for something to develop around it. And then something does–a loose, almost-song in which the pieces don’t quite fit. But the disjointed feel is intentional, and in time the parts find the groove.

The band made a video for “Dirty Mouth”. Although this song might be the most commercial sounding, it doesn’t by any means show the band’s better half. The Focus Group achieves on a number of levels. The rich tones and original songwriting on their self-titled album is surely good for listen after listen. Try it out for yourself.