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Confidently, Accessibly Experimental: The Envy Corps, December 16 at the Redstone Room PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 05 December 2011 14:47

The Envy Corps. Photo by Seth Warrick.

The Envy Corps sell a T-shirt that proclaims the Iowa- and Nebraska-based band is “Radiohead for Coldplay Fans.”

Vocalist and bassist Luke Pettipoole said in an interview last week that he came up with the idea with his tongue in cheek, and that he’s been surprised how receptive fans have been. “People really seem to enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re making fun of us, or we’re making fun of Coldplay, or what.”

But it’s possible there’s no mockery involved at all. After a one-record stint on major-label imprint Vertigo (which released 2008’s Dwell), the Envy Corps returned this fall with the self-released full-length It Culls You. Beyond the way Pettipoole’s phrasing and frequent falsetto bring to mind Thom Yorke (“I sing the way I sing,” he said), the album sounds like the child of Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief – and in the best way possible. Spacious yet full, odd yet alluring, the parentage is obvious but It Culls You never feels like you’re listening to a clone. If Coldplay figures in, it’s in the way the Envy Corps favors accessibility over alienation.

That’s not to say it’s an easy album. The band chose to release the record in October but is waiting to support it on the road until next year – a way to give audiences an opportunity to let It Culls You grow on them. (The Envy Corps’ December 16 show at the Redstone Room is one of its rare performances this year.) “You lay the foundation by putting out your record,” Pettipoole said. “I think you can challenge your fans a little bit. There are a lot of sounds in there that you may not totally understand the first few listens.”

That’s partly a function of how the album was composed. The song’s primary songwriter, Pettipoole had switched from guitar to bass, and “we ended up writing the record from a bass player’s point of view, which to me would sound probably like the worst thing in the world.”

Overall, Pettipoole said, “we were kind of bored with guitar music.” Beyond the bass origins, the band employed a foundation of rhythm, and a more collaborative approach to songwriting. Member Micah Natera helped the band use gear in unusual ways – for example, plugging the bass into an analog synthesizer – and guitarist Brandon Darner played a lot of Moog guitar. “You don’t actually have to pick it,” Pettipoole explained. “You just put your finger where the note is, and it ends up swelling and sounding like a cello. ... We were kind of trying to redefine, through the instruments that we were using, what the sound was going to be. It made it a little more ethereal ... .”

The key phrase there is “a little more.” The explosive “Ms. Hospital Corners” is propelled by thick layers of bass over twitchy drums, with bridges that climb and descend – an unlikely but hugely effective hook. “Exchequer” is similarly driving and bass-heavy, with distortion and noise balanced by smooth synthesizers.

“Med. Song” is more restrained, built on what Pettipoole described as an Arabic/Mediterranean guitar line that’s contrasted with a bass that “kind of moves the song through more of a pop chord structure” and augmented by the Moog guitar.

The opening half of the nine-minute “Fools (How I Survived You & Even Laughed)” shows that the band can thrive in austerity, as well – with sensitive, bare-bones instrumentation and Pettipoole’s fragile singing.

Those are highlights, but the whole of It Culls You is similarly poised – confidently experimental and idiosyncratic but keenly cognizant of the songcraft niceties that let audiences inside.

The Envy Corps will perform on Friday, December 16, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 the day of the show. Tickets and more information are available at RiverMusicExperience.org.

For more information on the Envy Corps, visit TheEnvyCorps.com.


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