“More Like Us Than the Bands That We Liked”: The A-Sides, October 11 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Wednesday, 03 October 2007 02:29

The A-Sides On its new album, Silver Storms, the Philadelphia-based quintet The A-Sides has crafted a striking mix of ephemeral, elusive pop in the vein of The Shins; meaty, arena-ready guitar parts; half-speed songs with patient crescendos; upbeat power pop; and surprising accelerations.

If The A-Sides were an established band with a rabid following across the continental United States, we could dub it "mature." But they're embarking on their first national tour, and in that context Silver Storms is daring and maybe a bit reckless.

The band was named Spin's "artist of the day" on July 26, so it could be poised for big things. But the record is slippery and possibly too sophisticated for its own good, simultaneously muscular and wispy; it's the kind of challenging album you're supposed to put out when you have an audience, not when you're still looking for one.

When the band performs at the Redstone Room on Thursday, October 11, for a concert presented by Daytrotter.com and the River Music Experience, expect a show that's difficult to pigeonhole.

Singer and chief songwriter Jon Barthmus balked when asked to provide his own description. "We're not allowed to use the word ‘epic' anymore," he said last week. "We said that too much. ‘Epic,' ‘densely layered' ... . People that don't listen to much music tend to think we sound like Coldplay."

I don't hear much Coldplay, but the sound is a bit of stew, and it brings to mind a lot of references, from the backing-vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys to the somber but ringing guitars of Interpol.

Barthmus acknowledged that I'm not alone in finding the album difficult to grasp: "I'm not sure what it means, or why it happens," he said. "I don't know if it's good or bad."

The A-Sides The effect is at least partially a function of the detail of production. We're not accustomed to a band's second album - Hello, Hello came out in 2005 - sounding this organically, confidently big and expansive.

And the recording could have turned out much different. The A-Sides thought they had a firm record deal, Barthmus said, until three days before they went into the studio. When that deal fell through, the group approached producer and friend Brian McTear. "We're totally at your mercy," Barthmus recalled the band saying. But the producer replied: "We're going to do this record. Let's worry about everything else later."

The A-Sides could have scaled back the production because of the lost record deal, Barthmus said, but instead approached the recording "as if we were getting it paid for in full by a record label," he said. "So it was kind of a scramble after that to find the money on our own. ... I'm sure no other producer would have allowed us such leniency as far as payment."

The band didn't panic, though. "We were all feeling pretty confident about it," he said. "We all felt really good about it."

They did pay for the recording over time, and they began shopping it around as soon as it was finished. They found a new record deal - with Vagrant - and last month began touring in support of Pinback and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. ("I'm sure we're not bringing out a lot of people to these shows," Barthmus said.) Their Davenport show will be their only headlining gig on the seven-week jaunt.

The A-Sides The band began by playing in the style of their influences, particularly the Beatles, but diversified following Hello, Hello. Barthmus said he scrapped a group of new songs that he wrote during the preparation of the debut album. "After we recorded it, I just felt like I wanted to completely start from scratch and start a completely new thing," he said.

The A-Sides were searching for a sound "more like us than the bands that we liked," he said. "All along we knew that we wanted this to be a band that we could change and do whatever we wanted to do with."

Personnel changes helped that along. Keyboardist Christopher Doyle joined to help execute Barthmus' increasingly rich arrangements, while guitarist Charlie Cottone added an ambient, atmospheric texture. Although Barthmus is the chief songwriter, he said, the band works on the songs together, and "it really feels like everybody has their stamp on it."

Silver Storms isn't the type of record that's going to instantly vault The A-Sides into the pop-culture consciousness, but it's certainly good enough to command a national tour, a record deal, the attention of the critics, and a growing fan base.

And Barthmus doesn't expect overnight success. After five years with the band, he said, he's learned that sales, audience, and attention "take time to build for us."


The A-Sides will perform at the Redstone Room in Davenport on Thursday, October 11, with Coyote Bones. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $5.

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