July 10, 2009

Buildings Breeding: Sweet Velcro Hooks

Words by Robbie Hilson; Photo by Jocelyn McGregor

“We were on a bum trip that show because we had to go last,” says Buildings Breeding singer and guitarist Christapher Larsen, defending a better-than-he-thinks mid-summer gig in San Francisco. Apologies to Mr. Larsen for the mental eye-rolling, but his band will have to get used to waiting around. This is, after all, what headliners do.

Then again, patience doesn’t rank very high on the virtues scale when you’re a touring band on the brink, and so all things dear to the Sacramento natives – from classic three-minute pop songs to zinging on-stage one-liners courtesy of drummer and de facto joke teller Melanie Glover – cut straight to the point. “In our band, there’s not a lot of room to noodle around,” Larsen says. “It’s a nice idea to just stick to what you want to get across.”

True to form, Buildings Breeding’s latest release, In the Key of Calloused Fingers, mines short-‘n-sweet territory, zipping along on nimble melody-driven ditties that further the humble sounds of 1960s pop and bedroom listening. It’s all catchy, all concise – qualities one might expect from an outfit that counts the Beach Boys and early T-Rex among its many influences. “You don’t have to be this mega rock force,” Larsen says, confident in the subtle power of songs like “Pitter Patter” and “Leaving Out the Punch.”

Of course, there’s nothing at all subtle about “Beesting.” Grounded in cocktail lounge grooves, beehive hairdos, and a diffuse guitar line somehow escaped from Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the track’s martini-sipping riff spars with a breezy, foottapping chorus in an epic struggle for cool supremacy. “Beesting” also highlights the group’s airy vocal delivery, a track-by-track tradeoff between the soft, higher pitch of Larsen and the whispered hush of Glover. During rare moments of striking union, as in the ethereal chorus of “History,” the two voices become one, forming a breathy guy-girl purr, conjoined at the hip in harmony. It’s a rare kind of connection, and one that plays out on stage.

While the tunes aren’t always tight in a live setting – “There’s a charm to being sloppy,” says Larsen – the relationships certainly are. “Most of the time people can just tell that we like to be around each other,” he adds, citing the big-family dynamic of Sonic Youth as both reference and inspiration.

Still, if we’re making noise band comparisons (the similarities are few), My Bloody Valentine hits closer to home, especially in light of Calloused Fingers' two-pronged melodies and unexpectedly sturdy electric tones. “Polish Barely Holds,” for instance, hums along on the same subdued crunch that drives MBV’s “Sometimes.” Clocking in at a transient 73 seconds, the song would make nothing more than an early-album interlude if not for lead guitarist Kevin Dockter’s swirling solo introducing the final refrain. This is the kind of quirk that makes Buildings Breeding a tiny thing to cherish. Sweetly inviting upon first listen, alluring with repeat play, their canon of fleeting pop treasures at once delivers hooks adorned in Velcro. Each sticks: the spunky, pseudo-surf groove propelling “Skyline,” the fragile inflections lifting the chorus of “Youth Is All That’s Left,” and Chris Vogel’s creeping bass line haunting the starry-eyed “Emmawood.”

Perhaps these charms are a product of a predictably lean, bang-it-out approach. “I’ve always been a firm believer that if you work a song to death, you’ll hear it in the recording,” says Vogel of in-studio efficiency. “If the song just happens to come out in one or two takes, you’re going to totally get the magic that happened in that moment.”

And the moment is what this band is all about. “We were kind of waiting for it to come to us before,” Larsen admits. “Right now we’re more inclined to seek it out.” Already they’ve scorched the CMJ charts with their debut, landed a song on MTV’s Human Giant, and most importantly, won over a tough local crowd. Says Larsen, “I think we realized the other night that we might have broken into the scene because we played last and there were just as many people as there were in the beginning.” No surprise here – as with everything else Buildings Breeding, it was all just a matter of time. 

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