I know this older guy who follows new bands but instantly dismisses 99% of them. When he heard one hotly hyped recent CD, he deadpanned, “I’m glad these young men have found something to do with their excess energy.” But last year, when the naysayer heard the Double’s impressive debut, Palm Fronds, he nodded affirmatively and actually uttered the words, “These guys are good.” If the Brooklyn-based quartet can impress this grouch, it’s clear they’re onto something.
In this era of record-collector rock, too many bands sound as if they model themselves on a single group or even a single album. Statements like “Early Neil Young is the shit” or “We all love Gang of Four’s Entertainment” speak more of limitations and obsessions than of inspiration. But listening to the Double, you can tell that each member brings different musical tastes to the group’s hard-to-peg mix. There are hints of Krautrock, punk, Beach Boys, free improv, power pop, and loads of other stuff, but the Double’s sound isn’t so much an olio of various styles as a stew whose recognizable influences have been boiled away.
Palm Fronds (on the Catsup Plate label) is appealingly murky and mysterious. Studio effects twist the songs into shimmering mirages. The opener, “Blanket on the Beach,” features bassist/lead singer David Greenhill’s fuzzed-up vocals backed by dreamy tones that echo the lyrics’ hanging-by-the-sea vibe. “Soul Cougar”’s warped funk-punk doesn’t dwell on the innovations of 1980; it comes up with its very own fractured groove. The closer, “Black Diamond,” is killer—imagine a version of the Velvet’s “Heroin” that, instead of dwelling on the dark side, pulses like a magical jewel emitting rays of light.
Jeff McLeod, the group’s distinctive drummer, contributes mightily to the Double’s sound, but right before the Palm Fronds recording sessions, McLeod injured his hand, depriving the band of this unusual beatmaker’s full services. Amazingly, the group went ahead and cut the disc anyway, with electronics often filling in for trap kit. Even more amazingly, the risky move worked.
Earlier this year, the Double signed to Matador, which released the group’s second album, Loose in the Air, in September. Loose was recorded at Tarquin Studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was produced by Steve Revitte and the band. (Revitte has worked with groups such as the Liars and Black Dice, not to mention the great Tito Puente.) On Loose, the Double refines and alters what they were up to on Palm Fronds. The details that mark the earlier disc are still present, but the sounds are no longer smooshed together; now, each instrument occupies a distinct spot in the larger sonic space.
On the new album’s first single, “Idiocy,” Donald Beaman uses his squalling guitar to punch and jab like a psych-punk boxer, and ace keyboardist Jacob Morris’s shifting parts continually alter the song’s palette. McLeod’s drumming is eccentric and compelling: This guy is allergic to playing anything that is rhythmically obvious. Above the finely crafted racket, Greenhill intones an irresistible melody. It’s hard to imagine another band that would put together a song in this fashion—these guys consistently come up with inventive arrangements that tug and pull at the basic musical material.
Loose closes strongly with a couple of standouts. The right-eously crooked guitar and volley of percussion toward the end of the initially spacey “Dance” is a good example of the band’s ability to blast off. (Interestingly, the track was written to accompany a fashion show.) And on “Busty Beasty,” autoharp and band sway sweetly as Beaman deliciously slurs his way through lyrics I can’t understand but definitely feel.
Talking about the different approaches the band took to record Fronds and Loose, Beaman says, “The sound of the first one has a lot to do with both the practical and budgetary limitations of working in an apartment, on an eight-track, with one mic and zero dollars.” (A borrowed bass with only two tuning pegs was one of the instruments used for the sessions.) “But this was coupled with the enthusiasm that comes from stumbling onto a new working method that was exciting and felt wide open. We never really thought it was going to come out, so we just experimented with the songs, seeing where we could take them. The band was forming as the recordings were made.”
After wrapping up the sessions, the group played out regularly and the foursome started to come into their own. (In addition to headlining shows, the group has opened for TV on the Radio, Blonde Redhead, Fiery Furnaces, and Deerhoof.) “We played a lot of live shows and practiced a lot and learned how to play together,” says Beaman, who points out that all the gigging and woodshedding fed directly into the Loose sessions.
“We wrote a batch of new songs, played them until they felt right, went into a studio, and recorded them. We went into the studio to basically document what we do as a live band and add a few flourishes here and there. We let them breathe a lot more than on the first record.”
Lately, the Double have been hitting the road hard. After completing a U.S. tour this fall, the group will play more American gigs in December and January. In February, Loose will be released in the U.K. and Europe and the band will cross the Atlantic to try to duplicate their American success there.
Fred Cisterna continues to write as buildings rise around him.
FRED CISTERNA writes a spoken-word column for Signal to Noise magazine.