Imagine hearing a new band for the first time, becoming glued to the sheer visual experience before your eyes that complements the sonic vibrations rattling away in your ears like the myriad of percussion (no cymbals) on the stage. Add to it, you’re not in the venue but standing behind the band, unable to hear the lyrics but purely the percussion. Add to it, they’re from your city. Add to it, they have promo copies of an album that won’t be released for months later.
Now take those promotional copies away because everyone snatched them up as soon as they hit the floor-except you.
But that’s all fine, because while everyone around you at SXSW is enamored with taco trucks, free booze, and official showcase vs. unofficial showcase debates (or just letting the wind hit them refreshingly in the little pedal taxis), you’ve found a diamond in the rough of 2,000 others. That was A Lull, and the album that was denied to potential delayed gratification was Confetti, the follow up to their 2009 Ice Cream Bones EP. (The only satisfaction during those months was finding out one song was called “Weapons For War.”
People often talk about musical landscapes but often enough they’re so elaborate and lofty, you’d need a zeppelin to feel attached. Confetti is that backyard beyond the decaying farm fence shedding its last bits of white paint. The tribal drumming of two drum sets with no cymbals (that seriously do eat guitars) end up doing more to root the band than you could imagine. And it’s not for visual esthetic, as multiple drummer bands have popped up to be the wind that shakes the barley in music. It’s calculated and precise; the way Bright Eyes adopted dual drummers during his Digital Ash in a Digital Urn tour years ago.
The journey through the album is one that you’d take in two stints. Halfway through, take a breather, then start with “Pregnancy.” If not, the track may catch you by surprise and-at least for me-threaten my attention despite the cavalier sax interpellations and stop-go rhythms. “Sidemen” emphasizes Nigel’s vocals, which are delivered with a relaxed hypnosis. Often lyrics are semi-indistinguishable, repetitive, and reflective of the tribal nature surrounding A Lull. It’s the fact he’s that eye in the storm that lends a uniqueness to the Chicagoans. The high pitched synthed screams are the closed you will get, but even those are subdued in hue. “Spread It All Around” experiments a bit more with electronic elements, which are mere highlights and hints at what could happen in future recordings.
But that’s the weakest half. From “Weapons of War” to “Phem”, it’s akin to arriving on the cusp of a hilltop to rush at full speed to the bottom of a valley, the pinnacle being “Some Love.”
While that apex may as well be the candidate for the next Budweiser commercial (once they’re done with Los Campesinos!), to call it such shouldn’t diminish the aforementioned “Weapons of War” with its typewriter vocal randomness, nor the road trip across the plains inducing “White Girl” complete with the wind chimes.
That doesn’t even cover “Mammal” or “Dark Stuff”, the latter of which caused Annie Mullins to stop in her tracks-which is hard to do. But while similar artists may grow fleeting as other start to overpopulate and gentrify an increasingly common landscape, at least A Lull will remain one of those pioneers-at least for me.