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Wooden Satellites New Album, Let’s Make Crimes, Kicked My Butt
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
Whenever a local band releases an album, the tendency is to think of it in terms of being “local good,” rather than just good. You know what I mean. Most people in Fort Wayne see that a band is from here, and instantly the bar is lowered. I love you, Fort Wayne, but sometimes you wouldn’t acknowledge a good local band if they came up and slapped you in the face.
That being said, Wooden Satellites’ new LP, “Let’s Make Crimes,” is not “local good.” It is ridiculously good.
Part of the reason for this is that the band decided to go to an outsider to make the record. Until now, they had always recorded everything themselves, with singer and songwriter C.Ray Harvey handling the production. The results have always been good, but going to Jason Davis and his all-analog Off the Cuff studio to record gave them a different set of parameters. “All of a sudden we were limited to 24 tracks,” Harvey told me, “which sounds like a lot, but then you realize that 8 of them are going to drums. Then, if you’re going to double-track guitars, there’s another 4 tracks of two mics each. It gets eaten up pretty quickly.” This is important because, when recording digitally on a computer, there is an endless number of tracks, which Harvey and the rest of Wooden Satellites have always used to add extras like electronic drums, programmed synthesizers, etc. This time, though, a lot of that had to be cut out for purely logistical reasons. The result of this, however, is an album that sounds wholly organic. Even a portion of the electronic elements that remained wound up being recreated live for the LP. Let’s Make Crimes, therefore, sounds like a live band, instead of something that is largely programmed, with the live elements buried. Wooden Satellites has always been good, it’s just that this time they hit it out of the park.
All of this is evident from the first track, “When Fast at Home.” One of the first things I noticed here was how great Andy Plank’s guitar sounds. It cuts right through the mix, every note sounds like it’s being attacked, and it stays on top as the synth elements come in and out to add dynamics and melodic flourishes. There’s something new in the vocals on this one that I haven’t heard from the male Harvey, too. His voice is huskier here, and has more of an early goth feel to it (think Joy Division). So, when Andrea Harvey’s vocals come in, the distinction between the two singers’ voices gives the song a dissonant feeling that’s really striking.
“Silent Sisters” is a little more synth-heavy at the outset, which seems to fit when Andrea Harvey comes in with the vocals. The synth elements combine with the stringed instruments and drums to create a very full-sounding musical element, and they way she inflects and clips her vocal lines makes the song grab hold of you and carry you along.
“Truth is Stained” jumps right back into guitar-driven rock, with a few electronics in the background, and coming in heavier in a couple of the breaks. It’s a little mellower than the previous two tracks, which works well after the pummeling you get from them.
“Fruit of My Labor” is both kind of mellow and kind of angsty, which has a lot to do with the lyrics. Starting out with some fuzzed-out bass, and Andrea Harvey proclaiming “I am the killer, the first to dare explore this sin,” it’s almost kind of heavy sounding. It also shows what looks like a trademark sound of Plank’s guitar ending a measure by doing a little double-time work down the fretboard.
“We Stay Blind” is one of the standout tracks on the album. Coming in, it’s reminiscent of both early Cure and early U2, without sounding much like either (probably due to what sounds like some delay on the guitar, and the bass handling the melody early on). The bass and drums here act as a backbone, keeping the song driving along while the guitar and synth hang out on the fringes, and make you want to hum along while dancing around your living room like a jackass. It also has a really great, hard-hitting breakdown at the end where you proceed to jump up and down, and scare the hell out of your cat.
“Worsted” is my jam. When I first got the album, I had to hear this one three times before I moved on to the next song. It starts out with a simple, electronic melody for a couple of bars before everyone jumps in all at once and before you know it, you’re in the middle of syncopated guitar riffing, disco-beat drums, and synthesizer melody. It also has a some great antiphonal qualities in the vocals that are perfect for singing along to. Throughout the song, parts are constantly coming in and out, giving it great dynamic qualities that grab and keep your attention until the last note. Easily my favorite song on the album.
“Unpleasable” is one of the songs that has always stood out for me from Wooden Satellites’ live show (which I highly recommend seeing). This song is just good, fun indie rock. Also very dynamic, this is another one where the parts are constantly coming in and out, going from just a couple parts to a cacophony of sound.
“Mind War” is almost as danceable as “Worsted” (maybe more so), and is another one that I always look forward to at a show. The greatest aspect of this song is the vocals. Here, Andrea’s vocals can probably best be described as sounding spunky. It’s pure attitude and beat on this track. Drummer Eric Frank also does a good job of going back and forth between stop-start, disco, and straight-ahead drumming. It’s easy to overlook this aspect of the band, especially when there’s so much going on that’s so good. Any band is only as good as its drummer, though, and Frank is one of the best in the city.
“Sinew” the last song on the album, is a mid-tempo song that reminds me a bit of OK Computer-era Radiohead (and I mean that in the best possible way). Coming after the all-out assault of the last 4 tracks, this song acts as a coda for the album. It’s as if the band has put you through a workout over the last 30-odd minutes, and now they are going to let you cool off a bit before sending you on your way.
I’ve followed Wooden Satellites since they got together, and each release shows the growing and evolving into something more than they were before, never backsliding or falling into trappings. This release feels like something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, though. It’s a real tour-de-force for them, and it’s one of the best things I’ve heard, local or national, in quite a while.
Wooden Satellites will have a release party for “Let’s Make Crimes” on Friday, March 11th at the Brass Rail. Go. Buy this album.