If there’s one useful piece of advice that I’ve heard over the years concerning music, it’s this: “You have all the time in the world to put out your first record”. Indeed, nobody has all the time in the world to do anything, but the sentiment is strong, since people often feel like there’s an expectation to begin plugging away at a release the moment they’ve pulled a collective of musicians together. This is an illusion, but moreover, this type of thinking lends itself poorly to the process by which a fully-realized musical project develops; it takes time, practice, trust, and above all, patience. As to whether a project reflects these principles, well, the proof is often in the product.
This is something that initially had me curiously awaiting Gait’s debut single, “Start//Stop”. Getting to the point of a release marks a more significant milestone because the band has spent over a year laboring over their craft and figuring out their approach before dropping so much as a sneak peek. It sounds like that effort is starting to pay off.
Gait originated as a solo outlet for Philly native and Well Room bassist Grant Pavol, has been bubbling up for a while around the line-up of Pavol and Jordan Lewis on guitar, Nick Schon on bass, and Harry Freed on drums. Only recently did the band shift from the solo-with-support format to something perhaps more communal, augmenting them with a sense of purpose and more serious inclinations.
“Start//Stop” establishes this more formal tone quickly, with a quick rinse through scrambled, chunky guitar drones, as though one is passing beneath a waterfall of static before diving into the rest of the song. It leads seamlessly into the turbulent jam of the first chorus, then tones down as the verse begins. Dynamics-wise, this section opens up to showcase Grant’s thin, airy singing voice and noticeably more expressive songwriting. Though the oft-used I/me subject matter persists, it is contained within a more intentionally evocative — and, as a result, slightly less obvious — narrative. The surrounding instrumentation mixes the tension of one guitarist’s bouncy chugging with the other’s melancholy affectations to keep an underlying momentum while also pinning opposing textures up next to each other. The rhythm section glues it all together, with the bass employing little flashiness and the drums shift between utilitarian steadiness and explosive charges. These are the two speeds the song flips between, and the mood is well-established, and the song wraps up nicely, if a bit more low-key than expected.
The main detractors are not in songwriting, but in the track’s mixing. There are three distinct sections in the mix, with the guitars in the foreground, the vocals in the middle-ground, and the rhythm section in the background. As it is mixed, each of the sections sound distinct from the others, and the song sounds a bit awkward as a result. The guitars are mixed firmly left and right, confining the rest of the mix in between, and since there seems to be an atmospheric intent, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The claustrophobic sense is interesting, but doesn’t seem wholly intentional. Though the processing on the guitars and vocals are respectively satisfying, the differences are too striking to be aesthetically consistent. The guitar mix sounds big and biting (which works well), while the murky processing on the vocals can make Grant’s vocals sound very reminiscent of Built To Spill at their more expansive. These two differing sonic approaches do not mesh well at times. It isn’t something one notices constantly, but at times the two parts sound like the belong to entirely different songs.
Beneath all this, the bass and drums are just audible enough to support the song’s structure. This is perhaps for the best, since neither sound like they underwent much processing; the drum stick clicks at the beginning of the song sound like chopsticks clacking together, which is pretty weak compared to how the drums sound for the rest of the song. The bass meanwhile is pretty much naked in its character, when it could have been mixed to more effectively emphasize the songs spare low end and fill out the overall sound.
These gripes aside, “Start//Stop” is an enjoyable listen, and acts effectively as an introduction to the band’s overall feel and approach. It leaves me sufficiently interested to hear what the band has in store for us on their upcoming EP. Even considering the mixing quality, it is certainly forgivable as a band’s first-time-out and I only hope these things are brought into consideration as the next steps are considered.
If there is one thing this scene needs more of, it is ambition and the daring will to make something that is mature and developed, both in concept and execution. Based on what I’ve heard, I have high hopes for this band’s future.
- The songwriting is interesting and evocative
- The vibe of the song is well-established and brings listeners in touch with what the project is about from the get-go
- The mixing is noticeably conflicting at times, not particularly accommodating of dynamic shifts
- The ending lacks the punch it deserves