Any established band or musician you’ve ever listened to was likely a “local artist” for many years. This might seem an obvious observation, but I highlight it to illustrate a controversial and pertinent point: local musicians’ albums (not always, but often) have an amateur-ish quality compared to recordings of “professional” musicians. Much of this is due to existential differences that hinge upon economics and time: professional musicians have the benefit of greater schedule freedom to hone their playing chops and songwriting vocabulary, and with typically better access to production resources, the quality of recordings made by professional musicians contrasted to weekend warriors is usually noticeable to even a casual listener. It’s the difference in the fidelity and craft of a polished home demo and a professionally produced album.
Of course, this generalization risks perturbing some informed and passionate music fans. Advancements in home recording technology have greatly helped close the gap in production values, and here in Austin, one of the meccas for live music in the US, the caliber of local talent exceeds that of many other cities. There’s also a worthy argument to be made about stylistic intentions and genre aesthetics. Lo-fi or rough sounding production value can certainly be intentional. But for the purpose of this review, the generally existent differences I’m highlighting matter. Though not an Austin band (rather hailing from the also music rich scene up north in Denton, TX,) Pageantry is one of those bands whose sound belies its relative newness as a group. On the band’s debut full-length, Influence, our ears are treated to skillful and mature songwriting and better than average studio production quality. It’s evident in the sonic texture of the recordings and the many subtle nuances that occur dynamically and structurally in the songs. Not all instruments have to be sounding at all times during a piece. This is the kind of knowledge that eludes many younger bands, and I know this from personal experience as a former local musician.
Pageantry write indie-styled dream-pop tunes that contain a lot of little details—the kind of music where you can listen to a song three times consecutively and hear new things each time. It’s atmospheric music written by three guys who almost certainly have Beach House, War on Drugs and Deer Hunter in their record collections. Opening track “Girl Breath” has a seductive quality that underpins the sinuous instrumentation and moderate tempo—a dream pop characteristic that seeps through most of the album. Staccato organ chords contrast nicely against vocalist Roy Robertson’s raspy croon. Listen to the cymbal splashes, organ swells, snare rimshots and constant addition or subtraction of parts that chart the course of this song: the careful songwriting technique and production values alluded to earlier. “Love to Live” begins with a gorgeous guitar melody played over airy keys and ambient noise. It’s a melody that sounds familiar but is actually new; thus a sense of purpose is cleverly established without becoming an explicit musical motif. When breaks in instrumentation occur, the gaps are filled either by isolated vocals, classical guitar, clean electric guitar, string synths, and/or improvisational sounding drums.
Two charming guitar parts are picked with a muted staccato technique that trickles over the opening of “Taste for Kindness.” The bass lines are generally unobtrusive and don’t stand out in the mix on both this tune and others, a technique which might make sense for this drawn out and full style of songwriting, but a bit more presence might have added even more worthwhile complexity. “Turquoise” is yet another tune that features more great varied instrumental overdubs that blend together in an almost cinematic expanse of sound.
The songs on Influence are long. Sometimes sections of the album play like a suite, as when the end of “Teenage Crime Wave” extends into the beginning of the next track. As a whole, this long form of songwriting is well disguised by the many different things happening along the way. But at times, the band comes close to overextending its welcome, as on the seven-minute aforementioned tune “Love to Live.” Smart and creative choices in the structure of the song likely will circumvent waning attention spans from most listeners though. Notwithstanding this negligence to trim some of the fat editing, Influence is a moving musical statement that’s impressively sophisticated.
Pageantry is playing Cheer Up Charlie’s this Friday, April 1st, with Good Field and more.
Justin Finney moved from Oklahoma to Austin TX in 2004 and has never looked back. He played in the local band Shortwave Party for a few years and attributes most of his social capital in this fair city to that experience.