Thursday, October 20, 2011

Album Review: The Heavy Pets - Swim Out Past the Sun

The Heavy Pets will officially drop their third studio effort this weekend with a blow out party hosted by The Stage in North East Miami. Swim Out Past The Sun is a benchmark release produced and recorded by Grammy Award winner Scott Matthews at the recording oasis TikiTown in Mill Valley, California. The ten track album is accented by three cuts featuring long time Jerry Garcia collaborator David Grisman on mandolin and vocal backing from Shana Morrison, daughter of the legendary singer-songwriter, on a few others.

Instantly tracing back their roots to the beaches of South Florida, the opening track offers an intro mixed with eerie surf guitar and rolling drums. The first acoustic guitar notes are heard when "3 AM" drops into a stylized reggae section promoting a simple, yet fitting, "Yeah." The build up in context encompasses the feeling behind the years of writing and rigorous touring that have lead the band to this point. Now the quintet based out of South Florida has arrived in a literary and metaphysical connotation. Never strangers to taking on island music anthems, the well executed vocalizations roll like waves on top of gaps filled by technical acoustic pickings. Uplifting lyrics dance around notions of carpe diem in a real world sense, and intermingle with hints of playful reminders that the details make up the finer things in our lives. The lead in and resulting chorus explains,

"when you're lost in the fight and you're out of control
not going to lay down, not going to give my soul to them,
take everything you can, in the morning,
take everything you can, late at night,
fire at 3 AM, you will never stop me,
take everything you can, go ahead and try."

An extended instrumental in "A Doy And His Bog" follows as a landing pad to really emphasize the true acoustic nature of the project. Space is paired with repeating emphasized instrumental syllables and borderline classical movements. Maintaining the ability to transcend genre themes, even on an acoustic effort, is a well kept theme that is probably best demonstrated by "Stay On My Heart." The pop-rock take is the ground work for a beautifully harmonized duet between Jeff Lloyd and Shana Morrison. The axe experts take a back seat and allow for Jim Wuest to bring a true piano tone finesse that fills in over the energetic tom-tom banging by Jamie Newitt.

The attraction for any band over time is the ability to innovate while not appearing to sell their original sound down the river. The Heavy Pets core is not lost in the mix and a common thread exists throughout. Fans of the alternative stylization that define their earlier efforts will enjoy the 90's nostalgia that "Bridge" brings to the table. Mike Garulli repeats, "Everyday is a bridge between dreams" among verses outlining a day-in-the-life of for a young musicians in lust with the right girl and details of his life, yet discontent with the time in between as a whole.

Familiar lounge piano and light, yet still pinpoint, vocals (think "Grace Blix") take form in the pseudo-reggae of "Foolishness." Wuest leads the bob and weave groove with a familiar narrative of man's plight with decisions made in poor judgement. Just one of the many philosophical touch points that are addressed on Swim.

Serving as the source of the album title, the next track flips the script once again and approaches the fringes of country blues. Execution comes in a way to showcase that they can go there, but also that they can do it really well. Faint slide and electric guitar, and even horns, layer the canvas in perfect harmony. Less technical and more sympathetic to the song writer purists, 'Lantern" is a reminder of the musicality that can be found in simplicity. The Pets have figured this out and make it a point to master the art.

Grisman steps into the light on the next three tracks, "On the Waves," "Song For John," and "Grandma June." His presence is felt in the most appropriate way possible. All three tunes provide numerous locations for Grisman to make his mark and he does so in an appropriate and wise way. The interplay between Lloyd and Shanna's voice offerings, the subtle picking of an acoustic, and the mandolin fills by Grisman draw the ear to each element during different phases of "On The Waves." The end result is a necessity to replay more than a couple of times to get it all - an illustrious facet of past and present tunes. That is, of course, after you continue on to the blues ballad "Song For John," which is equally dynamic and worthy of the same treatment. Garulli wears it on his sleeve,

"you never did meet one that didn't let you down, did you,
you left last night but you never got a chance to say good bye,
you're moving so fast guess you just out ran the sunshine,
not one to follow but,
I'll meet you where the music doesn't stop."

The three run homer with Grisman finishes with a quick eulogy-esque ode to a figure that speaks of better times in the past. A direct contrast to the themes pushed in "3 AM," the 48 minute episodic journey to this point in the record becomes more of a human reflection than a personal narrative. The auditory trickery of the mandolin sweeps over the entire track "Grandma June," and is a fitting exclamation point to the folk infused ballads that fill the second half of the record. All three could be played in unison with cohesion while also standing on their own just as well.

"To See Forever" bookends an eclectic odyssey that takes the form of an emotional and sound roller-coaster. As a concept album straying away from the electric norm of The Heavy Pets, the final product is an instant success. The real satisfaction is not instant gratification though. The notes, words and themes stick with you beyond the listen and will be a staple album for fans of the band when seeking diversity in their sound. The real beauty will be seeing how these songs undergo metamorphosis and push the improvisational boundaries in the live setting that truly defines The Heavy Pets.

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