- Photo via Bandcamp
For Aquitaine, a rock & roll quartet built around its members' shared love of Brit-pop, shoegaze and fizzy, fuzzy power-pop, its initial releases were a few quick-hit EPs that sought to capture the band's live energy. Those EPs, American Pulverizer parts 1 and 2, were not as thematically linked as the titles imply, but they showcased what the band did well — namely, providing a sonically swirled and rhythmically punchy platform for guitarist and singer Will Hildebrandt's slightly detached, thoroughly post-punk delivery.
In the years between 2013's Part 2 and the just-released album Transformation, Aquitaine underwent a lineup shift that saw two founding members, guitarist Gerald Good and drummer Chris Luckett, leave the band. Two well-seasoned musicians fill their roles on the aptly named new album, with Graham Day (of Prune and others) on lead guitar and Bob McMahon (an occasional RFT contributor who also normally fronts Other People) on drums. According to founding member and bassist Dave Collett, this infusion of new talent did more than allow Aquitaine to carry on; both Day and McMahon offered their songwriting and, in McMahon's case, vocal talents to the new album.
"Previously we'd write five songs and record — we wanted to put a mark on it and get our stuff going," says Collett. "When Graham and Bob joined, they were interestingly both fans of Aquitaine before they joined. They have a lot of the same influences, and they also had songs that were kicking around in their heads." Having four songwriters in the band not only deepened its talent pool, but also allowed Aquitaine to think in broader terms of recording a full-length album, as opposed to another EP.
While many of the band's hallmarks remain in place — a sonic density and attention to texture, as well as Hildebrandt's continued comfort with putting his own personality into songs — the new members send a few tracks in a new direction. Opening track "The Morning Wakes" fittingly sounds like a technicolor sunrise, owing in large part to Day's searing lead guitar, which cuts through the jangle and delay. McMahon even steps out from behind the kit for a few songs.
"Bob wrote the song 'Afterlife,' which is the darkest song on the album," says Collett. "It had this interesting riff and held vocal harmonies. I was not concerned at all, but that was something that we didn't have as much experience with — songs like that, to a song that we all polished in the studio." Collett proudly points out that all four members take a pass at guitar solos on Transformation and singles McMahon's on "Afterlife" as reminiscent of Wilco wizard Nels Cline. Likewise, it was one of several tracks that came to life during the recording process. "It was really a collaborative studio creation," he recalls.
Since Aquitaine was formed partly as a result of its members' love of Brit-pop, it was perhaps inevitable that the band would pay tribute to the two figureheads of that genre sooner or later. For the annual Under Cover Weekend tribute shows, Aquitaine tackled Oasis in 2013 and Blur last year, and while the songs on Transformation were already in development, the experience of working through a set of Blur songs left its mark on the sometimes counter-intuitive structure of this new material.
"I was amazed at how complex the Blur songs were," says Collett. "Some of those structures were not so intuitive, and that might have rubbed off on us. We kind of experimented outside of that 4/4 time."
Collett points to one such song that Day co-wrote with Hildebrandt called "Leave U Behind," which trades the band's normal use of big, bright chords for a thin, needly riff and some slight atonality. "That song essentially has three or four very distinct parts — I compare it to 'Band on the Run' or something like that," says Collett. By the time the band kicks into a syncopated groove near the end, Aquitaine has traversed the loose structures and self-deprecation of early Pavement to the compressed funk of A Certain Ratio.
Closing track "Supermoon" — a nice nod to Aquitaine's former band name — likewise benefits from having multiple songwriters and influences. Its sparse production is unmoored in the verses but snaps with syncopation in the chorus as the guitars snake around Hildebrandt's performance.
"I just love the interplay between the bass and the main guitar riff," says Collett of the song. He credits the songs spearheaded by Day and McMahon with "turn[ing] the album into something it otherwise wouldn't be. Will and I have similarly tendencies, and Graham and Bob added a different element."
Stream the new album below: