A few weeks ago, as vinyl geeks celebrated the beauty of tangible musical media on Record Store Day, Via Dove decided to break format. Rather than release its latest EP on CD or vinyl, the band offered free download cards for Fugue State to interested listeners and celebrated with a release show that night at Off Broadway. It was a return to form for a band that hasn't released new material in almost four years and whose live shows had become few and far between. Via Dove recently announced that 2013's An Under Cover Weekend would be its last, after several years of closing out the event with dependable dude-rock (AC/DC, Pearl Jam). And considering singer Andy Shadburne's role as lead singer in the local Rolling Stones cover group, Street Fighting Band, it's conceivable that a good number of showgoers have seen the band but never heard its original songs. This EP tries to correct that balance with a few riffy rock tunes amid some more exploratory ballads. It's a tight program that shows Via Dove's belief in real-rock redemption, with a few fumbles from leaning too much on that formula.
In reviewing the band's first release, 2008's Twilight, for this column, I heard a mix of amorphous, suggestive shoegaze and more square-shouldered rock. Any traces of softness were obliterated on 2010's El Mundo Latino, a KSHE-fired batch of strident rock & roll. On Fugue State, the original quartet added Mike Tomko (guitar) and Charlie Brumley (piano) to the mix; the expanded lineup flexes its collective muscles best on opener "You & Me Alone," with its twin-guitar riffage and minor math-rock syncopations. The song is a strong opener and shows what the band can do when it hammers out a tune but takes time to add smart, surprising quirks. To wit: Brumley's electric piano arpeggios, along with some synthy oscillations, give a shimmering backdrop to the closing song "So Deep," and coupled with Aaron Vaught's chunky, searching solo, the song stands as the clearest marriage of Via Dove old and new. When the tempo slows down, as on "Borderland," the band still sticks to rock conventions (hard-hitting drums, eight-bar guitar solos), leaving the song somewhere between The Joshua Tree and Slippery When Wet. Shadburne's vocals are strong when backed by swift musicianship but falter somewhat in the upper register here, though his expressiveness shows an intuitive link to the core of each song on this EP. Fugue State is further proof that Via Dove is a good rock outfit, and that's no small thing. Luckily, there are enough flashes here to suggest that it can be a restless, challenging rock band as well.–Christian Schaeffer
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