The Bronzed Chorus find a spark in old tech

by Ryan Snyder

The Bronzed Chorus are coming with a new release with a new sound. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

Wordto anyone with an inkling to verbally characterize the music of the Bronzed Chorus: Whatever labels you’ve devised to convey their sound to an audience isn’t really going to do you any good anymore. And especially don’t call them post-rock.

“We’re definitely getting the hell away from post-rock, I’m so sick of that word. So tired of hearing it,” guitarist and founder Adam Joyce said. “Since [the first two] records came out, it’s never going to go away, that word. It’s like an evil badge that someone’s stuck on us.”

With their new EP Gleaning, shipped July 5 on Hello Sir Records, they probably won’t have to worry about that label ever again. The Greensboro-based duo appears to have broken through a wall. On one side of that wall is their bedroom-produced debut ThurtyThurty and its more polished successor, 2009’s I Am the Spring. The pairing served as a progressive exploration of textural possibilities in rock music; the rawer ThurtyThurty eventually gave way to explosive pop and post-whatever passages in I Am the Spring. The fact that the sound was made by three instruments belied the reality that there were only two musicians responsible.

But then, as Joyce will tell you, their minimal arrangement began to hit an eventual creative impasse.

As original multi-instrumentalist/multi-tasker Brennan O’Brien turned his focus to his family, Hunter Allen, who had already been performing with the band in a double-drum arrangement, was ready to step in soon after the release of I Am the Spring. Joyce toyed with the idea of rounding out the band as a more traditional four-piece rock arrangement to break the stalemate, but the results were less than he had hoped.

“We did add two members for one show, but it just didn’t make sense.

Everyone wanted to play guitar, no one would pick up a bass,” Joyce said. “As soon as I started telling people about it they just got really disappointed. Like, ‘You need to just push yourself with two people and keep it two people.’ I was like, ‘You’re right.’” That’s about the time that Joyce and Allen found the other side of that wall. Allen was in possession of a modded Atari 2600 — the 1981 Rainbow Jr. model with a 12-button control pad — that was repurposed by sound designer and programmer Paul Slocum as a synthcart, which kindled Joyce’s curiosity.

“I kept looking at it and thinking, ‘Man, we need to use that thing.’ We tried it with track two on the EP and it just worked, immediately almost,” Joyce said. That piece, entitled “Are We Not Speedwagon?,” epitomizes the considerable sonic departure the band has made from the last two releases. It introduces itself in one ear with an alien electronic crackle before it’s accompanied by a wave of tight chiptune arpeggios and Joyce’s distinctively echoed, ringing guitar sound. The entire affair is astoundingly rhythmic and controlled, with bursts of languorous low-end fuzz complimenting Allen’s breakneck tempos, but it’s not the cold, oblique listening experience that has come to signify chip music.

If anything, it’s just the opposite. Gleaning displays a cerebral warmth that transcends the music itself and is reflected in its title. Gleaning, as defined in Biblical terms, is the practice of leaving remnants of a harvest ungathered as an offering for the poor and transient. The Deuteronomic Code framed it as a vehicle of self-sacrifice for the greater good. For Joyce, who himself comes from a farming background, says that self-sacrifice has been a part of the creative process from the outset, but he still has trouble putting the personal nature of the EP’s title into words.

“I had just explained this really well to someone the other night,” he said, finding himself at a momentary loss for words, which is exactly how many of their fans may find themselves upon hearing the enthralling four tracks on the release. It’s 23 minutes in length and anchored by the band’s lengthiest and most considered song to date, the 7:45 “walletkeys/phonesmokes.”

The ephemerality of its title gives way to an unexpected tension that’s born of martial beats drowned in layers of reverb and synth. It’s startling in both its beauty and danceability, but whatever you do, just don’t call it post-rock.

The Bronzed Chorus will perform at WalkerFEST on Saturday.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan