Geographer’s “Animal Shapes EP”

“Imagine what would happen if a back-country folk band fell through an Atari soundboard . . .” -GO

Guest Writer

8.5
out of 10

Geographer
Animal Shapes EP
March 11, 2010
Tricycle Records

Imagine what would happen if a back-country folk band fell through an Atari soundboard, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from Geographer’s latest EP, Animal Shapes.  In this album, the innovative trio marries orchestral strings with pop synthesizers, gorgeous vocals with electromelodies, forging a geographic soundscape that is wholly unique and moving. It’s alt. rock at its most inventive. As much a journey through the human heart as it is a journey through sound and time.

Upon first hearing this up-and-coming band’s second major release, my initial thought was “wow, can this guy sing.” OK, that’s technically false. My initial thought was really “did someone just turn on the Nintendo?” (which is not me being snarky; there was actually an NES in the room at the time). But you get the idea. Once Mike Deni’s vocals come sailing through the laser-tag riffs of “Original Sin” (or “Original Synth,” more appropriately), you can’t help but be carried away by them. The lyrics soar weightlessly out of the digital framework, drifting over the electro-loop in long extended arias. Basically, if the sky were made of far-stretching notes, this guy would be Atlas, holding them all for as long as he wanted.

The fact that these longing, floaty vocals wave against a backdrop of cycled synthesizer is, at first, a little unnerving. It’s like Fleet Foxes getting dropping into a discotheque. What are you doing here? But Geographer makes it work. It gives one the notion that there’s a beauty not only to be found in the digital world, but desperately trying to break out of it. Maybe there’s more to our modern life than we allow ourselves see.

In “Paris,” for example, the layered electro-riff and manufactured “glitch” in the beginning are eventually wiped out by prominent cellos in the end, these manual strings finding a moment to exist alone. The exchange creates a beautiful relationship between classic and modern. This is especially true when one considers the refrain: “Time is about defeat / Every eye is ice in a finger’s heat / So give your time to me /. . . All of us fall like leaves / But just if you let them.” Here, the love that you find within the time given to you—the heat of a real touch over a static glance—is a matter of choice. Human love can overcome the human condition. We don’t have to be products of our surroundings. The leaves only fall if you let them.

Can you make it past the computerization?

Although this union of sound, for the most part, layers an aesthetic depth to each song, on occasion it can also be a little distracting. For instance, the knock-out lyrics of “Kites” are mostly devoured by the strange sensation of having just fallen asleep beside a Frogger machine. For me, the synthesizer just gets in the way.* In “Verona,” the tinny sound of folk percussion, as well as choral background vocals, are blended with the beats of an electronic mixer. In this way, the song really lives up to its chorus: “You call me all the right words / But the right words sound so wrong.” Indeed, the lyrics are great. But the way you’re hearing them—bizarre.

The album eventually breaks free from its synth-dependency, however, in a way that suggests an artistic progression, an unshackled emergence. There is a metamorphosis here. In “Heaven Waits,” for example, the music becomes strikingly less electronic, guided instead by heavy, singular drums and languid strings. In “Night Winds,” the last song on the album, the instruments—the cellos and guitars—get to exist on their own, the only imposing elements being a high-pitched trill, a whistle or cooing white owl, sweeping over the music against the beat of water drops, the whole thing mimicking the sounds of nature.

By the end of the album, we are left with the chorus “Soon all the days, they melt away / Soon all the words you could not say.” In the end, we find our way out of the electronic swirl, saying the words as they are meant to be said, soaring without distraction. The triumph of sound that occurs at the end is a human one, and it is all the more beautiful for that.
This same beauty is instilled in the listener. Since “heaven waits for no one here,” you are encouraged to seek it on your own. You have to map your way through the synthesized stuff-of-life. You, dear listener, are the Geographer.

* Brief caveat: Your reviewer readily admits that he has a particular prejudice in this regard, one that is overly critical and highly unfair but nonetheless viciously present, stemming from a singular traumatic event of compounded misfortunes that I won’t (for your sake) go into, but which culminates with me prematurely having to leave a would-have-been stellar concert on account of a much-loved band’s “computer issues” (a phrase that should be reserved strictly for the world of dreary cubicles and check-out lines, never oh never live music).