Carnivores' third album channels live spirit
Second Impulse revels in darkness and light
As seasoned vets of the local music scene with plenty of touring under its belt, Atlanta noise pop quintet Carnivores knows how to put on a live show, creating an atmosphere drenched in saccharine sweetness and sultry undertones. "People tend to like us when they see us live," keyboard player and vocalist Caitlin Lang says. "Most people that see our shows walk away feeling good, excited to see us."
For the group's third full-length, Second Impulse (Army of Bad Luck), Carnivores took the group's energetic live presence to the studio, only to return with a spontaneous collection of lo-fi odds and ends. Second Impulse is essentially a compilation of singles written and recorded over the last two years, mixed with newly written numbers and crowd-pleasers from months on the road, including a handful of dates opening for Franz Ferdinand last summer. With this format, the band explores the fringes of its punk-inspired roots, playing with ethereal themes, relentless kick drums, and discordant melodies. "We really took our time," bass player and vocalist Philip Frobos says. "It was weird coming out of the format of releasing spurts of songs to focusing on a body of work. Previous releases were all flash-in-the-pan recording style. This one had a little more time to simmer."
From the punchy drums on opener "Loom," where airy vocals create a wistful sound, to the reverb-heavy "Spells," with its bewitching riffs, the band's catchy pop sensibilities and controlled bedlam ring with mercurial tenacity.
Second Impulse is the 26th release from Army of Bad Luck, a label that former Deerhunter bassist Josh Fauver has run as a one-man operation since 1999. Since then, Fauver has released albums and 7-inches by mostly local artists with whom he has personal relationships, including HAWKS, Retconned, and the Sunglasses. The label has also expanded its scope to release music from outside of Atlanta as well, including artists like jangly Australian art punks Bushwalking, whose full-length First Time was released by ABL in 2012.
For Carnivores, Fauver feels that the band managed to transform the often-sterile atmosphere of the studio into an energetic, spirited environment. "I can't get them out of my head," Fauver says. "I get the impression that there's a real joy to them — in them when they make music. Despite little moments of darkness."
Those moments of tense, sensual darkness are most apparent on "Sinking in Your Automobile," where Black Lips' Cole Alexander makes a guest appearance, adding vocals and underlying samples of pigs being slaughtered, dialogue from kids talking on game shows, and race cars.
Throughout the record, lead vocals are traded off between Frobos, Lang, and guitarist Nathaniel Higgins, with Ross Politi now on guitar. Throughout the recording of Second Impulse, the band's lineup changed with the addition of drummer Billy Mitchell, who had originally been brought on to sell merchandise during a tour in England in 2011. On tour, Carnivores released the swaggering single "Dressed for the Rain" and played the song repeatedly during live shows with Mitchell joining the group. "By the end of the tour, Billy was on drums," Higgins says. "That's why the song holds a certain significance to the band and the album."
Although Mitchell now lives in Chicago, Lang says the band's members are still in "musical communication" pretty much all the time.
The band's live presence and vitality successfully come across in the record, where the full, fuzzy sounds whisk the listener to the crowded floor of an '80s rock club, especially with the dissonant "Gates of Paradise," which swells with melancholy, driven by menacing bass rhythms.
On the heels of Second Impulse, Carnivores will release a digital EP titled Sinking in Your Automobile, which includes new B-sides and a few other odds and ends. After that, the band will spend a few weeks playing stages out on the road, where it's most comfortable. "Sometimes when you play in the middle of nowhere ... you feel like you walk away, and you've done something great," Lang says.
And for Carnivores, Second Impulse channels that fevered intensity into an amalgamation of the group's live and studio personas, incorporating the dark and disheveled qualities of past work with pop numbers that stand on their own strengths.