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Around the World and Back

by David King on July 6, 2011

Around the World and Back used to be quiet. While their last EP Songs to Sleep To was a dreamy collection of bedroom pop, their new full length Big Beat is full of thunderous Brit rock anthems and propulsive indie jams laden with absurdly catchy guitar licks, hyper drumming and undulating bass lines. They’ve even added alternate percussion to make the experience all the more visceral. The band has always been polished, but their new record—and the stride they’ve hit during recent live gigs—indicates that these fellows might be getting a little too big to just be an “Albany band.” But on Friday (July 8) the group will unveil Big Beat at a free gig downstairs at Valentine’s, and will be giving away their album as well.

Bryan Shortell, singer and guitarist, says the band have embraced production on their album this time around, and in a way have gone through a bit of a metamorphosis—from indie band to simply a “rock band with classic rock guitar playing.”

“This time there was a totally different vibe,” said Shortell of the recording process for Big Beat. “There was more of a tendency not to be afraid of production—to keep things raw, to keep things in there. We were fighting to keep some flaws, some feedback or missed notes.” Those flaws are what keep the band sounding urgent and a little bit angry, despite the undeniable hooks.

How did these indie-pop dreamers transform into a full fledged rock band? It seems a lot of it grew out of their desire to connect with their audience. The addition of alternate percussion—banging cymbals and toms—was something that felt natural, says Shortell: “When we did it live, the reactions we got were pretty overwhelming. I think it’s just entertaining to watch percussion.”

The band shot a video for the new track “Slave,” They went in to the shoot planning to use the first track on Big Beat, “Old Man,” a two minute and fifty second blast of shimmering guitars and propulsive beats (and a pleading chorus). But the group had put the album up on an Internet radio service that allowed them to gauge the popularity of the songs on the album, and “Slave” turned out to be the overwhelming favorite. So at the last minute, the change was made and the video now features the gritty Oasis-inspired anthem.

One video is simply not enough to convey the complexity and diversity of styles mastered on Big Beat, or on display in the band’s visceral live performances. Songs like “Lie to Your Mother” are reminiscent of Morrissey or early Bloc Party. The sauntering album closer “Long Verse” is an epic, sauntering howl of a song with back up vocals and “whoa ohhs” that stays with you.

So how did the band come up with the name Big Beat? It had to be the new direction, right? Their noisy sound, alternate percussion? No, in fact the band decided to use a photo of guitarist Marco Testa’s aunt’s band taken in 1961. Spray painted on a sign in front of a kick drum was the band’s name—Big Beat. The band had planned to Photoshop whatever album title they chose over it at some point, but eventually they realized it fit.

Join Around the World and Back with openers Barons in the Attic, Former Belle and Wild Adriatic on July 8 at 8:30 PM, downstairs at Valentines (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 432-6572). Admission is free.