Major Games debut pushes boundaries
Guitar lovers beware: This is a very different palette of sounds.
Major Games has provided us with the soundtrack to spring. Appropriately named, "Life" is the euphoric opening cut from the Lawrence trio's self-titled release.
Major Games champions guitar amalgamation and sonic innovation. The eight-song, self released, full-length album is due out on vinyl soon, but it is available for immediate download from the band's Bandcamp.com page, http://majorgames.bandcamp.com.
Sitting stylistically somewhere between the Scottish electric duo Boards of Canada and indie noise rock band Polvo, Major Games has produced a guitar-centric record that may alienate guitar enthusiasts.
Pushing the boundaries of what the guitar exists for in the modern rock power trio, Doug McKinney, guitarist and singer, moves from very modern rock riffage to more expansive guitar-melting passages informed by electronic musicians like Clark and Aphex Twin. Bent on forcing electric guitar tradition on its ear, McKinney sets the bar high for tonal mutation. Even fuzzed out power chords (a rock tradition) sound exotic.
Anthemic, opener "Life" is a sonic rejoice that will motivate the most lethargic of the uninspired to try something different. The repeating vocal refrain by the prime vocalist (as in he sings on the prime-numbered tracks 1, 3, 5 and 7) is "Find a new way, find a new way to hang on." It is as cathartic as it is reflective.
That track is followed by the cryptic "Prism," where Major Games start to flex its dynamic muscle.
Starting with what sounds like ghost vibraphones over drummer Steve Squire thudding eighth notes on the floor tom, the groove on this nearly 35 minute full-length is steady like a rock.
Pushing rock boundaries to the hilt, "Jennerz" escapes the reigns of conventional anything over many breaks during it's under-three-minute vagary. Little of it sounds like a rock band and even less sounds like an electric guitar — unlike "Other Location," which has a very recognizable guitar tone although sounding sea sick and weary from the haul only four songs in.
A guitar strung through tape (sure, why not?!), pushed and pulled to the extent of musicality, McKinney manages to thrust this augmented sound into the form of a riff on "Risk," on which bass player Jeremy Sidener shines. Sidener's ability to nail the low end reminds the listener during those particularly "out there" moments that these are songs that one may be able to sing along to after more experience with the vernacular, sung in a dialect characterized by its ear candy effects.
The record continues very similarly, expanding the boundaries of what one could expect a single band to produce sonically in 35 minutes, until noticing lack of subtlety that is addressed in the finale, "Voice." Sounding like bedtime lullabies or English indie pop band The xx, Major Games almost floats through the four minute closer on a cushy kick drum pulse backed minimally by other percussion.
Major Games was self produced in collaboration with Jim Vollentine, and its sound is dense, full and rich. Initial recording started in 2012 at Blacklodge Recording near Lawrence, and then it was stretched over the last three years and as many different spaces until Vollentine mixed at Studio De La Ronjo in Austin. Steve Squier finished the mixing process at Coil Labs in Lawrence.
The drums explode when needed but retain every bit of their sonic composition when pushed. The layered guitars, though incredibly dense, have plenty of room to exist. The vocals are a tad masked but blend well in the mix without standing out. The bass sounds huge, stable and very tight on every set of headphones, home stereos and car speakers I've checked out.
Being pressed to vinyl, all of these nuances will be appreciated (Especially the car stereo test, because who doesn't have a turntable in their car?) over time if not immediately wooing to the listener.
Of course though, the second reason we like collecting vinyl is having good artwork on a 12"x12" surface to show off, and what Travis Millard has produced is the visual equivalent of the pastel sonic waves that reside within the grooves on this white slab of wax.