Depth & Current
(Nice People, 2015)
When Depth & Current’s Chris Harris penned an op-ed for Oxford Karma last month, the subsequent schism made one thing abundantly clear: It doesn’t matter if you’re a years-long fan of their music or someone who has been highly critical of it — you have an opinion about it. Even more likely is that you feel strongly about the outspoken frontman himself, a guy who broods with passionate conviction in every word, whether written on a lyric sheet or in a politically charged Facebook post. Like anyone who possesses a certain heart-on-their-sleeve swagger, Harris’ actions invite your opinion, intentionally or not.
There are unintended consequences to a lightning-rod reputation, however. Just look at Kanye West, Oasis or, in a parallel universe, The Dixie Chicks, all of whom exemplify the notion that our perception of an individual or group can affect how much we enjoy their music, usually because of some predisposed, and perhaps subconscious, bias. Likewise, Believe isn’t going to change your opinion about Depth & Current. If you think of their songs as hypnotically immersive sound collages, you’re still going to think of them that way after listening to this record. If you find their music insipid and monotone, you’ll find that here too (though you’re probably misapplying your perception of Harris’ voice to the music as a whole, which is actually rich with texture and distorted melody). In reality, though, the album’s impediments don’t stem from bland guitar hooks or a lack of quality songwriting; there just aren’t any new points of entry for those already familiar with the band, nor will it open doors for them that Transient or Dysrhythmia haven’t already barged.
The album does, commendably, have more of a live-band feel to it. In place of a drum machine are contributions from drummers Andy Escobar (The Copperheads), Brent Hodge (Power Pyramid), and Levi Watson (Brother Gruesome), complementing the stellar-as-usual guitar work from Depth & Current co-member Derek Lemke. There’s an unmistakably organic feel to these songs that should translate well to a concert setting, especially now that they’ve expanded back to a four-piece, and Believe is the first Depth & Current release that sounds like it could have been recorded in one take.
Furthermore, the album’s high-points rank among some of Depth & Current’s most invigorating. Opener “Math” effortlessly evokes Joy Division’s angular percussiveness and contemporary noise-rock in equal measure, culminating in one of the most explosively elegant choruses in the band’s arsenal. The song also features some of Harris’ most revealing lyrics, which allude to his impending move to Seattle: “I don’t find myself in this place I call home / The more people I meet, the more I feel alone.” “Speak Up,” meanwhile, opens with an almost Jesus Lizard-esque guitar lick but unfolds with cleverly impulsive arrangements, which lead the song’s precarious melody down a path conventional wisdom likely wouldn’t follow. And by the time vintage Depth & Current track “Goodbye Goodnight” screeches to a halt, it’s as if you’ve just listened to one of the band’s Greatest Hits for the first time.
And that’s part of what makes Believe both appeasingly satisfying and creatively hamstrung: The sheer faculty of Depth & Current is on display in these songs, almost doubling down on the things they do well — fractured noise-pop, manically rhythmic pacing — yet its reluctance to deviate is unlikely to lure anyone who hadn’t previously been an advocate. It’s an album that rewards the band’s loyalists and gives the proverbial finger to its detractors, but perhaps that was their intention. It wouldn’t be out of character, after all.