There’s something ’80s-reminiscent about Opportunity, the new album by The Long Distance Relationship. But instead of the synthesizers and New Romatic-type theatrics, this is the ’80s that bolstered the dBs and birthed Let’s Active. The album pulses and crackles, it pushes against itself, it’s driving yet melodic, with a propelling churn of guitars.
The title track kicks off without fanfare or introduction — a brisk canter of snare and kick drum, cymbal smacks and the locking in of melody and bass. “Bearing the Weight” is wrench-tight, too, its cadence somewhere between a living room dance party and fleeing the scene of the crime. But the youthful bombast is tempered by control and thoughtful writing — how often does the phrase “happy acumen” turn up in a rock song?
The band “was born as a concept right after Hurricane Katrina,” says The Long Distance Relationship’s Reverberation page. “Designed as a musical collective to record the songs of [former] New Orleanian Dave Baker, the group pulls from former bandmates and many other talented musicians from far and wide.” But if the project (as its name suggests) is far-flung, the resulting 10-track debut album is tight and well-rehearsed. Breaks are crisp and the way the instruments meld and converse is a testament to talented players and careful composition.
“Stare Through Lead” is darker, creepier and slower — though the pace might be more of a matter of perception than tempo. Cool notes crack and percussion reverberates as if recorded in a dripping culvert. “Can do nothing more / Can’t even grasp / this intangible feeling,” Baker sings as the music swells (Robert Vicknair adds electric guitar) and warps in eerie waves.
There’s a psychedelic tinge to “Colors to See,” though the snarl of sounds and textures is ironed out and refined. Baker plays all the instruments on that song; on the Strawberry Alarm Clock-reminiscent “Green and Shiny” Elzy Lindsey adds drum parts along with Vicknair’s guitar. That song is all sharp corners and hard notes while the following track, “Wanting to Fly,” is awash in descending crescendos and sweeping sounds.
Local musician Louly Peacock guests on the vocals to “Little Things Remind Me of You,” an experimental track of layered textures and sonic architecture. If the song isn’t exactly pretty — it bristles around the edges — the guitars slash jangling notes across a slow thunder of percussion. It’s far too interesting to bypass.
“Year and a Day,” like many songs on the album, starts without preamble. The beat and the melody lock in at a brisk jog. There’s a faint industrial clank in the background and echoed lyrics on the chorus — an REM nod, perhaps — that add quirk to the structure. But mostly the song is an energized sprint, muscular and focused.
Unlike its predecessor, “Infidels” is counted in with four terse claps of the drumsticks. It’s a swaggering march, the snare drum slowly submerging under layer after layer of guitars and vocals. But that descent and re-emergence lends motion to the song. Otherwise there’s a kind of spinning in place feeling: “You have done as she has done has he has done before,” one verse echoes as the instruments revisit an increase in intensity. Just around the four-minute mark there’s a break and then a change in mood as the guitars (Dave Becker and Ed Mitchell) wail and the drums crash, the song releasing into peals of sound even as it fades out.
Final track “Lingers” leads with crickets, shakers and a plucky banjo melody belying the sung questions, “Do you live only to die? If we had more time, if we tried real hard, could we right all of our wrongs?” The sighs of a steel guitar (Jamie Frost) add more of a tropical feel than a tone of melancholy, and the dichotomy seems right for the album.
This is a collection of ambitious ideas, of philosophy married to kinetic rock and of distance bridged (as the band’s name suggest). But ultimately its the well-maintained relationship part of The Long Distance Relationship that wins the day.