Many people are locked into one musical era, genre or type. Too bad too, because those people will always miss out on music that is truly interesting and innovative. If you thought you had my love of pop music pegged by reading or listening to the music reviewed here so far, then hold on to your hats! Enter Changing Modes and their 2010 CD, Here. Changing Modes isn't your average pop or rock band. Their influences range from progressive rock to modern rock, jazz and classical. While the bulk of this review highlights the talents of the vocalists and major instrumentalists, not enough can be said for the roles of David Oromander (drums, vocals, trumpet) and Grace Pulliam (vocals, percussion) who add all the right touches throughout. There is more to hear than one listen will allow, because there is so much going on. Whether you are mesmerized by the sometimes haunting vocals and harmonies, intrigued with the instrumentation or just taken away by the lyrics, you'll find many things worth discovering Here.
Dissonance is used throughout Here's title track and opener, a song about being in physical or mental distress and looking for a way out. Band co-leader, Wendy Griffiths, (keyboards, vocals) sounds alternately like Grace Slick, Chrissie Hynde or Kate Bush, depending on the moment in the song. The music adds an appropriate haunting urgency to the lyrics. Here too is some magical guitar work from the other co-leader of Changing Modes, Yuzuru Sadashige (bass, guitar). The interplay between the vocals and instrumentals really kicks in when the Theramin is included.
Here's theme is dissonant and haunting, and Moles is its counterpoint, revving up the speed and kicking it up a notch. It's the kind of song that wants your feet to move, even if the song's lyrics are about mole people in New York City who live in the subway tunnels. Wendy sings "But your life underground, is not what it seems, it's worse than your strangest nightmare and better than your wildest dreams" in the chorus, but that is just one of the images painted here. You'll need to listen carefully to hear them all.
Louise introduces Jen Hammaker (Theremin, keyboard) on lead vocal in a whimsical song about Wendy's cat, which is just plain fun! "What goes on behind those dark eyes? Where do you go when I turn out the light?" Not only is there a lot going on here instrumentally, but the backing vocals and harmonies are incredible too, with a truly interesting shift from major to minor key and back again.
And There's so much more! Cell to Cell is another fun toe tapper that explores carrying on a relationship via text messaging. Distorted guitar adds interesting texture here that gives it a very punkish feel. Embers Sweet has an almost "Yes" feel to it, if "Yes" were fronted by female vocals that is. It definitely has that progressive rock edge to it. A favorite track for me is the poppy, electronicly noodled One, which describes an obsession with lines like You are the One, you are the one. White Lightning, again with Jen Hammaker, is a jazzy number with great trumpet fill from Oromander. The White Room, sounds initially like a cover of Cream's White Room. When I asked Wendy about this, however, she assured me that "It's more of an homage to the Cream song than a cover." It is a delightful changeup that explores sleazy politicians and their abuse of power. Closing out the set is Meow Situation which has a swing piano feel that ends things on a light-hearted note.
Writing this review, I've been afraid that after listening to these tracks so many times, they would start to wear thin; They don't. If anything, you begin to hear more nuances and textures that were hidden from your ears on the first listen. Changing Modes deserves grand recognition for a diverse, haunting and playful set of music. Instrumentation and vocals are accomplished and fun to listen to and the lyrics are deceptively simple in their complexity and entirely singable. Formed in the mid-90's by a happenstance invitation to CBGB's, Wendy Griffiths was pried away from her classical practice room, to hear the band Soul Coughing with a friend. It occurred to her on that night that she really missed the world of rock; "How that music hits you in the gut, which, as much as I love classical music, the concert music never quite does; At least not for me." She came back to her room later that night and began to write rock songs, and has never turned back. We are the beneficiaries of this epiphany, and Here is just one of those gifts.
You can find more information on Changing Modes by visiting them on MySpace or FaceBook. They also have a web site, that is in drastic need of a voluneer developer (sorry guys), so volunteer those services if you can help them out. You can hear sample tracks and purchase digital copies of Here from AmieStreet.com or both digital and physical copies of this and other Changing Mode CD's from CDBaby.com.