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Calla - Strength in Numbers

Released on Beggars Banquet Records, 2/20/07

I can remember the first time I heard Calla. It was pouring and I was at the Fillmore, along with about 800 others, waiting for Interpol to hit the stage. It was 2002, right after they had released Turn on the Bright Lights, and I was anxious to see if the live show was as translatable as the album. Admittedly, it took me around ten minutes to notice a band was even playing. I had wet items to remove, beers to purchase, and land to claim -- I was busy. But ever so slowly the sound began to creep in. So subtle it was.; so succinct. I could think of nothing as atmospheric as the sounds they were creating at that moment.

They built each part so slowly and methodically, letting it linger for a moment -- or a minute -- and never went the certain route of most. There were no earth-shattering climaxes, no over-built, explosive conclusions; they simply deconstructed each piece in the same methodical way they were constructed in the first place. They became numbers and graphs to me, a steady reliance in an unsure setting.

Calla’s latest release, Strength in Numbers, does not stray from these formulaic tendencies. It opens with the bassed-out dance beat of “Sanctify”, which sounds at first like the break in a mid-nineties rave but quickly flows into a sound similar to holding ones head underwater while the music floats just above. Each layer is then built, by mid-song the levels have plateau-ed, and in its decent enter the Beatles-like triplets, keyboard line, and vocal coos.

Much of the album continues as such; steady beats, choruses chanted like mantras, and forceful yet gentle guitar work. “Stand Paralyzed” begins with a dub-style guitar and backbeat that flowers into a simplistic pop structure complete with a lyrical regret that carries into the strums and dotted keyboard lines of “Malo”.

While the New York-based trio describes their music as “indie rock and high concept art”, I find this to be a little heavy-handed. They are independent rock, and they certainly have a concept going, a theme within their style, but “high concept art” sounds pretentious and exclusionary when you are a coming from simplistic rock roots.

Strength in Numbers is, as a whole, a concise piece of work. But this consistency, after almost ten years together, begins to sound restrained and strangled. I begin to wish for screams and yells, raucous solos and overdriven bass. While there is something to be said for a band so methodical and thoughtful in their form -- a little wrench in the gears would help to keep things fresh. A little Eddie Van Halen never killed anyone.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars