If the snapshot that my mind associates to the first notes of the very young Picture Atlantic’s Digital Tension is the image of a stadium arena immersed in intense lighting effects and fireworks, I guess that it can already be considered a great result, right?
Being a musician myself, I find it really amazing that an album, recorded and produced in studio, can remind me of the live experience; the lifeblood of artists and the size of the supreme music. I am so used to being faced with a hyper-produced album and musical experimentation that often fall into bad taste, almost baroque, that when my stereo plays Picture Atlantic, I cannot help but listen to them with genuine attention to every chord. I should point out, in fact, that this music genre (modern rock, topped off with a great and irresistible taste in pop) is not really my cup of tea, so I find it hard to believe that I am so fascinated by such an album. Perhaps because in Nikolaus Bartunek, Brian Graves, Ryan Blair and Daniel Martinez I see my peers; intent on playing, straight from the heart, the music they love. I thoroughly enjoy each song, without exception, from Digital Tension (their second full length).
The influences of bands like Radiohead and Coldplay, and I personally would add Blur, are doubtless, but these are just solid basis for a completely original compositional work. Well balanced throughout the album, alternating hoochy songs as “Regina,” “Halogen Lights (or Babies Having Babies and Kids Getting Married)” or “Twist and dilated” oneiric tracks, full of musical pathos (“5:50 Hurts” is my favorite, I must admit, and “Meme,” the last song on the album, with its typical post-rock sound). Large credit should be given to producer Aaron Hellam, who was able to capture the primary essence of a rock band perfectly rather than oppress the music under the sparkling cloak of a phony production – something that the nowadays scars thousands of “new albums.” He prevents them from reaching an exaggerated false level which would result, ultimately, in mediocre and uninspired work. In addition, also for professional bias, I cannot deny that Nikolaus’ voice is able to reach me clearly and perfectly, all while disclosing an endless sequence of emotions that only few singers can leak. In short, a twisted mix between Chris Martin’s pure voice and Robert Plant’s soul (the more I listen to his voice the more I feel this similarity, totally unusual and distinctive). As a whole Digital Tension is a really mature album musically, especially considering the young age of the band from San Jose. This does nothing but increase the value of Picture Atlantic. The quality of the songs is really astonishing and each of them could be released as a single on its own (my personal way to judge whether a song is good or not).
My last consideration, more like a funny curiosity: “We live in a strange digital age. Protests. Smart phones. Riots. Bad Economy. Loss of focus. Digitized social structure. The Internet. Information overload. Excess. Surplus. Not enough. Generational identity crisis. Social Justice. Boredom. Facebook Blues. Over excitement. This is digital Tension” they say and they are definitely a band leaning on digital: they have announced their new drummer on their official website, the title of this brand new album via Twitter, the producer via Instagram and the recording sessions’ dates on Tumblr. I definitely love this kind of digital tension, too.
I’ve spoken a lot in the past about the music scene in the Bay Area. Typically this is set in context of a drooling obsession with their passionate and infectious folk scene. But just when you think you have it pegged, it throws a curveball at you.
The blind side of musical genius (not kidding, it is spectacularly enjoyable) comes in the form of an Ezra Koenig-like vocals fronting four diversely talented musicians.
Picture Atlantic is exactly what we need in a time when Vampire Weekend is opting to do very little. Now, it must be said, that though I cannot shake the VW association when listening to Picture Atlantic’s Digital Tension, it is very much a compliment. Where Koenig and crew lean to Indie-Folk, Picture Atlantic turns to Indie-Rock; much to my enjoyment.
The twelve track sophomore album from Nikolaus Bartunek, Brian Graves, Ryan Blair and Daniel Martinez is easily one of best investments you can make this year. It has the ability to captivate and suck you into its relentless grasp as it bleeds hard working music at its best. Bartunek tears open the record with “Regina.” The well timed entry into Digital Tension immediately snares your attention. Progressing further in we’re met with the rolling bass riff and swaying melodies of “White Knight” and just as you begin to settle in to a slower pace, they deliver a, well, “Twist.” The hard hitting rock track is immediately distinguished by “Don’t Be Cheap,” which dances on a refreshing vocal/keys duet, making you second guess what you just heard. Though keeping close to melodic rock, the capabilities of Picture Atlantic is thick throughout; making replay ability endless.
It is apparent that I’m a fan of Picture Atlantic; I was on just the first run. Their style is rare and their talent is admirable. They have a vision that is very hard for even the most seasoned bands to obtain. Though they have hidden hooks and peaks in their music, their passion is everything but. Picture Atlantic’s Digital Tension is a must have of 2012 and reinforces the San Francisco music scene in a big way.