Curious Quail – After The Lights Failed

-Clay’s Take-

A lot of ink has been spilled on this site (or rather, pixels have been manipulated into font) about how great it is to discover new bands. It has sort of become our credo – discover new music weekly. Sometimes the results are mixed (we get it Sweden: you guys love your black metal). Overall, our undertaking on this blog has been time well spent. We have experienced some fantastic music, made some good friends, and seen some mind-blowing shows. All around it is win-win and aside from some fun April-fools pranks, we don’t plan on ending that any time soon.

After receiving Curious Quail’s debut LP last year, I was treated to a delightful album and hope to get that live experience soon, but that was just one snapshot of the band in a point in time. There’s something that interests me more as we tack another year on the Nanobot site’s domain registry: growth. Where are some of these bands that we’ve come to love over the last couple years heading?

San Jose’s (now) quintet of indie rockers were able to follow up to .:INSTANT GRATIFICATION:. with the upcoming After the Lights Failed thanks to a largely successful Kickstarter campaign that gave the band some legitimate studio time and allowed singer-songwriter Mike Shirley-Donnelly to maintain his songwriting credit but hand the arrangement car keys of Curious Quail to bandmates Joey Guthrie (drums), Alan Chen (violin), Erin Keely (bass, vocals), and Abe Myers (guitar, keys).

The end result is a vastly different experience from album one to album two. Where .:INSTANT GRATIFICATION:. was a pop explosion, After the Lights Failed is broad and subdued. Instead of each track building to a hooky crescendo, each track simmers in its own slow burn, like a tiny, tiny sun. Sure, some of the familiar motifs are there: chiptune beats in “Heavy Rain,” the aforementioned crescendo in “Reconstruction,” and giraffes in “Giraffes” – but what is a welcome addition is the patient cadence of “Moon + Stars,” the f—k yeah rock (complete with bitchin’ violin solo) of “The Villain” and the soul-wrenching ballad “Refugee Camp.”

This is a band maturing before our very eyes, and doing what we want to see: taking a monumental leap forward. April Fool’s pranks aside, I could quit tomorrow (again, not happening) and listening to this album made the last three years of work we put into this site worth my time, but I’m greedy, so I sit and wait for the next great discovery that pays off in emotional currency exponentially the way this experience has.

The takeaway from my review of .:INSTANT GRATIFICATION:. was that this band was the Bob Ross of pop. I think they have moved on, but are still a sum of their parts. Maybe Georges Seurat? Definitely Mandy Patinkin in Sunday In the Park With George (Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance. More Red. A little more red. Blueblueblueblueblueblueblue…). Is that a stretch? I don’t know, but any excuse to watch YouTube videos with Bernadette Peters is a good one and any comparison that sells you on listening to Curious Quail will be time well spent. This is geek rock at its finest. Until then, I’ll be waiting for that next great discovery.

Your move, internet.

-Greg’s Take-

The lengths at which it pains me to say this have no possible measure: it is official Curious Quail has sold out. With the release of After the Lights Failed the cliché “third time’s the charm” does not apply.

And if you believed any of that, if even for a moment, I have just reduced the price on a bridge I’d like to sell you.

The Bay Area band that cannot stop expanding our minds returns with the follow up to .:INSTANT GRATIFICATION:. in the form of ten tracks that are bigger, bolder, braver and we’ll just make up another descriptive b-word to explain the depth Mike Shirley-Donnelly and crew have achieved with this release. The moment you hit play on the album it becomes a Harmon-esc creation that is massive in its imagination while hitting on all the subtle and not-so subtle points. It feeds my brain like Remedial Chaos Theory. Most importantly it challenges the existence of Curious Quail which is a sign, at least to me, of a top notch band.

From The Glow EP through GRATIFICATION on to Lights, the amount of growth Quail demonstrates is nothing short of staggering. It truly had me thinking that everything leading to this doesn’t even matter, but then I promptly applied open palm to forehead as I recalled just how much I loved the previous works and even with improved instrumental vision, more thought provoking lyrics and their expansive presence the new record does everything but detract from what made me fall in love with Curious Quail. From the social clarity of “Instant Gratification” to vivacious style of “The Villain” on through very Curious Quail balance of “Heavy Rain” the terms “wonderful” and “must-hear” seem to go out the window simply because they do not fully convey how much I love this record.

Curious Quail doesn’t sound like every other band out there. In fact, I will give you that bridge if you can find a band who sounds exactly like them. But that is only part of the appeal. Whether you come for the atmosphere, you come for the company, or you come for the delectable musical arrangements, one thing is for certain, After the Lights Failed, Curious Quail succeeded.