Just as there seemed to be no other option for the 2001-2002 NBA Rookie of the Year than the Memphis Grizzlies' own dunquistador, Pau Gasol, it seemed inevitable that the local band "picked to click" was going to be Snowglobe.
Having developed quite a local following, they were able to successfully translate their live musical alchemy into an incredibly vibrant recorded debut. The result, Our Land Brains, is a lush, indefatigable affair -- a shadow box brimming with baubles of somber whimsy. Its title had me convinced that it was some lysergic anagram, and for three days straight, I fruitlessly attempted to unravel its meaning.
Snowglobe consists of four Memphians barely old enough to have graduated from Shirley Temples to Rob Roys. Brad Postlethwaite and Tim Regan are the principal songwriters, perpetually engaged in friendly rivalry. Brandon Robertson and Jeff Hulett admirably anchor the rhythm section. But none of their roles are rigidly defined. On stage, they usually switch up instruments midstream, and the recording process has been an organically collaborative one.
The band's moniker was actually coined by Brian Winterrowd, their puckish ex-percussionist. "So he came up with the name and then you canned him," I jived during a recent interview, and the band quickly countered with facetious tales of Winterrowd's Crüe-esque whore-mongering and "ice-running" -- whatever the hell that is -- which were responsible for his dismissal.
They all liked the sound of "snowglobe," but it was their fellow musician, Shelby Bryant, who later granted the appellation tenor, saying, "It's such a great name because the songs are like little white snowglobes. A kind of miniature dreamworld that you visit when you put the song on."
"Yeah, that's what we meant all along," the band members contend.
Our Land Brains is a surprisingly opulent first record. Its psychedelic luster is even more remarkable when one learns that the band handled the production duties themselves. While they all seem to enjoy the dynamic discourse of playing live shows, recording seems to be the favorite activity of most of the members. As Robertson says, "There are less limitations. You can't fit an orchestra onstage, but you can cram one into the machine."
And cram they do. You'll hear grand piano, timpani, flugelhorn, and a whole spectrum of strings. Band members would often sneak down to the University of Memphis music department and recruit some willing student. "We would hear some badass violin player practicing down the hall and we'd ask them if they had 10 minutes to learn a song," they say.
The opener, "Waves Rolling," is a melancholy ode to radio that is in a constant state of unfolding. "Big City Lights" is a great sun-drenched number with a hint of country that will have you scouring Our Land Brains for the old Brother Record logo on the label. Their song titles and lyrics are refreshingly free of obtuse metaphors and indulgent non sequiturs -- "Anthem," "Beautiful," "Muse," "Smiles and Frowns." Even "The Song That Frustrates Us" was indeed a song that well, frustrated them. "It was probably the last song that we recorded," Robertson says. "We had recorded it three times prior to that. They were all horrible. We had spent close to $900 trying to get it right and it never worked out." They even drove to Athens, Georgia, to mix it, but nothing sounded right until, as Postlethwaite reports, "we tried it at home and immediately could tell it was the right one."
Though Snowglobe readily admit that the Elephant 6 collective (celebrated indie bands Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, and assorted offshoots) are musical influences, it seems that the communal, DIY approach of the Athens scene was even more inspiring. "Elephant 6 was what we listened to in high school," Postlethwaite recalls. (And just writing that last quote makes me feel as if I am calcifying in front of an eternal loop of On Golden Pond.) From a musical standpoint, Snowglobe are fully in the continuum of what Gram Parsons called "Cosmic American Music." Their efforts seem particularly productive. They already have two new recordings in the works (an acoustic album included).
Regan jokes that they will be 60 years old with gray ponytails playing bad versions of Van Morrison covers at a neighborhood bar and grill. And, if that's the case, I plan on wheeling my geriatric cyborg self through the urban decay of 2045 to watch them. No doubt I, and perhaps the rest of us, will need to hear this band's verdant, psychedelic songs about friends, birds, dreams, and better tomorrows at that point more than ever.
Richard Johnston 3
Bloodthirsty Lovers 3
Cory Branan, Bumpercrop, Blair Combest, Crippled Nation, Mito Farley, the F-Holes, the Gabe & Amy Show, the Gamble Brothers Band, the Great Depression, In the Balance, the Internationals, Interrobang, Rob Jungklas, Lucero, Zach Myers, Native Son, the Oscars, Piston Honda, the Reigning Sound, Paul Thorn, Three Pipe Problem, Yamagata, Jed Zimmerman.