Now, more than ever, the technical advancements and innovative designs of music mastermind Brian Eno have transformed this generation’s finest post-adolescent underground rock modernists into the latest high profile trendsetters. Showing a tremendous capacity for injecting gauzy synthesizer affects, diffuse electronic manipulations, whirled Wall of Sound tremolo, and translucent feedback figures into comprehensive song ideas, a few crafty surrealist propagators have brought Eno’s “ambient-styled” silent lucidity to the youthful masses.
Recently, headlining Brooklyn taste-makers, MGMT, celebrated the reclusive British magnate with hook-infested anthem, “Brian Eno.” And when surging Cincinnati quartet, Pomegranates, were looking for studio help on their breakthrough third album, co-producer TJ Lipple, who’d been associated with MGMT, was hired.
Pomegranates proudly take a democratic approach to composing, allowing each member to bring certain elements to the recordings at hand. Despite the abstract psychedelic imagery fusing a goodly amount of tunes, most come from organic guitar-bass-drum auspices. Jacob Merritt, who handles percussion duties, admits the earliest style of music he listened to as a pre-teen was “mild contemporary Christian rock,” an interesting side fact that may have nothing to do with his co-founding band partner, guitarist Isaac Karns, also being given a well-known biblical first name.
Nevertheless, Jacob and Isaac began assembling the secularly-entailed Pomegranates in 2006, releasing ‘08s formative debut, Everything Is Alive, and its even better ’09 follow-up, Everybody, Come Outside!, as a bustling four-piece band filled out by vocalist-guitarist Joey Cook and bassist Dan Lyon (replacing Josh Kufeldt). Their provincial fan base then started extending way beyond Cincy’s cozy mid-America confines.
While The National, and to a lesser extent, the Heartless Bastards and Wussy, are probably the three highest regarded indie bands to break out of the Queen City’s recent local club scene, Merritt gives a shout-out for new-sprung troupes such as Matthew Shelton’s Picnic, Pop Empire, and Vacation.
“The first music that really clicked with me was Fugazi’s 13 Songs,” Merritt says in respect to the autonomous DIY post-punk ambassadors. “I listened to that everyday for two months working one summer. But that’s very extremely different from what we do.”
Signed to Minneapolis boutique label, Afternoon Records, whose clientele includes unheralded eclectic bands such as minimalist gloomsters, Tarlton, alt-country singer Haley Bonar and power pop manglers, Poison Control Center, Pomegranates are now the big boys on the block, at least amongst the indie elite.
Merritt offers up several influences all members share. As expected, they run the gamut from iconic rock (Neil Young) to art-punk (Talking Heads) to glam-pop (T. Rex) to Kraut-rock (Neu).
“We’re definitely a band that didn’t count on blowing up after one album. Just like the Flaming Lips and Yo La Tengo, we’ve plugged away for awhile, slowly building a fan base,” Merritt confirms.
The lead title track on Pomegrantes 2010 triumph, One Of Us, contains all the elements that make their burgeoning catalogue as stimulatingly juicy as Merritt-Karns’ fruitful moniker. There’s the ineradicable neo-psychedelic vibe, flanged guitar resonance, and rubbery bass rumble reaching hyperspace – one step removed from the Beatles LSD hallucinations. Its linear sonic template hearkens back to prominent New Wave acts such as A Flock Of Seagulls or Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark while its transcendental escapism no doubt clips ambient pioneer, Eno.
Oft-times, as expected, Pomegranates spellbinding ambient dalliances voyage to unspecified intergalactic domains, floating high above the atmosphere in a shimmering narcotic fog. Hazy mystical soother, “White Fawn,” a solo showcase for second guitarist Joey Cook, drifts into the ether so well it’d fit perfectly on Eno’s brilliant Another Green World.
Obligingly, there are also several seriously lovesick lyrical platitudes hidden beneath the celestial expanse. Most compellingly, swirled oscillating whirligig, “Perception,” becomes an emotionally desirous séance nearly as earnestly heartfelt as the lyrical intrigue consuming Epicurean “Anywhere You Go,” where Cook’s adolescent quip, ‘I really like you’ (and a few tender choral passages), get crosscut by ‘no wave’ guitar fragments.
But the enlightened path to everlasting love securing One Of Us takes a few hits along the way, especially since it’s hard to find real life happiness without a little despair. Doubts are cast all the way through to commanding closer, “Into The Water, Into The Air,” a skeptical emergency broadcast-bleated missive querying ‘Are you a lover or a thief?’ Then again, just beforehand, explosive mind-numbing scrum, “Skull Cakin’,” begs for reconciliation with the urgently yelped entreaty, ‘We’re gonna make it somehow.’
Though he laughs off some suppositional lyrical analyses, Merritt maintains, “Every one of our albums has at least one or two straight-up rock songs like “Skull Cakin’.” This band we toured with has a Harry Nilsson song they cover and that seems to be in the realm of one of Nilsson’s rockier songs, or maybe “Sweet Dream” by Roy Orbison.”
Skipping past Eno-esque fascination, “50’s” evokes rock and roll’s early dawn, getting a mighty kick drum lead-in to contrast the trance-like harmonic chant. Another straight-ahead turn-up-the-amps rocker, “Prouncer,” brings louder staggering axe work and more propulsive rhythmic power to the frontline.
The entire album plays out like one sustainable thematic quest, though it makes no attempt to be either as timelessly contemporaneous as Pink Floyd’s Viet Nam saga Dark Side Of The Moon or as enterprisingly conceptual as Eno’s art-rock debut Here Come The Warm Jets.
Merritt claims, “Everybody, Come Outside! was definitely written around a story and narrative, but One Of Us wasn’t as proactively written that way even though there’s some common themes. Overall, the aesthetic for the first two albums may not be traditional, but the textures and the ambience are conventional. I’d say the first two make more sense together and the third is separate from them.”
This time around, string arranger Paul Patterson was brought onboard to provide a thicker neo-Classical backdrop for a few highlights. Halfway through the punchy kick-drummed serenade, “The Positive Light,” sympathetic violins add orchestral grandeur in a way Merritt believes “may have a Dexy’s Midnight Runner or Electric Light Orchestra feel.” Yet its guitar-chimed choral layout may better suit MGMT’s latest endeavor, Congratulations.
“We spent more time touring with the new songs and had more time recording them. Paul’s strings are really cool, adding a new dimension,” Merritt corroborates. “TJ Lipple (of unheralded band, Aloha) was able to get really familiar with the material. We wanted someone who could capture our sound best since the technical part could get tricky. He had a good grasp on getting the sound down.”
Lipple furnished a silvery crystalline sheen to Pomegranates eerily phantasmic catacombs, windy serendipitous saunters and mesmerizing climactic rhapsodies, elevating the dynamic soundscape in a manner majestic shoegaze-derived 90s-bound space-rockers Spiritualized still do.
But it’s ultimately the colossal presence of Eno that could be felt throughout, especially during subtle environmental fugue, “Perception.”
Before our conversation is through, Merritt warrants, “We really appreciate Brian Eno’s ambient stuff. With “Perception,” we wanted to have a pause to perhaps cleanse the sonic palate and serve as an intermission. You know how you may have a nice sorbet before dinner to prepare you for what’s next. It sets the tone for what’s coming. A moment of catharsis to re-set and relax a bit.”