Today is Tonight
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I remember the first time I saw The Changes, a few winters ago – all I knew was that a friend of mine from high school was the drummer. So I set off to the Mercury Lounge to check them out. I don’t remember much about their set specifically, but I do remember that I was less than impressed.
I thought they were pretty cool, but to me, they seemed like another bunch of post-Strokes revivalists. Having fairly recently moved to New York, I was definitely already disgusted by the gobs of indie cool oozing out of the streets in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan – the fumes, or at least the haircuts, were making me sick. Through those eyes, I saw The Changes as a Chicago version of the Same Fucking Thing. I was especially disappointed, because I knew my friend as someone who hadn’t grown up chasing musical trends, but rather immersed himself in classics -- the Police, the Beatles, Frank Zappa and the like.
About a year passed, and I got an e-mail from my friend – The Changes were hitting NYC again. I went to check them out again, and my reaction couldn’t have been more different. All of a sudden, I saw a strikingly original pop group with unlimited potential. The Changes had seemingly found their voice, and it was more than impressive.
In the few years that have passed, the group has not only garnered a bucketload of buzz in Chicago and elsewhere (they were the only unsigned band to play at Lollapalooza 2005), but it has honed its sound and churned out an amazing 12-song effort: Today is Tonight, which comes out next week.
The band’s sound could be easily dismissed as simply reviving the New Wave, but, upon closer listen, the songs are much more sophisticated. The musicianship is impeccable, and the band is super tight. The guitars swirl and swell, yet remain sharp and often jazzy. The band has successfully moved beyond pure “rock” instrumentation, incorporating drum machines, analog synths, and an array of clicking, clacking, and chiming small percussion instruments. Vocalists Darren Spitzer and Dave Rothblatt come off as subdued romantics, and the vocal arrangements – the extra “Whoah-ohs” on “Water on the Gods” and the “Has” in “Sisters” – add depth without distraction.
The only lag in the album is the disco number “Twilight,” which was started as a joke in the studio, and probably should have stayed there. It’s enjoyable for the first minute or so, but like too much disco before it, quickly wears thin.
Overall, the songs are refreshingly free of cynicism, full of honesty, and wildly romantic. Semi-slow-jam highlights like “On a String” and “In the Dark” would fit perfectly on countless film soundtracks, and faster songs like “Modern Love” and “When I Wake” are sugary sweet without sounding stupid or naïve.
The highlight of the entire album comes four minutes into the next to last song, “Her, You, and I,” when, after an extended buildup groove, those eight snare hits you’ve been expecting for over a minute finally come, and the band sets off – carrying the song out on a tide of frenetic guitar interplay, all the while being simultaneously held down and pushed forward by the amazing rhythm section. The tension is real and it feels like the controlled chaos will lose all control and the song will disintegrate any minute. But then the vocals come back in, and you suddenly remember what song it is. Before you can think about it too much, though, five hard piano hits end it.
That song, more than anything else on the album, exemplifies The Changes – perfect music for headphones or convertibles. JW
On the Web: The Changes