Loyal Divide is five guys who started playing music together in Columbus, Ohio around 2005 until the lure of bright(er) lights and a big(ger) city drew them to Chicago. It was a journey not just of miles, but also of musical maturation. The earlier Loyal Divide received favorable comparisons to Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, comparisons most bands would be ecstatic about, but the band felt they were destined to make a different style of music. The band pulls no punches in relating their thoughts on their earliest work, “For the first EP, we poured money into recording time at a studio with no real idea of what we were doing. We paid no heed to things like consistency and sequencing, and the whole process was casual. That can work wonderfully for some groups, but it didn’t for us. The music was random and derivative as shit.” That’s an unusual level of honesty to hear from a band these days (doubtless, they were their own fiercest critics), but Loyal Divide is an unusual collection of guys. In a day and age when most musicians jump from band to band, from sideproject to sideproject, looking for a winner and engaging in the sort of speculation you might expect to see from a Wall Street broker, the five members of Loyal Divide remained true to their project. In the face of the positive notices they received for their first EP, they reapplied themselves to find a sound that was more uniquely their own, in their words, “….we purchased some rudimentary recording gear and started from scratch. The learning process was long, and the output has been way too slow, but we’ve become more cerebral and particular about our music.” Now five years removed from their beginnings in Columbus, Loyal Divide has established itself as a band to watch in its native Chicago and beyond, having carved out a unique blend of breathy shoegaze, Brian Eno intellectronica, and Kraftwerk’d beats. The results of their metamorphoses produced the well-received EP Labrador, which the band hopes to roll into a full-length album.
On the Labrador EP the listener appreciates how far Loyal Divide have taken their songs from the indie rock generica of Arcade Fire and Sub Pop flavors-of-the-month. A crunchy looped beat and cocked-pistol sample signals that we are out of the garage and very much “in da club” on the EP opener “Young Blades” . A bubbling wave of synth, a siren blast, and tribal rhythms combine into a DJ Shadow-esque mélange. The vocals don’t come into full focus until a minute and a half into the four minute song- only then do you realize there is a band behind this wall of atmospheric trip-hoptronica, not a DJ. And when the vocals do come, they are soft, mantric, repetitive, almost sounding like samples themselves, coaxed out of the peaks and valleys of the ambient soundscape instead of being laid over the top like movie credits. Adam Johnson and Christopher Sadek share the vocal duties; the pair’s strategy is to use vocals to create atmosphere and ambience woven directly into the fabric of the song. There are no American Idol moments here, no Broadway turns, no grandstanding, nothing that will distract the listener from the pulsing musical gestures of the underlying themes. That doesn’t mean the vocals are strictly wallflowers though- in fact, the decisive motif on the song “Vision Vision” (named #1 song of 2009 by Radio One Chicago, by the way) is an earthshattering howl. It cuts you to the quick, a sort of Trent Reznor “I want to fuck you like an animal” banshee scream that, for all its fearsomeness, kind of makes you want to get out on the dancefloor and shake your damn boo-tay.
For their A-side, Loyal Divide is sharing with the Ampeater Review readers a single off their upcoming album. The track is called “DDF” and shows how deftly the group has melded their “rock bandy” roots with a more contemporary clubtronica sound. Bassist Siddharth Chittajallu and drummer Andrew McCarthy lay down a creeping, crawling rhythm over which floats the signature motif of the tracks, what sounds like a sample of classical Hindustani verse run through heavy effects, plus a tremolo. The tremolo transforms the sample into a pulsing, hypnotic wash of sound while the rhythm section continues to grind away at the listener. This motif alternates with forbidding, Depeche-moody vocal stanzas, trading back and forth. And as the song begins to work its way into the interior recesses of your body and mind, a more distinctly Oriental sample fades in like an advancing bank of thick fog, swallowing the listener whole. For the B-side the Ampeater Review is fortunate to get a hold of a previously unreleased mix, a remix of Loyal Divide’s popular “Vision Vision.” All the old elements are in place: the slap bass, dreamy “landing UFO” whir, the hypnotic beats, but a few subtle effects have been added to foreground the fearsome banshee howl all the more. The disco-vampire screech is kicked up a notch, entering a “breakdown” -mode for a fiery final salute in the last minute of the song.
With a successful EP, a sharp video of their hit single “Vision Vision” (shot by BBGun Film) and some good touring/festival experience (the band’s highlight of SXSW: “We randomly saw GZA on an outdoor stage playing shit from Liquid Swords. So cool.” ), Loyal Divide looks poised to make an impact with their as-yet-untitled full-length album set for release sometime in May. The band shared some early insight on the release with the Ampeater Review: “It’s basically an expansion of the Labrador EP with 8 or possibly 9 new songs. The new songs sound like NIN on a shoestring budget minus the goth poetry, but a bit looser.” For all you fans of goth poetry out there, don’t be concerned because there are plenty of dark rites to feast on in the grinding rhythms, synth ambiance, and subbacultcha club aesthetic. It’s best to leave the industrial haikus to Mr. Reznor, the quasi-reliqious anthems to Arcade Fire, the bedroom indie to Wolf Parade, and let Loyal Divide just be their glorious selves. It’s worked damn fine so far.
Vision Vision (Long CC Master)
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem086/02 Vision Vision (Long CC Master).mp3