On the TV show Project Runway, hopeful designers are given challenges to make fabulous fashions on a shoestring budget. Their faces invariably crinkle in dismay when they find they’ve only got $150 and 24 hours to make a gown worthy of the red carpet. When the results are evaluated, one of the most coveted comments from the judges is that a piece “looks expensive” even though it was created with very little money. The ultimate compliment is when Heidi Klum says something like, “I could walk right out of here and wear that to a party tonight.”
Being an unsigned band is kind of like being a contestant on Project Runway. You might have more time to produce a CD, but not a whole lot more financial resources. Most of the time, the results are a bit rough-hewn, raggedy around the hem, with an exposed zipper or puckered fabric here and there. But every once in a while, a little nobody band manages to produce a CD so good, so cohesive, and so professional that it could sit right beside the cream of popular music, today, as is. San Diego’s own Transfer has submitted just such an album, Future Selves, and if enough people heard it, I have no doubt it could walk right out of here and go to a party with Kings of Leon, Weezer, Muse, and everyone else on Billboard’s rock charts for November 2009.
Of course, any good rock snob knows that fame does not equal talent, and there are hundreds of unsigned bands who blow doors on any of the guys in the current issue of Rolling Stone. However, those young bands are usually… not ready for prime time, shall we say? Diamonds in the rough. Eliza Dolittles pre-Professor Higgins. With Future Selves however, Transfer have proven themselves poised enough to be your new rock gods by next Tuesday.
The band recently held a two-night CD release party at San Diego’s Beauty Bar to unveil the new disc. The venue was packed with the city’s hipster cognoscenti, including fellow local musicians from bands like Apes of Wrath (label mates on Transfer’s own Obscure Magpie imprint), Dirty Sweet and the Silent Comedy. The band employed most of the bells and whistles from the recording, including a full horn section and backing vocalist, to play the new album from start to finish. The lead song is also the first single, “Losing Composure”, and it perfectly sets up the listener for what’s to come—a big, expansive, melodic rock sound that blends seamlessly into the next track, both sonically and thematically. “Take Your Medicine” picks up the health thread that runs throughout the album, with carnival-esque keyboards, a catchy refrain (“Have I had enough? / Or did I take too much?”) and a loose, bouncy tempo that make it my favorite cut.
“My Suspicions” is getting picked up by indie radio across the country for its haunting, woozy verses and powerful chorus, fueled by Matt Molarius’s confessional lyrics. It is our first taste of the voice Molarius possesses, an instrument that frankly doesn’t get as much display on Future Selves as on the band’s debut full-length Faded Signal or last year’s amazing EP Sunken Eyes. This is one area where the production has been a hindrance rather than a help, because live, this guy’s voice can crush you like a Dixie cup under a size 12 boot. He’s got that John Doe, Maria McKee kind of strength where he just closes his eyes, opens his mouth and has no compunction about ripping your heart in two with the sound that comes out. The closest you’ll come to hearing that on this release is “Get Some Rest”, a wonderful soul-inspired track that could only come from California rocker boys who listened to a lot of Art Laboe’s oldies show on the radio growing up, before Pink Floyd ever got a hold of them.
When Transfer comes to your town, do yourself a favor and go see them live. Not only for Molarius’s voice, but to witness drummer Coop (Michael Cooper), who gives New Pornographers’ Kurt Dahle and Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins a run for their money as one of the most entertaining drummers around. Jason Cardenas plays incredible guitar and shares some of the major songwriting duties, and bassist Shaun Cornell is the band’s secret weapon, multi-tasking as producer, mixer, engineer and string and horn arranger. He also moonlights with the Killers, does recording work for any number of other San Diego acts and has a degree from Berklee College of Music. (Far be it from me to diminish Cornell’s artistic abilities by mentioning his appearance. Let’s just say that if anyone is ever going to get the “Your looks have become a problem” speech from Almost Famous, it will be him.)
Any song on Future Selves could be a single, from the self-described “pirate chantey” “Wake to Sleep” to the penultimate track “The Possum”, which employs something you’ll find on a lot of Transfer songs: the two-fer. It’s two! Two! Two songs in one! Normally this feature is too stoner-ific for me, and any song approaching five minutes strays dangerously into prog-rock territory. But in the deft hands of a band like Transfer, the song-within-a-song is nothing to fear, and I willingly go on the journey. The musicianship, the songcraft, the self-assured production, all are just too big to be contained by one town. Transfer are ready to outgrow San Diego. Listen to Future Selves, tell a friend, and help make it happen.