PYYRAMIDS is a duo made up of singer Drea Smith and OKGo bassist Tim Nordwind. He’s the guy with the big glasses and beard who you might’ve mistaken for that band’s singer if you just went by their videos. She’s the vocalist for little-known and difficult-to-Google electro dance project He Say She Say. As PYYRAMIDS, both musicians are stepping outside of their respective comfort zones for an album of dark, soulful rock.
Brightest Darkest Day opens with a menacing intro track driven by a kick-drum and floor tom beat and low individual piano notes. After about a minute, a Farfisa organ sidles in and Smith coos “Ooooh” and “Oh” quietly around the beats. This wordless intro turns out to be a strong statement for the feel of the album as the following song, “Smoke and Mirrors”, continues in the same vein. The beat that switches between thumping and slightly irregular,while buzzing bass and subtle electronics provide a solid bedrock for Smith’s vocals. Her chorus of “Now I’m nothing at all” dominates the closing minute of the song.
A much different song comes next, with album highlight “Don’t Go”. The track is a showcase for Smith’s singing, as she pleads with a lover, in public, not to leave her. But what sets the song apart is its unique feel, using marching band-style tom drums and xylophone to provide the mid-tempo beats along with a simple but effective bassline. The other top-notch track on the album comes near the end. “That Ain’t Right” uses a rimshot beat and acoustic guitar riff to creepy effect, resembling Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” if it traded its six minutes of alternative prog-rock genius for a big soul chorus.
Smith’s smoky singing and Nordwind’s emphasis on making the beats slightly off-kilter from the norm give PYYRAMIDS a distinctive sound from the outset. This strong musical character helps lift even the band’s more pedestrian material into something highly listenable. The fuzz bass-driven rocker “Do You Think You’re Enough” benefits greatly from Smith’s delivery and Nordwind’s commitment to sticking with the fuzz tone throughout the whole song. “Paper Doll” is a typical quiet verse-loud chorus indie rock track, but the soaring chorus and shifting rhythm keep it lively.
But even when the band messes with their established sound, the results are fascinating. “Time” is little more than Smith singing with a simple piano accompaniment, but there are quiet electronic touches pushing in around the edges. These electronic elements plus the lack of a strong beat give the song a spacey, unmoored feel that’s quite different from the rest of the album. Closer “Nothing I Can Say” similarly leaves out a strong beat to focus on Smith’s voice, but gradually amps up the electronics until the vocals are buried and distorted in sea of auditory haze. It’s a weird but effective way to finish the album.
Brightest Darkest Day succeeds by finding the right balance between its two members. Smith doesn’t have to change up her vocal style much to fit into the more rock-oriented sound of PYYRAMIDS. Nordwind, on the other hand, de-emphasizes the power-pop hooks of OKGo while still finding compelling melodies. One of the more interesting aspects of OKGo’s middling last album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, was the band’s newfound emphasis on creative beats, and Nordwind definitely carries that focus into PYYRAMIDS. This is the sort of strong, musically ambitious side project that could easily end up being a long-term collaboration.
// Notes from the Road
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