Chris Cohen has been quite a mercurial musician over the last three years. In the spring of 2006, he left rock deconstructionists Deerhoof to focus full-time on his other band, the Curtains. That fall, the Curtains released their fourth album, Calamity. Although Calamity forsook Deerhoof’s distortion fetish in favor of a kinder, gentler sound, it retained that band’s knack for indelible melodies—- and its refusal to let any of them linger long.
Last year, Cohen’s musical wanderlust compelled him to form yet another band. Cryptacize was born when he and Curtains cohort Nedelle Torrisi met drummer Michael Carreira. Since Cryptacize is basically the Curtains with a different drummer, it shouldn’t shock anyone that their debut album Dig That Treasure sounds like a slightly tweaked version of that band. The sudden tempo changes and labyrinthine chord progressions that characterize Cohen’s work still remain, but Cryptacize distinguishes itself through a subtle theatricality that is fueled by pathos.
Cryptacize’s music is disarmingly spare. Although both Cohen and Torrisi sing, they tend to stay out of each other’s way, harmonizing only when necessary. Drummer Michael Carreira provides faint hints of backbeat with an array of nonstandard percussion, employing a restraint and creativity that would make Maureen Tucker nod in approval. Bass is nowhere to be found, and negative space frequently acts like a fourth member of the band. This band knows how to do a lot with a little, though, taking great pains to construct musical backdrops that perfectly match the emotions expressed in their lyrics.
On opening track “Stop Watch”, Torrisi laments her inability to catch up with time: “If I could only know/All the hours I owe/Like a panoramic photograph/Still I know I’m only seeing half.” Meanwhile, the tintinnabulation produced by her autoharp and Carreira’s bells make me feel like I’m stranded in a clock factory. “Water Witching Wishes” uses dowsing—- the process of searching for underground supplies of water by the use of a divining rod—- as a metaphor for unrequited love. As Cohen sings to his absent lover, the heavy reverb applied to his guitar conjures up the arid nothingness of the desert. On closing track “Say You Will”, Cohen’s staccato strumming and Carreira’s washboard playing evoke the last dance of a late-night sock hop. When Torrisi belts out the title, she sounds as if her very happiness depends on her lover’s embrace. “Don’t be shy,” she sings. “Look to the sky, ‘cause all the stars are on your side.”
Unlike Deerhoof’s music, or even the Curtains’ during their weirder moments, Cryptacize’s music never gets loud enough to forcibly draw attention to itself. If you don’t give it your full attention, it’ll be little more than pleasant background music. If you do, though, the absence of abrasion will allow the songs to take a more direct path to your heart. Between the sweet singing, the deceptively simple lyrics, and the creative musicianship, almost every song on Cryptacize’s debut truly becomes a treasure worth digging for.