[2 May 2011]
When we last discussed Bridges and Powerlines here at PopMatters, I expressed hope that their solid debut album, Ghost Types, portended brighter things in their future. That album was full of good indie-pop songs based around guitars and synths, but it didn’t turn out to be something that stuck with you over time. At least not for me. Now the band has returned with Eve, and they’ve indeed stepped up their game.
The album opens with “The First Equation”. It begins with a quiet guitar line, which is quickly joined by singer Andrew Wood. This soft intro soon adds bass and harmony vocals before it opens up into a march with military-style snare drum and swirling keyboards. While this is essentially still a three-and-a-half-minute pop song, there are some strong arrangement ideas here that break new ground for Bridges and Powerlines. The second track, “Mirabell”, shows instantly that “The First Equation” isn’t a fluke. It begins by combining a fuzzed-out synth-as-organ sound with a banjo and an extremely catchy beat. It gives the song an instant hook and groove to accompany Wood’s strong upper-register vocals. When “Mirabell” shifts from its solid 4/4 groove to upbeat 6/8 time two-thirds of the way through, it feels effortless. Even the glockenspiel outro works in the song’s favor.
Throughout Eve‘s 11 tracks, the story is the same. Bridges and Powerlines already had solid instrumental chops and good songwriting in their playbook, but now they’re writing songs with distinct ideas and arrangements that set them apart from the crowded indie-pop field. “The Cave-In” is a dark-pop barn burner that shows off guitarist David Boyd’s playing and drummer Mason Ingram’s stickwork. The hard-rocking title track bounds along, driven by Keith Sigel’s intense bassline, which locks in especially well with Ingram underneath Boyd’s chugging guitars. The songs that emphasize Wood’s singing, such as the percussion-heavy “The Roman Leaders”, are buttressed by Boyd and Sigel’s excellent backing vocals, which slide from harmonies to well-placed ooo’s and ahh’s.
Once Bridges and Powerlines establish their basic template on the album, they use the disc’s final chunk to upend that template. Where the bulk of the songs here are under four minutes, the band goes big on the five-minute-plus “Gazes Wide”, which effectively uses both horns and strings to give the track an epic feel. While most of the songs on Eve are bright indie-pop, “The Leaves” begins with a creepy minor-key acoustic guitar riff, backed up by a subtle tremolo violin. The song does brighten up as it goes, but it never abandons its acoustic instrumentation. Closer “Floodlights” one-ups “Gazes Wide” by virtually eschewing the band’s main instruments for a full pop-orchestra arrangement.
Creatively, Eve sounds like Bridges and Powerlines coming into its own. The band’s bedrock of strong songwriting keeps their arrangement ideas from feeling like an overreach. Andrew Wood’s keyboard playing, which on Ghost Types was dominated by Moog-style synths, uses a much wider variety of sounds this time around, to great effect. It makes for a catchy, appealing album that deserves to find an audience.