Now Hear This 2004

[1 January 2004]

By PopMatters Staff

NOW HEAR THIS 2004   Can’t figure out what to listen to? Listen to us. Once again, PopMatters’ music team presents a highly opinionated, undoubtedly superlative but ultimately revelatory examination of 18 artists that demand your attention. NOW.
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:: Best Band For Inducing Childhood Casio Nostalgia

Like many children of the 1980s, Tom Brislin is one with his keyboard. Or keyboards, since the Spiraling frontman tends to kiddie-corner two on center stage during performances, manically playing each as the band works through their set. His hands move with such fury that it’s surprising that the instruments don’t roll out into the audience (although Brislin’s been known to tip a keyboard or two over in frustration before the night is over.) And yes, I did say that Spiraling’s keyboards are in danger of rolling into the audience: their makeshift stands are actually the converted bottoms of Staples office chairs.

That is not to say that Spiraling can claim its roots with the DIY culture of punk, although their music undoubtedly appeals to some with that affiliation. Characterizing the group has actually become something of a sport in the New York area rock scene - Spiraling’s synth-driven sound has been described by critics as alt-rock, ‘80s pop, and progressive—and their shows are populated in equal numbers by aging baby boomers, urban hipsters and enthusiastic teenage girls. Their sheer musicianship is the obvious draw for many fans—although barely in his thirties, Brislin has already played keyboard with Yes and Meatloaf—and despite the fact that they lack major label support, Spiraling has toured with They Might Be Giants and OK Go.

But this New Jersey-based band is not solely the product of Brislin’s musical prodigy; he is amply backed by Marty O’Kane on guitar, Bob Hart on bass, and Paul Wells on drums. Long-time friends from the neighborhood, these guys are more musicians’ musicians than rock stars. Introspective and dedicated to their craft, the hours post-gig are more likely spent talking with fans or tending to equipment than binge drinking. But that doesn’t make them any less cool.

For me, Spiraling’s appeal has always been in their lyrics, as Brislin’s Stephen Merritt-esque rhymes rise above each song’s production. He’s at once intelligent, honest, and playful—the band’s most recent material includes odes to sugar and proclamations that “You Have a Face for Radio”. But like many bands, Spiraling is at their best when they’re most evocative, as Brislin croons in “Lightning Twice:” “You’ll be gone for years/Chasing fireflies/That is what you get for trying/Trying to capture lightning twice.”

Spiraling’s self-produced, debut album Transmitter is available now. The group is currently in the studio working on a new EP, to be released later this summer. Spiraling is also contributing a track to an upcoming CARS tribute album, produced by Not Lame Records.

— Kristen Kidder

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