Eschewing the conservative approach of their first album, the Main Drag returns with an album that takes substantial risks for an impressive payoff.
With Yours As Fast As Mine, one need only to look at the album's track listing ("Goodnight Technologist", "Taking Apart a Giant Machine") and its futuristic cover art to understand that Boston collective the Main Drag has formed a peaceful union with technology. The album moves boldly from the anthemic chorus of "Jagged Gorgeous Winter" to the airy melody of "Montana", but it never diverges from the project's mission statement: to make harmony between man and machine. Songwriter/producer Adam Arrigo casts synthesizers alongside acoustic guitars, processed voices alongside the one-man orchestra of violinist Matt Levitt -- and yet his sonic experiments rarely feel gimmicky.
On "Goodnight Technologist", atop glitch-rock noises and a wall of strings, Arrigo intones: “These faded lines they're a perfect fit / by the time it's goodnight we'll be over it.” There, he captures the tragedy of our fast-paced technologically-dependent society: that it never has time to stop and admire everything it has created. And yet, listening to Yours As Fast As Mine, one gets the impression that he has in fact managed to do just that.
As long as a year and a half ago, embryonic mixes to several Yours As Fast As Mine tracks began appearing on Garageband.com, a website where fans and musicians vote on songs by unsigned bands. The new tracks were unabashedly computer-driven, not only in how they were produced but in how they were written: cut and pasted together, layer by layer. So representative of the computer culture was the new project that two of its principal collaborators, Arrigo and string arranger Matt Levitt, never even sat in the same room together. Arrigo worked from Boston, while Levitt tracked his entire one-man orchestra from his University of Pennsylvania campus apartment and his parents' Los Angeles home, exchanging .wav files via email and instant messenger. Even on the earliest mixes, it was evident that the band had undergone a creative sea change since Simmer in Your Hot Seat, which found them erring on the side of accessibility.
Matt Boch, who shares vocal duties with Arrigo on several tracks, is an invaluable addition to the Drag's new aesthetic. The post-punk-influenced singer/guitarist brings natural energy to tracks like "Dove Nets", allowing Arrigo to ease up on what he once called, on his MySpace page, his Adderall-infused compulsive editing. "Dove Nets" consequently ends up being the album's finest example of how a little technology can go a long way. It's a minor bird-like effect on Arrigo's voice that gives the song its quirkily digital character and unifies it with the rest of the album. After all, Arrigo's gift as a vocalist was never his underpowered vocal chords, but the tact to know when and how to use them. Bringing Boch aboard allowed Arrigo, as producer, to let the songs take a more organic form -- it invigorated his songwriting by allowing him to write less heavy-handedly.
Indeed, even the finest technicians have a hard time harnessing technology's power to create a controlled, coherent and ultimately human piece of art. But those who turn down the challenge of working with technology -- those who try to hide from it -- are as much its victims as those who embrace it in excess. Fortunately, the Main Drag has created an album that both man and machine can be proud of, if for nothing else, then for having worked together without sacrificing either party's integrity.