Crime In Choir: Progressive Rock Goes Dancing

Crime In Choir: Gift Givers

Crime In Choir: Gift Givers (Kill Shaman, 1/27/09)

Crime In Choir: “Gift Givers”

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For nearly a decade, San Francisco’s Crime In Choir has been soaring upon wings built of flange effects, rich analog organs, and complex rhythmic structures. If that set of criteria happens to set off a flag marked “prog rock,” it wouldn’t be the first time. True to the root word in the genre, Crime In Choir is very much a progressive band, not just in its epic song lengths or mathematical tendencies but in its approach.

Although its members have been together consistently since 2000, Crime In Choir could be construed as a side project. Undergoing some lineup changes between albums, the current cast includes members of other Bay Area bands such as The Fucking Champs, Tussle, and The Mass as well as former members of At The Drive-In. As a band, their influences may be connected to a particular era, but their music is not at all bound by them.

Still, though Crime In Choir is very much a band of the present, it’s hard not to be reminded by them of the art rock of the 1970s, from Pink Floyd to Yes, to more obscure acts like Magma or Goblin. And a great deal of that connection comes from a warm, deep sound that permeates the band’s recordings, from its 2002 self-titled debut (Omnibus) through the 2006 release of Trumpery Metier (Gold Standard Labs). Some of it is due to instrumentation, but keyboardist Kenny Hopper attributes just as much of the group’s vintage sonic approach to recording techniques.

“A lot of that — the Moog, especially — it’s hard to get away from that [vintage sound],” Hopper says. “We have explored using different instruments with different sounds. We just kept finding out that these newer instruments didn’t work as well with our sound. Another part has to do with recording. I think it’s more about the studio we record in. That kind of influences our sound more than anything.”

“It’s the most demanding band that all of us play in. We’ve had shows where we’ve tried to play live after only two or three rehearsals, and it’s always been very haphazard. Good music takes time.”

However, Crime In Choir heads in a completely different direction on its most recent album, Gift Givers (Kill Shaman), which came out in January of 2009. The title track, in particular, reveals the greatest departure, stylistically, for the band. Built on a disco beat and a glittery synthesizer melody, it’s the sexiest that the band has ever sounded, and the most that it has ever engineered its music toward its audience’s hips. According to Hopper, it’s a direction that Crime in Choir may continue to pursue in future recordings.

“We wanted to try to go in a more dancey, less-rock kind of feel,” he says. “We were listening to bands like SuperMax, like kraut disco kind of music. That was becoming a big influence. “Gift Givers” was the last song that we wrote. And if we were to keep writing, hypothetically, they’d go more in that dancey direction. None of us really like the term math rock, but stuff would naturally just happen that way.”

Given how rich and complex the music on Gift Givers and previous albums can be, it’s hard not to imagine that the sound of Crime In Choir’s albums could potentially require maximum time in rehearsal space to smooth out the sonic impurities. Hopper confirms this, noting that the attention to detail required for playing the group’s songs sometimes means having to play fewer shows in order to devote the time toward getting the songs just right.

“It’s the most demanding band that all of us play in,” Hopper says. “We’ve had shows where we’ve tried to play live after only two or three rehearsals, and it’s always been very haphazard. Good music takes time. We’re trying now to focus on quality rather than quantity. We have had lots of show offers, but we realize that things have to be right. It’s really demanding. Parts of it are improvised, but we’re very particular.”

From beginning to end, Gift Givers was an album more than two years in the making. The band was not working on it non-stop, however. Considering how many other projects each member is involved in, the album was created in various intervals. According to Hopper, it’s the ideal way to create a record, as it allows more time for an evolution to take place.

“A lot of us were away, touring,” Hopper says. “Most of us have other projects going on. It did span the length of two years to write. That’s the way all of our records have been written — at least a year to a year and a half. I appreciate the way albums turn out like that. People’s taste in music changes over time.  It lends itself to a better album.”

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