After releasing its debut LP, Remington Steel Magnolias, two years ago, Muscle Shoals, Ala., natives Western Civ headed north to Chapel Hill. The move was appropriate enough: Remington lunged at the legacies of Chapel Hill history, namely Superchunk and Archers of Loaf. Now, the three indie rockers with a penchant for squalor made their new bed among the clubs that once birthed those bands.
If history repeats itself, we may soon see the new O.C. band departing for Boston or the Nor Cal shores, as Shower the People You Love With Gold comes marked more by Pixies and Pavement than Carolina's own indie titans. With Brighten the Corners producer Mitch Easter behind the boards, Shower ditches the lo-fi aesthetic of its predecessor, allowing gleaming guitars and harmonies to shine up front and not beneath layers of fuzz.
Rich Henderson's reverb-drenched guitar melts into E-bow courtesy of auxiliary member Jason Hall on "I Am a Waterfall!", a mid-album highlight that nods at the Pixies with a melodic hook strewn with shards of dissonance. With its spiraling blasts of guitar and background vocals that vacillate between primal howls and honeyed croons, "Capitol Steps" could be a Doolittle b-side.
But "Rally," with its lethargic, off-the-cuff vocal and twisting guitar line, recalls Pavement's poppier work. And "American Pines" offers a respite from the fractured verses thanks to Henderson's most transparent couplet: "Languished in a desolate town/ It was the worst that I've found," he sings just before the song launches into a paroxsym of noodling that'd actually make Stephen Malkmus smile. Let's hope the line is reference to his Alabama days, as we'd rather not lose these guys. Henderson returns to cryptic lyrical fragments for "Paper Hornet Parade," Jason Briggs' keys running circles around Bryan Cabler's stutter-step percussion.
Shower's clean production and tight songwriting make for a more accessible listen than previous efforts. Luckily, Western Civ's eccentricities and spirit come through, translating into a batch of memorable indie rock tunes that don't forsake the inventiveness of the band's influences.
Western Civ plays a release party Thursday, Feb. 26, at Local 506, with Embarrassing Fruits and Mitch Easter opening the $5 show at 9 p.m.