The Glitch Mob swims in a vast, ominous 'Sea'
A band name comes with certain expectations. Imagine if, say, Metallica decided the whole “Metal” thing wasn’t really for them anymore, or that N.W.A. replaced the “A” for “Attitude” with a “C” for “Congeniality.”Fans of the L.A. electronic trio the Glitch Mob may do a similar spit take when they hear the band’s debut album, “Drink the Sea.” Who expected that the Glitch Mob would stop glitching?
“Our music is still a stepchild of hip-hop, and we still love all of that music,” said the band’s co-founder Justin Boreta, who, along with co-producers Ed Ma and Josh Mayer, makes up the trio. “But this time, we asked ourselves, ‘What would it sound like if we mixed it like a Pink Floyd record?' ”
If Roger Waters traded in his wheatpaste bucket for an MPC, the end result might actually sound a lot like “Drink the Sea.” The album is a radical revision of Glitch Mob’s party-hearty formula that, as recently as a few months ago, was built on fader-cracking break beats, rave synths and enough jittery edits to make ‘80s-era Rob Lowe feel like he should slow down for the night.
Their popular remixes, Low End Theory performances and mix tape “Crush Mode” cemented the sense that their volume knob turned one way.Remarkably, after working so hard to hone a singular sound, “Drink the Sea” does away with it entirely. “Animus Vox” rides the doomed head-nod of Massive Attack, while the broody “How to Be Eaten by a Woman” is pure L.A. freeway noir, and “We Swarm” is drugged-out ‘70s funk-punk. They even enlist local vocalist Swan for a spectral and spooky vocal turn on “Between Two Points.”
The crucial change is one of temperature. This isn’t an album for the club floor. Rather, it’s for the long bus ride home when you have an hour in fluorescent light to mop up your nosebleed and think about all the people you miss and what you’re really doing with your life.
“We really allowed us to put ourselves into this music,” Boreta said. “We were all going through personal stuff over the nine months we took to write this, and we decided not to be scared to put that in there. It served a cathartic purpose for us.”
A lot of this feeling comes from the trio’s newfound interest in being, well, musical. The band didn’t use outside source material for samples on “Sea” -- every part is played and hand-manipulated, and the results are clearly a step up compositionally. Take the first single, “Drive It Like You Stole It”: Garbled synth leads that would have flitted in the margins now come to front and reveal a pop writer’s ear for melody. The drum programming alone is a massive philosophical revision -- gone are hyper-compressed rap loops, in are ominous toms and a reverb-heavy spaciousness between the beats.The Glitch Mob owes a lot of this to learning new equipment -- recent purchases of the Lemur controller allowed them to think more musically and less cut-and-paste-centric in their writing.
In the lead-up to “Sea,” the band went through a period of writing three songs a week, culminating in hundreds of sketches it eventually decided to throw away and start anew. While Low End peers like Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing and even young newcomers like Shlohmo and Baths earned lavish praise for new albums, Glitch Mob were the last of their crowd to finish theirs, and they admit the pressure mounted.“We were definitely aware of what was happening while we wrote,” Boreta said. “We were cognizant that the album just had to get done, right now. By the end, we were writing 13 hours a day to finish up.”
But their most radical revision might be in how they approach their live sets. Gone are the visually stylized setups in which the trio stands alone before controllers tossing off samples to a dripping crowd of revelers. Instead, they had to reverse-engineer this sad, sprawling and thrilling record for their biggest crowds yet. In the end, it wound up looking a little like something Pink Floyd might recognize.“If you told me two years ago that we’d be playing guitar onstage, I’m not sure I would have believed you,” Boreta said, laughing. “It wasn’t calculated, but it’s been a strange ride.”
-- August Brown
The Glitch Mob plays the Music Box tonight at 9 p.m.Photo: The Glitch Mob. Credit: Michael Tullberg / Getty Images