Local music review: Survivalist

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

To be sure, "Mildwinter" is a song for the season. Even as oppressive ice and snow melt into dreary winter rains, the title track from Survivalist's latest EP rings true.

The lazy lament is built on a resigned sing-along by the world's most downtrodden choir, floating slowly but surely toward the promise of spring on a steady, cyclical keyboard line and discombobulated drums and guitar. Warm chords and a bleak chorus of "I was hoping for a mild winter" make a great canvas to impart your own seasonal affective turmoil.

"Mildwinter" is my favorite Columbus song of the young year, and it made me curious to see Survivalist live. So last Friday I stopped by Franklin Park Conservatory, where the trio and a handful of guests were playing Wonderland's glowing balloon launch event, Float.

The vocals on "Mildwinter" are a bit of an anomaly. Though debut "gURL" features guest rappers and the new EP is smattered with singing, the bulk of Survivalist's music is instrumental. They draw from jazz, hip-hop and post-rock to build sometimes airy, sometimes angry soundscapes.

That made them an ideal act for this event, the kind where people mill around sipping wine and nibbling hors d'oeuvres while the music seeps in subconsciously. But it also made me wish they would make more songs like "Mildwinter."

On their albums, instrumentals such as jazz-hop organ jam "Famlay" and synth/bass stomper "The Things That Are Important to Us" rope me in and reward close listening. In person, Survivalist provided exceptional ambient sounds and a few semi-successful stabs of aggression, yet I couldn't help hoping they'd play something that cut to my emotional core.

It may be the big, bold vocal melody; it might be the friendly chord progression. Whatever caused it, "Mildwinter" has an underlying warmth that Survivalist would do well to tap into again.

The chilliness that defined both of Friday's sets may have been catering to the demands of the event. Or maybe Survivalist just isn't interested in making music fit for cigarette lighter salutes. But knowing they've got it in them makes me long to see their atmospheric skills applied to more anthems and fewer think pieces.