Sounds May Swell employs a human touch on 'The Shape Nature Makes'

Andy Downing
Sounds May Swell

Sounds May Swell is just now releasing its debut EP, The Shape Nature Makes, but the seeds for the band were actually planted back in 2013, when most of the members met while studying music at Capital University. The group, then dubbed Yoko Ono, lingered only a few months at the time, playing just a handful of shows before its original singer moved to Sweden, ending the band.

But the remaining members stayed friends, getting together on occasion to demo new songs before finally deciding to give it another go around the end of 2017. Initially, the four — Jeff Laser, Andrew Sais, Blaine Faherty and Josh Bryant — kicked around the idea of existing as an instrumental math-rock band, crafting tracks built on intricate, arching guitar passages. Gradually, though, the bandmates realized the music required a more human element, as well, which they hit upon with the introduction of singer Jordan Sandidge (aka Alex D of the Turbos), whom the four met at a New Year’s Eve party in 2017, finally inviting him to join in May 2018.

“It was a super natural fit,” said Laser, who will join his bandmates for an EP release show at Big Room Bar on Saturday, Sept. 21. “We toyed with [playing instrumentally], but the way our songs work, they lend themselves to a vocalist. Even though we may do some more technical stuff, the songs still have some pop sensibilities.”

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While the musical backdrops on The Shape Nature Makes live up to the promise of its title, the jazzy guitar passages feeling at once complex and organic, like the cell structure of a leaf under the microscope, Sandidge’s lyrical contributions are all about the feels, the four tracks seemingly linked by a common theme of trying to recover from some catastrophic hit. “I wish I could erase the scenes from my mind,” Sandidge sings on the EP-closing “Dreamery,” coming across like a man still carrying the scars of whatever lay in the rearview.

Elsewhere, on “Is This It,” the frontman frets about the growing divide technology has caused among humankind, focusing on the sense of hopelessness that has moved to fill that gap. “Every day we give up a little more,” he sings, the song’s title doubling as the existential question at its core. “It’s Just War,” meanwhile, appears to equate heartbreak with the aftermath of an armed conflict (“Shot down and broken now that you’re gone,” Sandidge offers), which might be more than a tad melodramatic, but also speaks to the headspace the singer was in when he wrote the songs in the midst of a two-day purge.

“I must have really had some backlog of things that were going on in my brain,” Sandidge said, and laughed. “It’s not that I have major regrets — I have one specific major regret that I’m not going to talk about — but I think living in that [head]space allows me to understand what was happening in that time, and how things work. It drives me to look back and figure out what went wrong, or what I did wrong, and how I could do things different in the future.”

But even supplying this human core, Sandidge couldn’t resist the exploratory pull of the music, employing effects in GarageBand to toy with different pitches, layering his vocals and experimenting with delay — a desire he’d held since seeing New Zealand musician Kimbra perform with a Kaoss Pad, a touch device used to deploy various sonic effects, at what was then the LC Pavilion (now Express Live) in June 2012.

“It kind of blew my mind … so I’ve always thought about using my voice like that,” Sandidge said. “Once I got this VoiceLive processor [within GarageBand] I was like, ‘Now I can really lean in,’ especially because this music really lends itself to being a little experimental. … There are times I can fall back and really just be another instrument.”

Big Room Bar

7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21

1036 S. Front St., Brewery District

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Sounds May Swell