By Jeff Moses
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There's not much to say about another stupefyingly hot Phoenix summer that hasn't already been fired in all caps directly onto your Facebook news feed. It's another year when Circle K Polar Pop cups might fuse with the blacktop if the mercury rises any further. But it hasn't scorched the shimmery pop sound of St Ranger. Instead, the band — anointed by this very publication as Best Local Band of 2012 — has found its sound illuminated by the Arizona sun.
"I feel weird listening to Women in the middle of a 110-degree day," says guitarist Jeff Taylor, referring to the defunct Canadian indie-rock outfit whose meticulous, mangled guitar patterns are better-suited for moonlit visible-breath nights. St Ranger opened for the band in Phoenix mere months before it split, and though it's taken cues from Women's ambitious guitar work, the unrelenting heat has indelibly brightened the band's outlook.
Last year's sonorous, harmony-drenched Life Coach EP blossomed with buttoned-up Grizzly Bear grooves and Beach Boys-style vocal flurries, but Taylor says the band entered the studio in Los Angeles with a nearly even ratio of bright-and-poppy to dark-and-slow songs to choose from. Before the recording began, they decided to run with the sunnier material. "It became very clear to us that because we live in a place where the seasons are so extreme, it felt wrong to put one of those dark songs on Life Coach."
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In June, the band re-released the EP with a bonus helping of two brand-new songs, appropriately naming it Life Coach+. Prolific Tempe tape label Holy Page put out the cassette just before label head and longtime friend of the band Christian Filardo relocated to Baltimore. Generally home to avant-noise and warped rock experimenters, the label couldn't have picked a poppier, or more desert-appropriate, Arizona curtain call.
The tender but drum-punctuated "Swoon" is built on a woozily rolling rhythm with echoing chord strums on all sides. The love-drunk vocals have the untethered melodic drag-and-toss of Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth, the highest notes sometimes spinning out into reverberated oblivion. "Skate Park Drunk" is more energetic, a lightly distorted garage-pop strut that's certainly conducive for day drinking if one chooses not to do it in public.
The additional tracks on Life Coach+ were the band's first songs recorded by bassist and budding recording engineer Jake Ashton, who slowly has been collecting the components needed for a home studio. Free to work on their own time, Taylor says, the band streamlined its approach. "We've started catering our sound more to what we think we're good at, which is bright, poppy, guitar-driven songs," he says.
"I'd say almost 90 percent of the singing on our old stuff was three-part harmonies. We've toned that done a little bit, making it easier to hear what's going on, plus reducing the risk of managing eight parts instead of six live."
Beyond the weather, St Ranger's pop leanings are influenced by the local company they keep. The band can be seen alongside Tempe pop crafters like Where Are All the Buffalo and Good Friends Great Enemies. "We're in a scene with a lot of good pop singer-songwriters," Taylor says. The band's Trunk Space appearance will kick off a West Coast tour; after it returns home, St Ranger will begin work on what Taylor hopes will be its first full-length album.
Like the saunafied interior of a car abandoned in a strip mall parking lot, the sounds of St Ranger are an Arizona experience. "I don't think we couldn't make this music somewhere else, but I think it's influenced by constant exposure to the sun," Taylor says. "It's a bigger influence than we think."