It's difficult to describe even after spending a third of my life employed doing exactly that the music on the Lymbyc Systym's new LP, Love Your Abuser, to be released on the 23rd of this month. The duo, local brothers Jared and Michael Bell (Michael's currently living in Austin with his girlfriend), makes instrumental soundscapes that seem like they should be the score to a movie; you don't listen to some lyrics and go, "Oh, that's a bitter song about a girl." It's far more obtuse than that.
Some of the pieces sound like waves of synthesized beats crashing on the shore, some like raindrops conversing as they fall, some like electronic dance music slowed way the fuck down and given an IQ boost. Similes abound, because there's no good way to encapsulate the Lymbyc Systym's sound in a sentence. It's albums like this one that make me believe there might be some sense in the quote usually attributed to Elvis Costello, that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture it's a really stupid thing to want to do."
But the Lymbyc Systym's new record can't be ignored. It's on a major indie label, Mush Records, which is also home to some of the most creative and rewarding experimental electronic acts around, like Clouddead and Her Space Holiday. And it's as lush a record as I've ever heard come out of this town, with layers upon layers of sound, the result of an extremely intensive recording process.
For more insight into Phoenix's music scene, visit Brendan Joel Kelley's "Ear Infection" blog.
The album's opener, "Rest East/Age Kindly," swells in with a soft crescendo of almost inaudible tinkling, building slowly for its two-and-a-half-minute duration into a repetitive keyboard riff that sounds almost Radiohead-ish. The closer, ". . . So We Can Sleep," has warm, organic-sounding notes playing over Michael's twitchy breakbeats, with a whistle-like melody snaking through it all until an earnest complex drum rhythm rushes in, only to disappear again.
The Lymbyc Systym's dynamic is simple enough they're brothers separated by three years who have been jamming together since Michael was 10 and Jared was 7 (they're 26 and 23 now). Jared plays a variety of keyboards and whatever other instruments are around, while Michael drums and programs sounds.
"We were into MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice when we were kids. The first thing we tried to do musically was try to copy some Vanilla Ice-style raps," Michael tells me. "Jared had a little Casio keyboard, I had a toy guitar, and we made up cheesy-ass raps and shit. Our buddy from the neighborhood would come over and we'd jam. That's where we first played together."
I'm surprised when I find out that the Bell brothers' parents weren't especially musical, just exceptionally tolerant of teenagers with keyboards and a drum set. Really, though, the chemistry has to come from somewhere. "It must be embedded in our genetics. Maybe our parents had it in them to pursue playing a musical instrument or write songs; maybe their parents didn't encourage that," Michael says.
The Lymbyc Systym made some waves with its first record, an EP titled Carved by Glaciers that the brothers recorded with Back Ted N-Ted knob twiddler Ryan Breen. After adjusting their sound after years of jazzy instrumentation, the brothers became more interested in electronic music (although the beats here aren't what you would expect) they began touring and earned pretty good word-of-mouth props around the nation.
They barraged the record labels that they liked with the EP. Both Robert Curcio and Cindy Roché, who run Mush Records, had already heard of the band when the CD arrived. "Robert at Mush pretty much takes a chance on a new band every once in a while. It was good timing," Michael says. "We're established as a touring act we've got a little bit of buzz in all the good cities but as recording artists, it's just starting now with the Mush thing."
Curcio was also instrumental in the new LP's formation, encouraging the Bell brothers to record everything themselves at home, so that they had as much time as they needed.
"First he was going to rerelease Carved by Glaciers with some stuff added, but we decided this is a year and a half after we've made the album; you look back and know you could do shit that's so much better. You evolve. So Robert was down with that," Michael says. "For our Mush album, Robert was really strong on the idea we should try to record the album all ourselves at home or by purchasing gear. We didn't need to buy anything. Between gear we had at home and shit we could borrow, we had everything we needed to make the album on the computer."
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The bros approached it as a job. They spent a month constructing Love Your Abuser putting in eight hours a day, six days a week and that's why the album is so lush, layered, and complex. "We've spent so much time together. We fucking love each other, but it's pretty intense," Michael says. "When we finished, it was that much more satisfying that we did it ourselves."
This week Jared and Michael Bell will be closely monitoring the record's reception, though I doubt anyone else will have an easy job describing the cinematic soundtracks that they've designed.
"Now it's cool we spent so much goddamn time layering stuff, thinking about the composition, never thinking about how to pull it off live. Hopefully, people will dig it; it'll get us a little kick start," Michael says. "We're really excited for the album to come out and get reviewed and start building cred as a recording band. It couldn't have come out better."