If I can be self-indulgent for the briefest of moments, I’d like to rewind eighteen months and highlight a pivotal and equally important moment when I would first discover the then glossy and polished Los Angeles based duo DWNTWN. There are occasions during our lives where we fiercely fight battles or demons that are uniquely our own, and there are times where, despite our best efforts and endeavors to steer well clear, we simply and all too frequently forcefully collide into all forms and assortments of physical and emotional barriers. It’s here in this aforementioned fragile state eighteen months ago that I would fortuitously stumble across one of the finest and most influential electronic pop releases that I can recall hearing in some time, and it happened to be DWNTWN’s sophomore extended-play, The Red Room. Influential in that when something negatively and heavily influences my life, for a number of reasons that I’ll never truly be able to comprehend, my passion and overwhelming love for music is often the first thing to be rendered essentially non-existent.
It’s as if every track that glides through my speakers, every album that I go to listen to and immerse myself within during this period of time is such that I’m somehow able to find a direct correlation as to how it fits my current negative state. No, The Red Room was influential in the sense that musically, when everything else that had come before it had sensationally failed, it managed to offer a welcome mixture of illumination amidst the bleakness, enjoyment and danceability when I would otherwise have been stationary, and an irresistible tinge of beauty that compelled me to continue listening, and subsequently, with each passing moment, had me continually falling head over heels for the duo, DWNTWN.
Fast forward back to the present day and it appears that a whole lot has changed, and the vast majority of it being for the better. Whilst understandably delighted with both the critical and fan reception their two prior extended-plays received, when it came time to begin writing the follow-up effort, the founding members consisting of lead vocalist Jamie Leffler and guitarist Robert Cepeda, wanted to take their sound further and envisioned it sounding larger. Thus, they enlisted the talents of close friends Chris Sanchez (keyboards, bass) and Dan Vanchieri (drums) – two key decisions that ultimately expanded the duo into a driven and formidable quartet. They lined up a few shows and headed out on the road for a brief tour that saw the band playing staples from their back catalog such as the down-tempo, “Stood Me Up” complete with its signature melancholic synthesizer inspired opening and Leffler’s whispered vocal delivery atop plucked guitars and stadium rock delays that permeated through the mix.
The reception was once again positive, and so the band, complete with a renewed sense of belief and satisfaction knowing that the quartet had worked, functioned and played well together out on the road, found themselves suddenly in the completely different but no less crucial scenario of holing themselves up within their own personal studio, The Red Room Studios in Los Angeles (which in essence is just a fancy way of saying their collective bedroom), to begin writing and recording what would culminate in the release of their newest self-titled extended-play, DWNTWN. Listeners are given their first taste of new material in the form of album opener and lead single, “Til Tomorrow”, and fortunately it begins proceedings in absolutely delightful fashion with guitarist Cepeda showcasing his profound vocal prowess atop rhythmic guitar chords and minor key melodies. And it’s here in the opening stages of the track’s near four minute duration that returning fans will notice arguably the two biggest departures from the band’s trademark signature sound.
The first being that in previous studio efforts DWNTWN would rely heavily and solely on Leffler to deliver immaculate vocal performances to wonderful effect, and so the conscious decision to add the contrasting male vocal delivery of Cepeda adds a lovely degree of vocal interplay that wouldn’t otherwise be present, but in saying that, it may take fans time to adjust to his whispered, folkish croon. The second and more subtle of the differences comes in the form of the overall sound and underlying tone of the album itself. Whereas DWNTWN in the past would elect to saturate their tracks in copious amounts of synth and electronics, this self-titled effort features more guitar driven tunes, authentic drumbeats and, put simply, the instrumentation is louder, bolder, and immediately more striking than it has been in the past.
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