Sound Check

December Boys Got It Bad

THE SPASTIC PUMMELING Decembers Architects gave a small crowd at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge a few weeks ago prompted one fan to shout, "Dude, do you guys know how cool you are?" But the quartet can hardly take such a compliment without wincing. Barely out of their teens, these noisemeisters look the part of the unassuming, coffee-schlepping geeks that three of them are--the fourth, guitarist Mark Swoverland, is more of a computer-schlepping geek. They will at least agree later that their caffeinated November 19 gig was the band's best to date, and even passed along the performance high to touring openers Haymarket Riot, generously handing over their share of the ticket take at the door.

That doesn't change the Architects' opinion that they've overstayed their welcome at the Foxfire. Fidgeting on the tattered sofas scattered about the venue's empty concert room on the Saturday afternoon after the show, the boys shrug off the buzz they've generated in recent months. They plug their fine new five-song EP, bifocalbyefulcrumbbymarionette (Roll Music/Sabertooth Records), a difficult but rewarding set of fragmented poetry and precise guitar noise recorded in one marathon, overnight session. Then they outline a vague plan to take it slow, play the odd gig, and tour next summer. "I think we'll be big the first week of the millennium, and that's it," says Swoverland.

Old pals from Golden Valley's arts high school, the boys are what might have happened had the Cleaver Bros. discovered angst and guitars. Awkward ex-suburbanites with aw-shucks grins, they're full of Y2K theories and tales of bad summer jobs. In conversation, they demonstrate a certain naiveté that doesn't quite square with the mature ferocity of their live attack. Swoverland, guitarist Nate Holtz, drummer Nate Kinsella, and original bassist Atiss Ngo played in various combinations before forming the band last year. (Ngo left in August to study opera at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; Tim Cronin soon replaced him.) They cite the late punk band Cap'n Jazz and Chicago art rockers Joan of Arc--both fronted by Nate Kinsella's cousin Tim--as primary influences. (Sunny Day Real Estate and Fugazi also loom large.) But Nirvana was DA's shot heard round the bedroom, and all four members can (and when prompted, will) tell you where they were when they heard about Kurt Cobain's death.

Like most postpunk groups, DA hate pinning a particular genre label to their sound. But the angular guitar interplay and irregular time signatures suggest math rock--that's their designation per Radio K, at least. The major-seventh chords crashing against pretty melodies and fragmented lyrics hint at emocore. The mixture of live and automated drums suggests electro-punks Trans Am--wherever that leaves them, genre-wise. To casual listeners, this wash might sound haphazard and random, but Swoverland insists it's no such thing. "Nothing is improvisational," he says of the Architects' music. "Everything is carefully laid out and tight when we practice."

This pre-planned quality is captured nicely in their name, which they spell in lowercase and with no apostrophe, true to their self-depreciating yet oddly difficult character. Each member says he disdains the moniker's lack of capital letters and punctuation as too arty, claiming they named the band in a clutch. But, Holtz points out, tongue-in-cheek, "Math is our thing, not grammar."

 
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