(2010 Gene Pool)
After losing their original keyboardist and drummer in 2008 and breaking up the band, the Selfish Gene re-formed the following year as a trio. Surviving members Matt Allen (guitars and vocals) and Eric Andraska (bass and vocals) found a new percussionist in Rob Young. New songs were in the making as well as plans for a new album, a follow-up to 2007’s The Grand Masquerade, which garnered a great deal of positive press across the country. But, as fate would have it, the band’s tribulations were not quite over. Young slipped two discs in his back, sidelining him for several months. A couple of pressing contractual obligations found Allen and Andraska performing as an acoustic duo, a configuration they eventually decided was worthy of further exploration.
So this six-song E.P. fills that gap but it also does more than that. It creates an interesting diversion in the progression of the Selfish Gene but, more importantly, it’s serving as a catalyst to re-examine the band’s style and to push forward in a new direction.
That’s not to say the band has lost all of the characteristics that made them so unique in the first place. What it Sees…Where it Sleeps… is a concept album of sorts. The What it Sees… section being three “A-sides,” more upbeat and grounded material; and the Where it Sleeps… section being the “B-sides,” music that evokes a dreamlike state in both sound and content. Of all Madison’s local bands, only the Selfish Gene could conceptualize a recording in this manner. The trademark of plentiful melodic hooks remains as well, as does the distinctive vocal blend of Allen and Andraska.
What it Sees…Where it Sleeps… is not entirely acoustic either. There are some electric guitar parts, processed acoustic guitar and synths amongst other things.
The What it Sees… songs sound most like the previous incarnation of the band. “Follow Me Gone” may actually be the most acoustic song on the album. The catchiness of the chorus is followed by what the Selfish Gene has always excelled at: a true musical departure in the bridge. Allen’s slide guitar accents are perfectly succinct. “Song for Summer” follows and is a highlight. Percolating synths mingle with bells and excellent vocal phrasing. “You’re handing me / A list of apologies / The page is clean / What’s that supposed to mean? / Your favorite flower / Is wilting in a jar / In the sun of a summer almost gone.” Now that’s a good lyric. “Yellow Hearts” follows, the most electric song and the most progressive, though not quite as catchy.
Many artists are probably surprised to find that there fans consider some of their B-sides to be their favorites. This is probably because they tend to be more experimental and stray from the central intent for a recording. The Selfish Gene may be surprised to find that fans will love these three songs, even if it leaves them hungering for the band to crank it back up, which they promise to do on their next full-length scheduled for release yet this year. “Innerstate” is the album’s best track, a dreamy venture with a killer chorus and an instant hook in the form of a fantastic, simple acoustic guitar figure. The sitar-like drones and string sounds of the synths are very effective while the suggestive feedback that lurks in the background adds enormous tension. You expect the band to explode in fury but it never does. “I Know, I Know, I Know, I Know” is the greatest departure from the Selfish Gene as we knew them. The sleepy mood is beautifully augmented by Andraska’s bass line. Suddenly a powerful guitar riff erupts and the band shifts into a mid-tempo groove complete with phase shifters and tambourine. “Chopping Cherry Trees” closes the disc out in a fashion similar to how it began with “Follow Me Gone.” The lyrics, “And now you can’t undo / What you did to break this / And what it takes to make it new “ sounds like it may be purging some of the emotion that was doubtless involved in the band’s breakup.
It’s likely that the band’s association with co-producer Perry Blanchard, which it’s had since the beginning, has a lot to do with the techniques involved in making the Selfish Gene’s albums so rich in texture. At any rate it’s a combination that has been fruitful and a relationship that is uncommon on a local level. But I don’t expect the Selfish Gene to remain on a local level, they’re just too good and there is a sense of fate – of a more fortuitous kind – in the works.
The band perhaps sums it up best in some chatter between Allen and Andraska that precedes the final track:
“Whad’ya think of that?”