One of the biggest (yet most underrated) keys to an album’s success is the sound engineer’s skills at mixing it down. You can pack a studio with ridiculously skilled musicians whose tightness and chemistry approach Beatles-esque heights, but a smidge too much reverb or turning the rhythm guitar track a notch too high can mean the difference between a great listen and a CD beer coaster.
One of the initially striking elements of Haiku-based Xer0 Gravity’s debut release, titled The Best of Xer0 Gravity, is the quality of the sound. It’s clear that someone knew what he was doing.
That someone happens to be E. John Messersmith III, the band’s bass player. Until recently Messersmith was the soundman at Charley’s in Paia, one of Maui’s top venues for a variety of musical styles.
Before even placing the disc in a CD player, one may wonder why a band would name their two-years-in-the-making debut CD Best of…
“We thought we’d start where everyone ended,” drummer Jose Ortiz said. “There’s nothing else to compare it to, so that’s why we call it the best.”
Also, Messersmith added, the music serves as something of a showcase of all of the band’s influences. Although their MySpace page lists “everyone, everything, everywhere, everyday” as the band’s influences, it’s easy to tease out who has inspired them most from a listen or two. Led Zeppelin sticks out quite predominantly, though there are some pretty strong musical similarities to Tool and Van Halen as well. Some tracks even hinted at Boston, others at King Crimson and still others gave off a few wisps of AC(lightning bolt)DC.
Ortiz and Messersmith also list Talking Heads, the Beatles and R.E.M. among their main influences.
Though a rock and roll band through and through, Xer0 Gravity does not seem at all afraid to part ways with formula when it doesn’t suit a particular song. The dynamic nature of nearly every tune on Best of makes the band’s sound stand out.
The CD’s second track, “Ernest Goes to Hell,” for example, kicks in with guitarist Freddy Turk’s repetition of a solid guitar riff before giving way to a more nuanced chord progression for the chorus, complete with a staccato bass line that walks into each new chord with an element of drama reminiscent of a Ray Manzarek (formerly of the Doors) bass line (though Manzarek, of course wasn’t playing his bass lines on bass guitar).
The album’s fifth track, “Free,” has the feel of a late ‘70s rock ballad, complete with a bright lead, a catchy breakdown and even a Boston-like wail at the song’s culmination.
Nearly every song on the CD has lyrics that reveal social consciousness; a relief and a welcome departure from the norm, given the creepy lyrical preoccupation with romantic relationships that spans all musical genres and all eras (Zappa notwithstanding). Yet it lacks the overuse of multi-tracked lead vocals and the oversized ego many rock songs carry with them.
After a few listens it’s easy to see why The Best of xer0 Gravity took two years to write and record. It’s quite obvious that the constitution of each track was plotted out in an exacting manner.
Given the band’s aspirations, the time spent in production is well justified. Messersmith and Ortiz said that factors like a shortage of venues, the limited on-island competition within the genre and the lack of demand for original music make being a successful original rock and roll band on Maui especially challenging. Instead, they plan on using the Valley Isle as more of a launch pad from which Ortiz promised the band will “conquer the world.”
Said Ortiz: “Usually a man is not a prophet in his own land.” MTW
You can check out The Best of Xer0 Gravity on iTunes or on the band’s Web site, www.xer0gravty.com (that’s a zero in the middle not an “o”).