If bands were houses, radio is the suburbs, with rows of cookie-cutter tracts and acre upon acre of structures showing little more imagination than you'd expect from a gaggle of risk-aversive accountants and sputtering insurance salesmen. Yet rising above this colorless landscape stands Calla, a foreboding castle of a band, suffused with grandeur and mystery. Their shadowy tones and slow swells of inscrutable texture envelop them like fog over the moors, more expressive than a hundred crew-cut lawns. Once inside, their music unfolds within the songs' spacious environs, offering a mesmerizing, cinematic tour, replete with strange sounds, galloping echoes and the persistent melodic hum that leads the way.
No mere flight of hyperbolic fancy, Calla's almost dreamy sound does indeed convey a majestic vision, colored by an impressionistic array of ambient tones that creep alongside. The New York (by way of Texas) trio combines the dark lope of the Velvet Underground's slow songs with the rich tonal approach of British shoegazers. Rarely does the band seem in much of a hurry to get where they're going, and as such their compositions wander about fueled by low-level buzz and clatter abetting gently insistent guitar lines.
Calla's sound has progressed steadily across their three albums from a heavily processed sound full of electronic washes and loops toward something more organic and direct. Bassist Sean Donovan admits the band tempered their more experimental impulses for their latest album, "Televise."
"The electronics will always be there, the atmospheres will always be there and the underlying song has always been there. We're always focusing and refocusing on bringing them into balance, so there is always a different relationship between the three elements," he says.
Another factor in Calla's more song-driven direction is singer/guitarist Aurelio Valle's growing confidence. Whereas the last album, "Scavengers," featured many long instrumental passages, Valle's somber, smoky voice is much more on display throughout "Televise," a fact he attributes to greater assurance.
"With 'Scavengers,' I feel I came out a little bit more, but I was still insecure about my singing," Valle says. "With every record I think I open up more and with 'Televise,' I definitely wanted the songs and the lyrics to be more straightforward. I really wanted to be very blunt about a lot of things that I sang. I didn't want the emotions to hide behind metaphors."
While the new album features a few more up-tempo tracks, such as the swirling, churning guitar drive of album-opener "Strangler," and the tough, angular psychedelia and raw percussive thud of the title track, the band continues to thrive on creating a haunting, understated intensity.
"The last record got 'minimalist' thrown at it a lot, and the idea of keeping something very simple does interest all of us," adds Donovan. "`With` Televise, I think that directness is also a certain simplicity. Almost like finding fewer words to make the same point."