Looking at the 90 Day Men's fourth and latest album, Panda Park, you develop a fascination with the overtly psychedelic cover art. Endlessly symmetric, fluorescent plants forming the shape of a disapproving countenance engulf the dark sky. On the ground, a panda wanders amidst a field of bright flowers. Now this band has your attention.
Brian Case, singer and guitarist for the avant-garde Chicago four-piece, says a friend of the band created the album art as an interpretation of the music, in addition to picking the album's title. If this art is an interpretation of the music, what the hell will this album sound like?
After pulling your eyes away from the cover, you play the disc. Immediately, the sound of the piano catches you. Amidst the languid, tripped-out guitars and scattered vocals, a pseudo-classical piano emerges to drive the song home.
The 90 Day Men, Case mentions, started as a normal guitar, bass and drums band. Then, Andy Lansangan, a friend of the band's, came to watch the group practice and began to masterfully incorporate the Rhodes piano that was lying around. The rest was history.
"There's so much you can do with a piano," says Case, who suggests that "your ear just kind of grabs on to it because you don't normally hear it."
There's more to the 90 Day Men's sound than just the piano, however. The band has three unique voices in its arsenal. "Having this opportunity in one band is so rare," Case says. His "barely audible" voice, according to him, complements "Rob, who can get really high, and Andy, who has a pretty incredible falsetto." In addition to the vocals, the bass and guitar give the album a spacey, hypnotic effect, reminiscent of the sonic signatures of Radiohead. It's no surprise, then, that Radiohead is one of Case's biggest influences.
The band as a whole has a rather eclectic taste in music, ranging from classical to hip hop, to field recordings. Case, who is also a big Neil Young fan, suggests, "It's really all over the place."
As for the future, the quartet will spend the coming months touring the East Coast in support of Panda Park, which Case admits is his favorite 90 Day Men album. Along the way, the band will tour with fellow forward-thinkers The Unicorns, Coco Rosie, Tortoise and The Liars. After touring, Case thinks the band might start writing again to build on its progressive style. Case hopes, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that "somewhere down the road we fit into rock history." If Panda Park is any indication of what to expect from the 90 Day Men, this is a realistic goal.
Check out the 90 Day Men with the Liars, April 18th at First Unitarian Church (2125 Chestnut), 8 p.m., $10.