It's fitting, perhaps, that the first sound heard on the new Telegraph Canyon record, The Tide and the Current, is the faint whisper of a buzzsaw churning in the distance, humming behind the introductory piano chords of opening track "Into the Woods" as the song teases its audience with an ambling start to a cacophonous effort. Not because the Fort Worth band has necessarily changed its image much in the three years between the release of this, its sophomore album and its 2006 debut, All The Good News—it hasn't.
Sure, there are a few new members to the now-seven piece collective. In the years since the last record, drummer Austin Green and former Black Tie Dynasty synth player Brian McCorquodale have joined guitarist and vocalist Chris Johnsons, bass player Chuck Brown, organ player Andrew Skates, violinist Tamra Cauble and guitarist Erik Wolfe in the lineup—but the buzzsaw sound works as an analogy to the constant rebuilding of he band's sound.
Or, rather, it certainly seems to, once you've heard frontman and lead songwriter Johnson opine on the band's development in recent years.
Telegraph Canyon performs with the Old 97's on Friday, August 21, at Bass Hall, Fort Worth
"Between the last record and this record, all the stuff that we wanted to happen became a reality," Johnson says. Specifically, Johnson continues, the band was able to amass a variety of instruments in its arsenal between the recording of the two albums—which is to say, pretty much every instrument the band could imagine. And The Tide and The Current, released just this past week, certainly wears this badge proudly, elaborately adorned by delicate bells, accordion, mandolin, harmonica, violin, organ, synth and pedal steel, playing beyond the more standard rock elements of guitar, bass, piano and drums. "There was a really good idea of what we were doing—but more importantly, an open idea—to have a lot of different instruments," Johnson adds. "Those were just the tools that I thought were necessary for what we were doing. That was the idea, the vision, the route. And it happened."
In actuality, that idea, more than anything else, was to give the band an almost endless choice of options in its approach to songwriting. And though All The Good News still stands as one of the most underappreciated area releases of the past decade, The Tide and The Current stands as one of the decade's without-a-doubt best, specifically because of its open-ended nature. With its cavalcade of instrumental prospects, the album fearlessly and effortlessly finds itself taking off in every direction—from the hushed ambience of "Come In The Morning" to the thrilling baroque bar-rock of "Shake Your Fists" to soft chamber pop of album-closer "Reels & Wires"—without rendering the album directionless. Rather, it's the disc's very meandering nature—the fact that, at any moment, a new instrument can enter a track, taking it into new, unanticipated waters—along with the band's beautiful gospel-inspired vocal harmonies and Johnson's strained, weary vocals, that gives the disc its orderly feel.
"This record was written to be paced for all the different parts and instruments," Johnson explains, "and to be more sparse and have more space within it."
Even the songs written in Austin's Ramble Creek studio, where the band recorded The Tide and The Current over six three- or four-day trips, under the watchful eye of its producer, Centro-matic frontman Will Johnson (who guests as a backing vocalist on a few of the album's songs), have this feel—no doubt a result of Will Johnson's own experience with both Centro-matic and its more ambient side-project, South San Gabriel.
"Essentially, I just feel like he was a really big motivator," Telegraph Canyon's Johnson says of his producer. "Just having someone else there was great."
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That, too, is a major difference between The Tide and The Current and All The Good News, the latter of which found the band cramped into a Fort Worth room, recording its own tracks.
More than that, though, the biggest difference isn't in the recording, the instruments or the added members. Rather, it's in the overall growth the band has had since forming four years ago, when it simply started with the idea of taking Johnson's guitar playing lead and surrounding it with a near-orchestral outer shell.
"We're more focused, maybe," Johnson offers, trying to put a finger on how his band, which once toiled away mostly unnoticed before area audiences, is now at the forefront of the local scene, earning (well-deserved) critical acclaim and finding itself opening for touring juggernauts like Broken Social Scene as it did two-weeks ago at the Palladium Ballroom, and local heroes the Old 97's, as it will this Friday night at Fort Worth's Bass Hall. "I dunno. I've been living a few more years, and we've been playing together for a few more years.
"You just hope each record gets better," he says with a laugh. "Shit, I'd be pretty bummed if we didn't improve at least a little bit."