Venice is Sinking plays orchestral pop, Americana, slowcore, or space rock, depending on whom you ask. Founded in Athens, GA in 2003, this five-piece outfit eschews facile categorization. Its sound is familiar but hard to pin down, rooted in cinematic arrangements, subtle genre tweaks, and clear, ringing harmonies. The band's 2006 debut LP, Sorry About The Flowers, garnered national attention for the crystalline male/female vocals of singers Daniel Lawson and Karolyn Troupe and for Troupe's deft layering of her instrument of choice, the viola, which makes few appearances throughout rock history.
The new album, AZAR, finds Venice is Sinking widening its palette and deepening its focus, tackling the idea of location's ability to influence our lives. Growing musically since the band's debut, the group, challenged by engineer Scott Solter (Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, Pattern is Movement), shed the "space rock" designation, from the wide-eyed "Iron Range" to the David Lynch prom theme of "Wetlands Dance Hall", from the heart wrenching "Young Master Sunshine" to the sardonic pop of "Okay". AZAR is a dynamic work of beauty and ambition: the songs are meticulous, vertical creations, tackling tiny, specific moments and exploding them outwards.
If AZAR sounds wistful, it's because the band members somewhat silently assumed it would be their last album, given their uncertain and diffuse futures. They entered Solter's North Carolina studio in May of 2007 determined to make the record they had always wanted to make, traveling the horrific I-85 corridor from Athens to Charlotte nearly every weekend for the next eight months in an arduous and taxing process during which one band member left amicably, one member got divorced, and gas prices soared to over three dollars a gallon.
AZAR is a more democratic album, with the four remaining members all contributing songwriting, including keyboardist James Sewell's haunting AZAR theme, which reoccurs in permutations throughout the album. Solter's touch pushed the band to work outside its comfort zone and explore varied, mutated instrumentation and experimental touches that were hinted at on Sorry About The Flowers, but never fully realized. Most importantly, AZAR feels like one thing, conceptually and sonically united behind the idea that our surroundings color even the smallest events in our lives.
Things did get better for the band. Jeremy Sellers stepped in on bass, the first album came out in China (!) via Tag Team Records, and the band got the unique opportunity to make a third album right after the AZAR sessions ended. This third LP, whose release and title have yet to be determined, was recorded over one week at Athens' historic Georgia Theatre live to tape with only two microphones in a manner not dissimilar to the Cowboy Junkies' seminal Trinity Sessions. The new material, overseen by David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Bettye Lavette), is poppier and twangier, a stark contrast to AZAR and indicative of Venice is Sinking's chimerical influences.
As 2007 and 2008 were spent recording, 2009 will find the band touring and promoting AZAR as well as the Georgia Theatre sessions.