Let's be honest. Few albums - let alone debuts - are clunker-free affairs these days. Since the turn of the 21st Century, you'd be lucky to find enough to count on one hand. But as you get your ears around "Mapping An Invisible World" by Days Away, get prepared to lift another finger. In fact, don't be surprised if this record becomes an obsession.
The band's powerful, expansive sound translates effortlessly, thanks to abundant melodies, expressive playing and striking songcraft. "God And Mars" is a heartfelt, infectious rock blast; less of an album opener than a proclamation of what will come as the disc's eleven tunes play out. At the helm is frontman/guitarist Keith Goodwin, who boasts a distinct, impressive voice and a suitcase full of emotions.
"'God And Mars' sort of says 'Hey there. How's it going? We're here and if you like this, there's more on deck," Goodwin explains. "We wanted it to set the tone for the record, but at the same time it's also a gateway to some of the other, more subtle, diverse songs."
A quintet with an alluring sound, the lads in Days Away artfully concoct music that is both inexplicably familiar and unlike anything out there. Just in their early twenties, this troupe plays with the passion, depth and ability of musicians well beyond their years. That prowess is reflected through "Mirrors," which balances the value of restraint with the will to rock. Meanwhile, the lilting shuffle of "The Fight" houses a timeless albeit somber pop feel. Replete with "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals, this brilliantly contagious nugget plays on all the band's strengths.
Perhaps this helps to explain why lead guitarist Matt Austin struggles to pick a favorite among the eleven songs offered. "I feel strongly about all of them," the guitarist humbly asserts before name checking "T. Kline's Decline," the epic six-plus minute-long album-closer. "I'm also partial to 'Keep Your Voices Down'," says Austin. "In my opinion it's one of the best songs on the album, but during recording we were unsure how it was going to turn out. As it developed, it became fully realized."
The history of Days Away has followed a similar progression. Formed from the ashes of two high school bands, Goodwin, Austin, bassist Chris "Fro" Frangicetto and original drummer Matt Haines joined forces in their native Langhorne, PA back in 1998. "Back in the day I used to book our shows," Fro recalls with a chuckle. "Every one hated me booking shows cause they'd always be sort of bootleg. And sometimes we wouldn't get paid, or we'd have to play in the rain."
After two years spent honing their craft in hometown basements and garages, the men in Days Away split - upon graduation - for California's Orange County. "Our goal when we first went to California was to either make better music or quit altogether," says Goodwin. "So we decided to commit ourselves.”
At the recommendation of friend and fellow Philadelphian Ken Vasoli from The Starting Line, Days Away soon hooked up with O.C. indie label We The People Records to record 2002's The Feel Of It EP. With the band's fanbase expanding through touring and Internet exposure, a self-released disc, 2003's L.S.D.E.P., was minted with new drummer Tim Arnold in tow. Days Away next added keyboardist Bryan Gulla and began work with producer Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard, New Found Glory) on their debut full-length “Mapping An Invisible World.”
"It seemed like he knew exactly what we wanted to do," Goodwin says of Avron's work with Days Away at Burbank's Ocean Studio. "Neal was really enthusiastic about our band and our songs, and he had a really positive impact on the record."
That point is evident in the moonlit guitar lines of "Stay The Same" - a swooning, mid-tempo number that gives Coldplay a run for its money. Ditto for the simple beauty of "You Were Alright," where Gulla's subtle piano aligns with Austin's shimmering guitar inflection and Goodwin's apologetic and hopeful vocal line. Not to mention the tense, percussive "Gravity," which rivals the best in Sunny Day Real Estate's songbook.
"We all have different tastes in music," frontman Goodwin explains, citing respective influences like Ben Folds, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and Nirvana. "We've learned that those individual perspectives can only make us stronger."
Coming away from such an uplifting studio experience, the members of Days Away have been hard at work on the touring circuit, winning over fans one audience at a time. In fact the band spends so much time in the van, they are not really sure where home is right now. “We live on the road.” Goodwin admits. Hitting the road with the likes of Taking Back Sunday, Something Corporate, Finch, and The Starting Line, touring has indeed become a full-time affair.
"Just the fact that we are able to play year round in a different city every night and actually have kids show up is exciting for us," Fro says of the group's elevated profile. "It's sort of been a long time coming."
"Look, we're not exactly certain what the future will bring for this band, but what else could we ask for?" Goodwin adds. "We've got a record that we couldn't be more proud of." Further proof of this sentiment exists in the hypnotic, crystalline album centerpiece, "It's Not Over." As that tune asserts, things are just beginning for Days Away. Look out, world.