Living high and deep in the Rocky Mountains does something to a musician. The pristine solitude gets inside a songwriter, weaving a barely perceptible strain of melancholia into the melodies of most high-country Colorado bands.
34 Satellite is no exception. Bassist Mike Santuro, drummer Mark Boquist and guitarist Mark Smith call the East Coast home, but the nucleus of the band is Sedalia vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Marc Benning. After growing up in an eclectic home and traveling around the country, Benning landed in Colorado and rebuilt a cousin's recording studio in the wilderness northwest of Pikes Peak where he now lives.
Living in such a vibrant yet isolated environment clears away the fog of daily life, allowing the mind to dwell on the bigger landscapes of life, of the heart. This penetrating truth is the dominating feature of 34 Satellite's upcoming album, Radar.
Local audiences will get a chance to hear cuts from the CD on Monday night.
34 Satellite underwent a major facelift in the midst of recording the new CD. The original album was actually finished last year, but after listening to the master tapes, Benning decided to record and add eight more tracks before its release. During performances in New York and Boston, Benning met Santoro and Boquist. The two ended up becoming collaborators on the new album instead of mere backup musicians. Their experience added a new facet to the band, resulting in an entirely new sound.
Each of the twelve tracks on Radar was written by Benning, and then groomed and recorded with the rest of the band in Colorado, Memphis and Brooklyn. The end result is like a musical roadtrip with your dog in the front seat, your hand catching a current out the driver's side window. Glimpses of many musicians flit across the rearview: The Jayhawks, Chris Cornell, R.E.M., Mudhoney, Francis Dunnery, The Wallflowers, Paul Westerberg.
Benning's vocals, reminiscent of Jakob Dylan, are perfectly matched with the music -- a kind of roots-rock meets pre-Nirvana Seattle grunge. His thin, whiskey-tinged voice is caressing, sincere and utterly unique.
Strong guitar work is a staple throughout the album, supporting the rich pop melodies. Skillful leads contend with lyrics for your attention in song after song, and win out on a few, like the energetic "Riverside".
Despite some intricate arrangements, simplicity is key, as evidenced on the nostalgic, almost desolate ballad, "You." "Fly Now" and "Pretty Song" are also slightly sad, regretful ballads, but where "You" is composed of dry silt, they are grown from thick black earth.
"Molasses" is heavier than most of the album, with a hard edge, crashing guitars and pulsating drums. The music is as urgent as the lyrics, persuasive and convincing.
The majority of the songs on Radar are about love and barriers to love -- if only the walls that people cultivate around themselves were easier to take down than put up. While blue, Benning's words are thoughtful and easy to identify with, not hopeless, but resilient.
With Radar, 34 Satellite have grounded themselves. With stability can only come more experimentation, and we can only look forward to what comes next.