What happened to Conveyor?
On a self-titled 2012 debut, the New York band evinced a knack for technically adept, if still sunny, psych pop. That album drew comparisons to Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, both of whom released LPs of their own that year, which might explain why Conveyor wound up a bit lost in the shuffle. Prime, the follow-up, won’t win over that audience either. Just two years removed, it contains hardly any hint that it’s made by the same Conveyor.
Some context is warranted. Prime, a 64-minute double LP, is meant to score George Lucas’s 1971 directorial debut, THX 1138. The band put the songs to that purpose at a few midnight screenings of the film in Brooklyn last winter, then captured the music live at Brooklyn’s Silent Barn in early January. Now the score is here — on your iPhone, or laptop, or turntable, or whatever. But without the context that THX 1138 presumably provides, these shifty, minimalist bits and pieces are frustratingly inscrutable.
“Prime 1”, the 15-minute opener, offers something of a road map for what lies ahead: eerie, Floyd-ian synth passages tucked between clean guitar squiggles and the odd sci-fi sound effect. But there’s not much resembling a theme to be parsed from its endless explorations, and “Theme III”, a fragile guitar-and-piano duet, sets more of a stable mood in two minutes than the former does in 15.
Much of Prime has the effect of listening to one disc of The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka instead of all four: You can tell something intriguing is (or should be) happening, but you’re only able to catch a small slice of the full picture, elements and motifs plucked out of the air. But even a partial slice of Zaireeka promises occasional explosions of melodic genius. Prime sounds like what it is: a rambling, rushed film score without the film or even much that resembles a score.
On “Theme VIII”, it’s a snatch of ambient guitar, a delicate, ringing theme that seems poised to blossom into something more; instead it fades out after about two minutes. “Theme VII” runs about the same length and takes the form of an urban field recording: light crowd chatter, an automated Manhattan subway announcement, and some pointless pitch-shifting synthesizer noodling. Then, on “Theme X”, we’re rewarded with a solid minute and a half of wordless, Wilson-ian vocal harmonies. Set to what sounds like a river’s flowing tide, this too fades out after a fleeting run time.
Track lengths pick up again towards the end of Prime, and so does the album’s rhythmic thrust. “Theme XI” and “Theme XIII” are pulsing krautrock workouts; the latter coaxes along on a single staccato guitar pattern for nearly 15 minutes. There are intriguing bouts of weighty guitar fuzz and noise passages along the way, though the rhythm track is too elementary to sustain much interest — an odd contrast to krautrock’s signature lightness. The piece’s genuine reward is what comes after it ends: a sleepily sublime (and oddly faithful, if slowed) cover of Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love”, vintage harmonies and all. Placed at the tail end of the record, as a sort of bonus cut (and a single) with little connection to anything that’s preceded it, it feels more like a taunt than a gift: “See?” it says. “We can do this, too.” Mostly, they’ve chosen not to.
Essential Tracks: “Words of Love”