By Tom Lynch
Amongst the chaotic cacophony of Able Baker Fox’s debut record, “Voices,” melodies are found and lost and found again, as a trio of vocals push against one another and pull away as the songs come to crushing ends. Pieces of hardcore and screaming, old-school emo make the first impression—later in the record, it’s borderline hypnotic metal. When the band’s at its most aggressive and least hook-driven, it brings to mind Make Believe-era Tim Kinsella (and just how good that band’s records actually are), but also shows how impressive this band is, and how the sound is rather polished for a first record.
Made of members of Small Brown Bike and The Casket Lottery, Able Baker Fox started as a collaboration project. Each member—Nathan Ellis, Mike Reed, Ben Reed and Jeff Gentsterblum—traded files over the Internet, as they lived in different parts of the country. This writing process lasted for nearly six months—after which the group met for a brief practice in Chicago, then off to Kansas City to record.
“It was cool,” drummer Gentsterblum says of the process. “You get the bare-bones stuff. A riff here, a guitar riff there, a whole song or one idea. It would go back and forth between all of us and by the time it passed through everybody, we had three or four different ideas [for the song], or a complete song by the time it got back [to the beginning].”
They didn’t meet until they had a record’s worth of songs. “After we had eleven songs, we all got together in Chicago—a year ago, from right around this time—and we kind of tweaked them. We were like a normal band at that point. But not having direct contact with the person [while writing] and just putting what you think sounds right—I would say it lent to the record’s sound.”
Strong, engaging songs like “Face on Fire” and “Blind Writer” and the closer, “Whispering,” feature bold and explosive guitar-driven release. The execution is flawless considering the band’s writing method; you would never know that this was written separately, without that initial contact that so often inspires creation between a handful of musicians.
For Gentsterblum, his personal methods of conjuring the drums didn’t change, regardless of the process. “It was the same as with any band,” he says. “I hear the [initial] idea, from whoever, and I usually get three or four different ways I would do it. I go over all three or four and just let them choose it. Usually, once I hear something, three or four variations will go in my head, and I just let whoever’s coming up with the idea choose what’s closest to what they were thinking.”
The record’s fluidity is perhaps most impressive—no song stands out individually, but rather, they rise together. Gensterblum says there was no pre-writing discussion, no introductory mapping session that planned how the band wanted the record to sound. “Not at all,” he says. “That was another interesting thing. We never had any sound we were going for—me and Ben threw together a song one weekend when I was in Chicago, and from there Nathan had ideas he had written, and Mike had a few ideas, and it just went from there. It was kind of like all these extra ideas people had lying around. We put life into them.”
The future for this band is uncertain—“A few tours, nothing too crazy,” Gentsterblum says. “We’re all working, we’re married, we all have jobs.” But if “Voices” is the only collection birthed by Able Baker Fox, it’s a notable accomplishment.
“We had no expectations at all,” Gentsterblum says. “This is all for fun—everything’s turning out much better than ever anticipated. It’s a surprise to all of us. We went into it like, ‘Yeah, we’re all friends,’ like a usual side project—just to have fun. It’s definitely exceeded all expectations by far.”
Able Baker Fox plays January 31 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 West Belmont, (773)281-4444, at 9pm. $8. The band also opens for Hot Water Music February 2 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, at 6:30pm. $19.