Boulder Acoustic Society
w/ The New Familiars
Wed. April 8
1977 Maybank Hwy.
The members of the Boulder Acoustic Society are hardly casual musicians. Between them, they have eight side projects. Violinist Kailin Yong takes off in the winter to play Middle Eastern music, while bassist Aaron Keim gets his "geeky traditionalism" fix playing swing and old-time.
Amidst their explorations, the quartet has managed to release five solid studio albums in four years, each one an expansion and redefinition of their sound.
At the group's core are four multi-instrumentalists who don't call a single member their leader. Yong focuses on fiddle and Keim on bass, while Scott McCormick plays a raucous accordion, and Scott Aller keeps the rhythm on everything from spoons to hand drums to washboard. They share vocal duties, and any given member may trade their instrument for a ukulele without warning.
The Society's sound defies concise description. The title track from their 2008 release The Caged Bird is a fiddle and bowed-bass-driven, Gourds-like song, while "The Cruel Monkey" sounds more like David Byrne leading a string band.
Their latest, Punchline, is due this summer. They recorded it in Denver with John Macey, known for his work with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Gladys Knight.
"We wanted to be able to add anything we imagined, and have a recording studio set up that made that simple and easy," says Keim from his home in Boulder.
The songs include beat-boxing through a megaphone and holding a guitar amplifier to the strings of a piano to mix feedback with the piano's vibrations. It's not exactly what veteran listeners might expect from the quartet, who sound just as full and complete unplugged on a street corner.
"Some of those things that we had the freedom to try make this record special and interesting," says Keim. "We wanted [the effects] to be enough to add the right vibe to the song, but we didn't want them to be the centerpiece. Then you're just Brian Wilson. We did our best to add those textures when necessary but never let them take over a song."
The Boulder boys also strived to strengthen their lyrical base with Punchline. In the past, they've made fans with rowdy, irreverent sing-alongs with names like "Fuck You I'm Drunk" and "If You See Kay." Today, says Keim, the band is focused on songcraft, weaving stories into the music.
"For a while, a lot of our songs just existed in order to provide a background for our cool arrangements or musical ideas or improvisations," he says. "We wanted to make a more sophisticated statement and still have it be really fun."
Keim points out the irony in Punchline. The title is taken from a lyric that says, "Ain't that the punchline that we live by" — but the album is void of goofiness.
The band's shift in their approach may pay off. They embark on their first tour of the U.K. in the fall, and spend the summer crisscrossing the country, including notable gigs at LEAF and FloydFest.
They've also likely earned some unexpected fans through a gig with ESPN. The show Mayne Street, featuring humorous commentator and sportscaster Kenny Mayne, utilized their instrumental recordings as the 'house band' for its first season.
"We had enough old music we could spruce up for them, so we stripped out the lyrics and sent it off," says Keim.
They're crossing their fingers the show will get picked up for a second season. If it does, and the producers want to completely alter the style of music framing the scenes, they've already got a band more than capable of accommodating them.