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Pilotdrift is ready for whatever mood you're in

Pilotdrift escapes easy classification, because it would be nearly impossible to place them anywhere geographically, let alone musically. By Jim Ray
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I've never been to Texarkana, Texas, which magically straddles the state lines Texas and Arkansas, but I have an idea of what such a place might be like. My vision involves sagebrush, tumbleweed, the occasional oil derrick, rustic pickup trucks and a fair amount of red clay dust.

It's also pretty much the exact opposite of the Texarkana-native quintet Pilotdrift.

Of course, it's no fault of Texas or Arkansas that Pilotdrift escapes easy classification, because it would be nearly impossible to place them anywhere geographically, let alone musically. In fact, it makes sense that Pilotdrift has signed on with fellow Texans, the Polyphonic Spree, and their label Good Records, a fitting partnership to go along with their sweeping, grand music.

Their label debut, “Water Sphere,” is an ambitious, impressive showcase of atmospheric and ethereal sound layered behind some genuine rock and roll. It's the range and, frankly, size of the music that's often so surprising and sure to have you check the liner notes at least once to make sure that there are just five band members.

“Caught in My Trap” starts things off with an appropriately moody orchestral pop ballad with vocal traces of David Bowie, Queen and, dare I say it, Andrew Lloyd Weber. Comparisons to “Phantom of the Opera” are sure to be the kiss of death amongst some hardened music fans, but fear not, the feeling quickly subsides as the song rocks out.

Easily following is the dreamy “Bubblecraft,” where Pilotdrift declares that they are unafraid of nearly melodramatic synthesizers. Again, on the surface, this sounds off-putting but they make it work remarkably well, keeping the song tight and multilayered without being overpowered by their electronic and orchestral arrangements.

It's this balance that makes the album work so well — none of the songs are overpowered by the experimental mix of guitars, flutes, synthesizers and string arrangements. There's also a spartan purity to the music, such as the short block of lyrics on most of the songs, that rests on top of all of the complex music. “Passenger Seat,” my favorite track on the album, even adds handclaps to the gorgeous signal noise.

Pilotdrift works best when they seem to pick a theme and stick to it, such as with the delightful ode to Madam Toussad's, “Late Night in a Wax Museum,” playfully dancing amongst immortalized wax figures. Here, the band does its best job with moving between themes and moods, going from slow paced keyboards to get-outta-your-seat guitars to a xylophone solo mixing — is that the sound of cards being shuffled?

The ambition does overstep its bounds at times, though. Falling squarely in the middle, “Jekyll and Hyde Suite” borrows heavily from the entire album but ultimately disappoints by trying to be too much.

Starting with a pounding organ fit for a silent film house, it soon becomes a soundtrack fit for a Tim Burton-esque stop action film and then turns again, with chanting vocals and synthesized strings.

Not to be overlooked is the absolutely gorgeous instrumental track, “Comets.” Simple and beautifully layered, it would be easy to mistake the repeated guitar for a harp floating over the vocal chants.

Ultimately, though, it’s all about the mood and Pilotdrift expertly crafts them — so well, in fact, that you’re mood will be “good.”

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