Conversations Expectations

Release Date: 2008-10-07
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Album Review

Local Art-Punks Gist Opt for More Hooks
4 of 5 Stars
By Matthew Stabley • Published March 15, 2009 • Updated on March 16, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Over several years, Gist has built a reputation as one of the best local live acts around with their Pere Ubu-esque art-punk -- like a weirder version of a Dischord post-hardcore band -- but their latest album for Red Stapler Records, "Conversations, Expectations," finds the band reaching into their bag of hooks for a more accessible alt-pop sound.

The jittery guitar riffs still make me nervous at times, but largely, they are streamlined. Likewise, Nayan Bhula pulls the reins on his David Thomas-like vocal tics and warbling, though his coated-throat sound still has an underwater quality. The witty, provoking and poignant lyrics remain, though, maybe none better than the opening, sung tenderly and pretty, of "Post-it Notes": "The next great religious text will be written on post-it notes. Then we can stick them on our hearts and watch others misquote." Perfectly mocking the Twitter age and rampant attempts at amusing, profound one-liners in what could serve as an award-winning tweet itself.

It may not be the quirky new-wave-punk that earned the band its following, but the trio is crafting individual songs that are more memorable, as memorable as some of their better live sets. So "Conversations, Expectations" finds Gist sounding more like a post-punk band these days -- perfect for Finley Martin's bass grooves -- but not one of those dance party neo-post-punk bands like Franz Ferdinand and their followers. Gist is still a rock-first outfit.

Opening track "Hold On" is played with impassioned, infectious energy, while "Anonymous" is an unforgettable burst of alt-pop full of jittery guitars and Fred Burton's frenetic rhythm. Sandwiching "Time is Running Out," the opening trio of songs establish a sense of ambition. Then the haunting near-balladry of "Post-it Notes" leads the listener down a less predictable path. While almost-anthemic alt-pop songs like "Speak Up" are sprinkled over the rest of the seven songs, "Post-it Notes" and the even more somber "Survival" travel in sparse and quiet territory, disturbing (particularly the hushed vocals on the latter) and infectious without the hooks. Mainly, though, they provide a welcome change of pace to contrast the arena-ready songs that dominate.

But the best song is the closer, the one that most sounds like the Gist I know. "Concrete Faults" finds Bhula and the boys channeling David Thomas and Pere Ubu once again. The beautifully noisy guitars offer the perfect backdrop for that psychotic Bhula warble one more time. Still, the band finds room for a catchy chorus in line with those that dominate the album. As their influences seem to move from the '70s and CBGBs to the '80s and larger stages, Gist sounds more at home in modern times.

Gist plays Black Cat Backstage Monday night.
- Matthew Stabley