On Saturday night at The Grotto, Stumptone will debut Spark, the space-rock adventurists’ third album. It’s the band’s first long player in five years, and even frontman Chris Plavidal admits that it’s kind of a glacial pace with which to release new material.
“I would’ve preferred it not to have taken as long as it did,” he said over the phone recently. “But we wanted it to be perfect.”
Perfect, of course, is subjective, but Stumptone has been around for nearly 20 years, and that’s a lot of time for an artist to reflect on what would feel most satisfyingly complete –– especially when the nature of the medium lends itself to experimentation. “I’ve always described it as ‘experimental yet melodic,’ ” Plavidal said.
Formed in Denton in 1997 as a duo consisting of Plavidal and drummer Mike Throneberry (who also plays drums in art punk bands Mind Spiders and Marked Men), Stumptone has remained a vehicle for Plavidal as a songwriter as well as an aural painter of sorts. Over the years, the band expanded into a trio and then a four-piece. Besides Plavidal and Throneberry, Stumptone’s current lineup includes bassist Peter Salisbury (also of Mind Spiders, as well as The Baptist Generals) and guitarist Frank Cervantes of dub experimentalist groups Sub Oslo and Wire Nest. Plavidal comes up with the basic song arrangements, but the rest of the band has plenty of room to flex its considerable creative muscles.
Spark’s 11 tracks carry Plavidal’s laconic meditations on the state of things on a magic carpet woven from shimmering guitar effects and balmy melodies, soaring above the swell and crash of percussion. There’s a wall-of-sound symphonic quality underpinning it all, as the guitars and keys and who-knows-what-else rise and dive like seabirds in a Roger Dean painting. The most reductive description is probably Summerteeth-era-Wilco-meets-Meddle-era Floyd (or Pet Sounds as imagined by Stereolab), but that’s not to say that Spark –– or Stumptone, for that matter –– betrays any sort of hard-and-fast influence. After all, when a record comes together in the time it takes a kid to matriculate from college, there’s lots of stuff to absorb, whether it be music or current events.
Spark’s thematic content is compelling, exploring the cycles of creation and destruction and how hope and love endure and flourish amid both. Plavidal notes that its creation cycle is bookended by one dismal part of American history at its inception and the uncertain future looming over its release.
“I think it’s important that people write about what’s going on,” he said. “Maybe I can make a difference.”
Spark isn’t the 2016 version of “We Are the World,” by any stretch of the imagination, but in a year of ever-horrifying violence and a political process that has pirouetted right into the theater of the absurd, Stumptone’s new album certainly addresses what it’s like to live in a time that’s experienced the historic highs of events like “First Black President” as well as surrealist lows of “First Reality TV Presidential Candidate.”
But it also highlights the end of a different era. Spark was recorded at The Echo Lab with the Denton studio’s longtime engineer David Willingham. Echo Lab is closing soon, which is especially sad in the wake of the recent closing of Denton landmark Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios. Both were institutions that stretch as far back in local music lore as Stumptone does, but The Echo Lab’s impending fate provided Plavidal and company with more impetus to put a period on their quest for album perfection.
“We kept tinkering with sounds and this and that, and we did it for so long that we didn’t really see a reason to stop,” Plavidal said.
But perhaps in an effort to see the forest for the trees, the process came to a close.
“Five years [to make a record] is too long,” he said. “Echo Lab is closing.”
For all that tweaking and changing, the album’s final form is worth the wait. Dreamy Life Records and the band are releasing 40 copies of it in a hand-made, lathe-cut vinyl package –– including a 12-inch record and a 7-inch record –– plus a cassette of bonus material, as well as a digital download for the whole shebang. There’s also an edition that’s cassette-and-download-only.
“The more experimental cassette material was recorded over a 20-year period and even features a song by the famous krautrock originators, Faust,” Plavidal said.
The packaging itself is sort of a triumph over disappointment. The vinyl copies of the band’s last album were all ruined because of plastic packing material.
“Word of advice from experience: If you’re assembling your own record sleeves, be sure to get your vinyl out of plastic and into paper as soon as possible,” Plavidal said. “We learned that the hard way.”
In addition to the band’s album-release show Saturday, several other gigs are on the boards.
“We used to play a lot, but in recent years, we’ve tried to space them out and make each show special,” he said. “We’ve been playing so long, we get on bills where the bands don’t mesh as well as we’d hope, but our Saturday show is a line-up that makes sense.”
Both bills are great fits for a band that’s a challenge to pigeonhole, and they’re certain to draw the sort of listeners who will appreciate the band’s creative vision the most. As for Stumptone’s future, Plavidal said he has another album’s worth of material that’s nearly ready to record. Hopefully, we’ll hear it sooner rather than during the next presidential campaign.
Sat w/Wire Nest, The Cush, and Signals and Alibis at The Grotto, 517 University Dr, FW. $5. 817-882-9331, [/box_info]