Everybody who really likes rock music has a soft spot in their hearts for the moment when a song really kicks in. When the drums come on and the guitar player stomps the fuzzbox. It always works—just think of “Smells like Teen Spirit,” if you don’t know what I’m talking about. If that doesn’t grab you, then rock ‘n’ roll just ain’t for you.
Variations on this simple idea (first quiet, then loud) are the spice of the hard rock life. The Real Eyes’ song “Realize” (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which of that punning couple came first) has just such a moment. The song begins with atmospheric bits of reverb-and-delay guitar before adding slow lumbering bass, keyboard swirls and drums that accentuate rather than beat. And then, at about the two minute mark: Boom, the distortion comes on, and the drummer starts to flex. A song that had built up slowly, lulling you into a trance, begins to kick. It’s not an unusual ruse, and you can see it coming a minute off, but it’s deeply satisfying nonetheless.
Real Eyes have many such moments in their oeuvre. They have careful rhythmic build-ups inspired by bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and they take songwriting cues from indie rockers like Elliot and the Appleseed Cast. The songs leave the distinct impression of having been refined from group improvisation. The emphasis is not so much on melody but on thick sonic grooves and kinetic shifts. The rock-out parts to which their songs often build up reveal a hidden metal influence lurking at the ends of warm indie rock songs.
Real Eyes are a quartet consisting of Randy Halcomb on guitar and vocals, Travis Edmonds on bass, Ryan Wilson on keyboards and Ryan Kronenberg on drums and the rare vocal. Edmonds, Halcomb and Kronenberg have been playing together in various configurations for some time. Wilson is the new recruit. He has an amazing tattoo on his forearm: a Moog synthesizer soaring through the cosmos. His current role mostly consists of adding bits of color and atmosphere to songs that have a tight guitar-bass-drums configuration. But keyboards are a central part of their in-progress material.
Halcomb’s vocals range from soft whispers to emo-style hollers, following the roller coaster of the music. Halcomb, a quiet, soft-spoken guy with a full beard and a self-deprecating attitude, is not at all forthcoming about his own lyrics: “I say what I have to say when I’m supposed to say it. It’s like I’m venting to myself, and if somebody else gets something out of it then great. But I don’t ever want to come right out and say, ‘this is what I’m saying.'”
The energetic Kronenberg, on the other hand, has an infectious enthusiasm and reverence for music. (He refers to their practice room as a “spiritual place.") He sings one song, the almost bouncy “Fireman"—which shares a thematic relationship with the Jawbreaker song of the same name—and seems to enjoy goading Halcomb.
After a fair amount of prodding from Kronenberg, Halcomb opens up about the band’s use of dramatic loud-soft dynamic changes, claiming they’re inspired by real life experiences: “Things will be really mellow, and then out of nowhere, shit just hits me in the head.”
He pauses and reconsiders. “But then again, even most of the mellow stuff is minor key. I guess I’m just a sourpuss.”