Portrait of a band in flux
The Inversions search for substance in rock ’n’ roll style
“Bands that make it,” Will Comstock is saying, “have a look, have a certain appealing sound, but don’t say anything, don’t really do anything interesting musically. They get notoriety based upon a couple good riffs and these haircuts.” The Inversions, of which guitarist and vocalist Comstock is a co-founder, are regular-looking fellows. They want to say something, to do something interesting musically.
So, what is it? Comstock, bassist and co-founder Ryan Offield, and drummer Joaquin McPeek have gathered to discuss. It’s getting late, and their voices overlap and echo in the high ceilings of the Fox & Goose. On the table, clusters of beer glasses clink together when someone laughs. The conversation meanders from music and the Sacramento scene to how George Lucas screwed up the latest Star Wars trilogy and how the 49ers are simply screwed up. Maybe the musicians are trying to get a message across, and maybe it’s getting lost up in the rafters.
“I don’t think we have one voice,” Comstock continues. “I don’t want a single message. If you like it, if you don’t like it, fine, but you have to say something.”
The Inversions know they want their music to hit hard and to attract a variety of audiences. They know they don’t want to be categorized. Fair enough. But in a culture engrossed with social and artistic classification, there’s a fine line between transcending category and trudging through a musical mire. Only time will tell if this band can achieve that transcendence.
Certainly, they’re proud of their latest album, last November’s All is Well. “It’s not a sound we’d go for again,” says Comstock, “but for the time it was perfect.” Offield adds that the recent replacement of drummer Frank French with McPeek, percussionist for the Race Quintet and the Chili Palmer Project, has loosened the band’s sound from the straight-ahead rock style French helped encode on the record.
The band members talk plenty about music they enjoy, but not all of it—Motown, for example—translates directly into their songwriting. They call the Kinks, Radiohead and Supergrass their primary influences, but so far the music more clearly evinces the Beatles and the Stones.
Most common are cuts like “She Won’t Take the Train,” a clear homage to the Brits with clean guitars, dominant-chord bridges and blues-based riffs. But the record’s best songs, “Money Walks” and “The Graduate,” show energy and inventiveness that the others lack. “Money Walks,” with its slow melodies over piano, building dynamically, actually does seem kindred to Radiohead’s Kid A. “The Graduate” is the best example of what can happen when a band toys with different genres. It’s a slow, off-rhythm piece that lumbers through a subtle sonic landscape and evokes Call Me Ishmael or slower Smashing Pumpkins. Perhaps if the Inversions move more in this direction and away from the clean Brit-pop sound, they’ll become a Sacramento force.
Comstock also says he’s influenced by politics, or, as he puts it, the asinine media presentations that pass for valid news. “Hey, It’s All Gonna Work Out” tells the story of Winston (a call to Orwell’s 1984?) who “did himself in” and became “a man who made the news / but was blinded by the circus and lights.”
“I think we do try certain social commentary about the world around us,” Comstock says. “The Draft,” for example, is a protest song, lamenting that “your daughters and sons have died … because our fathers lied.” For the time being, Comstock’s lyrics and the band’s music don’t easily mesh.
“Life doesn’t have a single message,” chimes in newcomer McPeek. “The style can create itself. I want the audience to just like the music.” He likens the band to Beck, who deliberately changes his style from album to album. It’s a hopeful view, but the stylistically unsure Inversions seem accidentally to change from song to song. A coherent voice—and, of course, something to say with it—is what all ambitious songwriters struggle for. On that front, the Inversions show promise, even if it isn’t yet musically logical.