Octopus Project Proves Theremin Can Be Cool

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The first time I caught The Octopus Project live was in 2007, just after the release of their album Hello Avalanche, in Providence, Rhode Island’s now-defunct venue Living Room (rest in peace). It was my first time seeing a band with a theremin player, but more importantly, it was my first time hearing the instrument weaved into music cohesively and progressively. It wasn’t just a ‘noise’ factor on top of traditional indie-rock.

Fever Forms is the Austin, Texas, quartet’s fifth album. It begins with an immensely large sound build on the opener “The Falls.” Stick with it: this wall of sound is the key to their signature sonic textures, and it does a lot to distinguish them from other acts in the “indietronica” genre.

Largely instrumental, their music is like a soundtrack to an amazing 16-bit video game that Sega forgot to release.

Songs like “Pyramid Kosmos” contain a whirlwind of grain table and wobble synths that are strategically placed around steady guitar, bass and drums. The rhythm created by drummer Toto Miranda allows for structural space that both multi-instrumentalists Josh Lambert and Ryan Figg exist within. They create more of the indie-rock guitar and bass soundscapes that are found in Octopus Project songs, but also contribute to the more avant-garde aspects via synths and keyboards. Yvonne Lambert produces amazing and precisely calculated synth and theremin work over this framework.

The album’s first single “Whitby” is an upbeat track, and will do wonders for your self-esteem and imagination. It’s that happy-sounding. It contrasts to other songs on the album, which give credibility to the Octopus Project as a band with diverse range of emotions. If you don’t believe me – watch the music video, which was self produced by the band in a stop-motion format. It opens with a simple glitch-y beat and (in the spirit of most Octopus Project songs) grows into a largely sonic piece of music reminiscent of Animal Collective, but possibly more pop-oriented.

I only wish I knew what this song is really about; you can speculate freely, since the lyrics are fairly abstract: “Nothing is moving, everything is motionless, it’s like the air, is trying to hold its breath, forever.” In any case, the two-minute and 35-second song let me wanting to hear more from the band. More easily-digested material follows this song. The track “Death Graduates,” while a darker moment in Fever, is also easily one of my favorite songs on this album. It comes with a strong drumbeat and combines group vocals in a truly beautiful symbiosis before sending those vocals through a vocoder for a unique Kraftwerk-inspired sound. “Death Graduates” sets Octopus Project on an incline into the more anthem-esque “The Mythical E.L.C.”

The album’s momentum declines with the 47-second track “Unspool”, which primarily utilizes a toy box piano. Though, it serves as a nice segue into “Mmkit” that finds the bands guitarist leading them into another upbeat and full-sounding track that is comparable to “E.L.C.”. Other highlights on the album are the entertainingly funny “Choi Sighs” with its vocal-based beat and bleeping melody, as well as the party-oriented song “The Man With The Golden Hand.”

Overall, Fever Forms is a truly enjoyable album from a talented band with a ‘Do It Yourself’ ethos that is both entertaining and awe inspiring. I hope to hear more from them as this album captured my attention in a pleasantly surprising way. The Octopus Project’s sound is easily accessible and inviting, and right now they are one of the world’s best kept secrets.

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