What’s been clear from the beginning is that local boys, Signs Point East love to groove as a live band. From their very early days in 2012 at the old Mick’s on West Patrick, it’s been evident that a large part of the band’s sound, full of dance-able bass lines, guitar solos, and sing-able hooks is tailored to performing live on stage.
Signs Point East coin a sound that runs tangent to the jam band scene, but that is clearly not in the same circle considering most of their songs stick to a pop rock format. The saturation of 90’s alternative rock influences is also inescapable and creates an eerily nostalgic sound, but makes way for catchy pop song writing. It’s a niche that sets them apart from most other Frederick bands and begs the question whether or not the world is ready to revisit the mainstream hodgepodge of the mid 90’s.
In September 2013, Signs Point East released their first professionally recorded EP called Back To The Start. An endeavor that took them to Mighty Toad Studio in Brooklyn, NY and that comes with the following disclaimer.
“This album was recorded entirely to analog tape using Studer 820 24-track and Studer 810 2-track recorders. Signs Point East chose to bypass the common crutch of Digital manipulation and record directly to tape because they believe in the power of raw, natural sound.”
The result is a sonically free spirited album that is nostalgic and fun for most, but a bit tedious for others. Besides having the nostalgic warmth of say, a Big Star record, the beauty of recording Back To The Start on analog tape is that each instrument’s track absolutely sounds glued together to give it that live band feel. Many of their current fans will be excited by this promise.
Whiskey In My Tea, a song with crooning vocals full of the sweet melancholy sentiment of a band like Counting Crows and a steady acoustic guitar undertone works well with the noticeably warm fuzz of the tape and is a strong opening ear hook. Even when the snappy drums and prominent bass line kick in to pick up the optimism a bit, the song maintains good separation of space between the vocals we want to hear and accompanying instruments.
Back To The Start, the albums title track pushes the utility of the tape into a zen zone of distortion featuring guitars that feel like they are still smoldering around the edges and vocals that obviously feel the heat from their neighbor guitars. The drums and bass stay tightly synced and maintain a modest attitude to let the others shine. Back To The Start has the upbeat pop rock feel of a Spin Doctors song, but with a degree more danger.
Assimilate is a slow burner with deeper conceptual thought than the rest of the instinctive rock tracks on this album. It boasts a great intro containing a slow repeating soulful whimper of an electric guitar chord followed up swiftly by delightfully intricate acoustic playing and a soft and steady drum beat. Again the tape recording process works well with the instrumental experimentation that uncovers as the song progresses and Assimilate provides an adventurous ending to the album that leaves things wide open for Signs Point East on their inevitable follow up full length release.
Hula Hoop Girl is a funky self affirming track for the ladies that is more akin to the sounds of their jam band cousins and tons of fun to hear live, but some may be disappointed in its presentation here. The recorded track begs for a punchier bass line, the bass line that we love when we hear this song live. In this instance, the bass line tends to get lost in the thicker instrumental parts with everyone competing for the same limited vertical space on the tape.
Where the glue becomes a bit too thick however, is in the middle with the songs More and Rolling The Dice. Both distinctly harder rock tracks with vocal hooks and lead guitar riffs meant to soar and accompanying instrumentals in the vein of Alice In Chains or even a flavor of the Red Hot Chili Peppers with their speed freak low end bass riffs and wide open drums. These songs might have been done better using a modern digital recording method to crisp up those ear pleasing vocals and minimize the unneeded distortion of the tape to make things overall more enjoyable for the average listener.
It’s an honorable thing to pay homage to our rock and roll forefathers by recording to tape, except that tape lives most comfortably in the modern world realms of lo-fi distortion punks, retro psychedelic hippies, and possibly the more eccentric neo-folk hipsters. At a live show is really where you should catch the raw and natural power of Signs Point East, but overall Back to The Start fairs well as an unabashedly honest first recording for the band.