In the middle of Conveyor’s set at the Mercury Lounge last night, I overheard someone describe the Brooklyn outfit’s sound as, “They Might Be Giants crossed with surfboard bumblebees.” In the millisecond retrospect after a mondegreen, I realized what he most likely said was “surf-rock melodies,” but the expression still made me smile for the rest of Conveyor’s album release show and tour kickoff party. I wouldn’t exactly describe them as surfboard bumblebees per se, but the quartet’s hybrid of Afropop, calypso, folk harmonies, and numerically precise arrangements is buoyed by that same kind of improbable eclecticism. It extends to all parts of Conveyor’s work, from one of the most elaborately decorated merch tables I’ve ever seen to the audience, a weird mix of older couples, the way-after-work crowd, and friends and fellow musicians from Conveyor’s hometown of Gainesville, FL.
Fellow Brooklynites Spanish Prisoners opened the evening, parlaying roundabout polyrhythms similar to Conveyor’s, but less avant-garde and more rooted in traditional tropes of electro-pop. On “Slow Decay”, for example, lead vocalist Leo Maymind’s higher registered repetition of “Slow decay-ay-ay-ay” (besides sounding briefly, suspiciously like “umbrella-eh-eh-eh”), along with motorik rhythms preceding the breakdown, echoed the trance-like atmosphere of onetime tour mates Here We Go Magic. Unlike them, however, Spanish Prisoners dropped it like it was hot with heavy bass and shakers, like a heavier tropical disco. While the band’s tightly wound set unfurled with the same care and attention Conveyor would lavish on their own, it didn’t stand out from your average psych-rock/tropicalia-influenced/insert-hyphenated-MySpace-adjective-here band.
Conveyor, on the other hand, still sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard. Vocalist TJ Masters opened their set with, “Our name is Conveyor, and this is what our record sounds like,” before running through the entirety of Conveyor in 45 minutes, slightly longer than the album’s running time. Because Conveyor plays with the same deliberation with which it announced itself, the songs that stood out were the ones on which the band members really let go; like Masters’ surprising scream on “Two Davids” or Gun Club-esque vocal ejaculation, “I hope this fucking town feels it” on the new, as of yet unrecorded track “Holiday Melt”. That said, it still astounds me that Conveyor can keep so many moving parts together so tightly, between the shifting rhythms and climbing canons that sniff around each other like– for lack of a better descriptor– the honeybee waggle dance.
At the apparent end of their set, Masters asked to kill the lights. “I want you guys to space out to this one,” he said before launching into “Yes, Some Things Are So Heavy”. “I will pick them up,” he sang as the audience members bobbled glowing balloons, which kept falling to the ground and, sure enough, were picked back up.
After that relatively quiet, introspective moment, Conveyor let people applaud for about 15 seconds before asking, “Can we play one more song for you?” and huddling onstage (the Mercury Lounge doesn’t really have a backstage), mouthing to each other, “What should we play?” They ended the night with another unrecorded track, “3rd Bank”. Once again, Conveyor surprised me, jamming out walls of feedback against a steadily quickening drum pace. While this time, it sounded like a lot of things I’ve heard before, it wasn’t anything I ever expected this band to sound like. And for a group of musicians that constantly creates and combines new sounds, they still rip straight-up rock the way it’s supposed to sound.
Yes, Some Things Are So Heavy