Too often these days, record titles read like inside jokes or "dig our complexity" declarations -- nine years on and we've just about wrapped up reading Fiona Apple's 90-word epic When the Pawn..., and still scratching our heads over all the extra sputtering Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga required last year.
So it's refreshing when a straightforward album title sums things up in just five letters, two words and a backslash. Such is the case with Bullship's second studio release, Is/Was, which celebrates its coming out party Friday, Feb. 15, at Snug Harbor (Sea of Cortez support). It's been five years since the locals' self-titled debut appeared, and the trio that made that record has, unsurprisingly, gone through a lot of changes in the interim, most recently becoming a quartet.
Yet they're not alien to their former selves, which is really the point.
"We're really excited by the revelations we've had in the studio," says bassist Jason Michel, "so the title is just that clean-cut to me: There's definitely some of what we were in this, and here's where we are now."
Where they are reflects a band whose original ideas have matured, though without losing any innate adventurousness. Wrongly labeled math-rock -- they point out that nearly the entire debut was in 4/4 time -- because of Chris Holston's spiky guitar parts, Is/Was fleshes out Bullship's arrangements and pushes into new territories. Elements of the band's admiration for My Bloody Valentine's deliberate approach are still audible in the luscious shoegaze of "Magnificent," for instance, but early Eno and recent Flaming Lips now inspire the band, too, as do a host of other musicians.
Their skill sets have grown, too. The trio of Holston, Michel and drummer Robert McGlaughlin were all still relatively new to their respective instruments (though not to music) on Bullship's debut, and that was reflected in the songwriting. That's not the case today.
"On this record, it really became more of a collaboration between everybody," says McGlaughlin. "If you listen to the first record and then this one, you can see that it's not just filled up with rhythm guitar the whole time, which is basically how the first record was."
That richer sound is also attributable to the addition of Vance Carlisle. The current Houstons' guitarist/keyboardist brought his talents into the making of Is/Was after filling in on some live dates for his long-time friends.
"He's added a lot of melodic detail," says McGlaughlin, "because before we were very angular, very distorted, and he's brought a whole other sheen -- it's a really interesting mix now."
Another variable was McGlaughlin's health -- he suffers from the digestive disorder Crohn's Disease -- which kept him out for weeks at a time during recording at Scott Slagle's Asylum Digital studio. The result? A slew of programmed beats -- created from the drummer's original analog work -- that added even more new textures.
"The first record had kind of a monotonous sound, and we knew we wanted to vary every element for the second," McGlaughlin says.
You know, like they said: Is/Was.
NOTES & NEWS: Kim Karnes, guitarist for Luna's Lament, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and her friends and fellow musicians are holding the "KimNiption 'fit" for Breast Cancer Relief Sunday, Feb. 17 at Amos' Southend. There's a $10 donation request at the door. For more information, e-mail Lindy Dobbins at email@example.com ... Congrats to gogoPilot, selected to play on the Southern region bill of this year's International Pop Overthrow festival, Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, the first time the IPO has ventured into N.C. Headlining that night is Nashville's Shazam. For more information head over to: www.internationalpopoverthrow.com/ ... Lamb Handler will be headlining the 16th Johnson Valentine bash Saturday, Feb. 9th, at the Visulite. The annual event benefits the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), and this year's bill also includes Hardcore Lounge and local DJs ... Bruce Hazel & Some Volunteers are vying with 11 other bands for a shot at a record contract with Little Steven's Wicked Cool label this February. This month's winner will compete against the rest of the year's winners for the grand prize. Go to www.wheelerstmusic.com for more details on how to vote ... The Fire The Flood have hung it up after two-plus years, listing their current mood as "Dead" on their myspace.com page ... The Charlotte Music Awards have announced the addition of Morris-Jenkins as the title sponsor for the organization; Morris-Jenkins is a Charlotte-based heating and air-conditioning company. The next CMA showcase – Women in Rock – is Feb. 9 at the Milestone ...