In the case of Machine Gun — the debut LP from Charlotte's Center of the Sun — the title of the opener is far more telling than the song's sound. Guitars chime from far off, blurred by reverb and delay as similarly shrouded female coos offer a tender invitation. It's shoegaze at its most delicate — fuzz forming gauzy sheets and avoiding the heavy tones that typically lull listeners into staring at their boots. Dubbed "We Are All Going to Die," the non-lyrical intro doesn't match its title. It's the only song on the richly melancholic release that doesn't resound with a leaden sense of darkness, one that rivals any metal outfit or noise-rock band working today.
The opening title works as both a slogan and a warning, a frank acknowledgement from a group that already knows exactly what it wants to be — despite the fact that its first functioning lineup didn't solidify until last fall. But, as these things go, the momentum gained from the band's impressive debut will be short-lived. The band's Friday appearance at Snug Harbor as part of this weekend's Treasure Fest will be its last for the foreseeable future, an indefinite hiatus forced by busy schedules with other outfits and an aversion to doing anything half-assed. But for these fast friends, even this setback seems surmountable.
"The thing that I find the most integral to the final product is that so much rapport was already there," explains singer Ally Hoffmann. She and her band mates sit huddled around the webcam on their computer, offering keen insights into their powerful style, one that sits somewhere between metallic muscle (guitarists Rick Contes and Chris Nolen are one half of the blackened hardcore outfit Young and in the Way) and soaring shoegaze.
The band members' answers come interspersed with inside jokes and reminiscences. They twist and mock each other's metaphors, ensuring that no one ever becomes too pretentious. When Hoffman compares her excitement about being at practice to a kid yearning to go outside and play, Nolen notes that they rehearse indoors. She shoots back that they also get to drink.
The players have been friends since they were teenagers, with Contes, Nolen and drummer Benny Gascho having played in projects together for a decade. Center of the Sun may be a new band, but the chemistry isn't.
"There's projects that I've been in where I haven't known my mates very long at all," Hoffman continues. "When we're hanging out and we're writing, so much just comes naturally. We came from a similar background, similar tastes, kind of those right of passage moments in the teenage adolescence all happened at the same place. It's formative."
Recent experiences also show through in Center of the Sun's style. Contes and Nolen sling riffs with a pile-driving intensity forged in Young and in the Way's aggressive fire. The rhythms bulge with sludgy density, recalling the blunt-force dynamics of Contes' old noise-rock outfit, Grids. Before moving back from Texas last September, Hoffmann performed with the electro-pop ensemble Peopleodian. Her graceful belts inhabit this heavier fare with a sprightliness more common in such hook-enthused material.
But the group resists the notion that the music is just a hodgepodge of elements borrowed from recent pursuits. Contes, for instance, is high on Center's '90s influences, explaining that he sees the grandiose guitar swells as an extension of his deep love for the Smashing Pumpkins. He's not wrong. The group's cathartic crescendos split the difference between Gish-era fuzz and the outsized drama of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Other hallmarks are easily pinned to Center of the Sun — the hypnotic distortion of My Bloody Valentine, the crushing density of Swans — but these guys are no revivalists. This is the sound of five fast friends remembering the music they once discovered together, reimagining it in a way that plays to their natural strengths.
"I wouldn't say it inflects at all," Contes says of the influence exerted by Center of the Sun's sibling projects. "Young and in the Way is a completely different project, genre, different group of people, different attitude on the band. I wouldn't say it crosses paths at all. As far as Grids, it's just like fucked-up noise-rock stuff that we had a lot of fun with and toured and put out a couple records. I think it just goes back to the '90s aspect of things. I remember being younger and listening to like a Smashing Pumpkins record, and certain things come in, like massive fucking guitars and fuzz pedals. I think the heaviness of that is what shines through mostly in our music. And I don't think the other bands have much to do with it except for shared members."
Center of the Sun is a separate vision, one that has been evolving for about three years. Contes and Gascho cut the project's first demo by themselves, working through loose ideas in the practice and recording space the outfit still occupies, one of very few things that hasn't changed along the way. Gascho was once the group's vocalist. Mullen was the drummer during an early iteration. The current line-up is the first one to play out or release an album, but Center of the Sun has been developing for a while, a point proven by the band's fully formed sound.
The band's Treasure Fest appearance also serves as Machine Gun's vinyl release party, further emphasizing the promising future that now seems in jeopardy. But Hoffman isn't worried. She and a few of the other members plan to soldier on, recording new material and building on what Center of the Sun has accomplished.
"It's just a hiatus," she assures via email. "There's a lot of busyness going on with one of our members. In the meantime, I, with a few of our other members, will be working on and writing some new material and maybe under another project name. The shoegaze sound remaining, we plan to introduce a more ethereal, atmospheric sound. Droning riffs and lofty vocals included. Evolution, dear Watson."