Fitter, Happier, More Productive: Roma 79, Praise the Divide

(Tuesdays can be a trying day here in Club Land at the RFT. It's deadline day for the show/concert listings, and this fact hangs over my head just like all of those foreboding elementary school (and high school and college) homework assignments that I would inevitably put off to the last minute. But Tuesdays always go off without a hitch, and it's all because the right music always seems to present itself. Each week I'll talk about what induces the trance-like state I need to become one with the listings.)

Since 2005, Roma 79 has released two solid albums on St. Louis' own Ascetic Records (2005's The Great Dying and 2008's Praise the Divide). But despite releasing some endlessly challenging, percussion-driven experimental pop, the San Francisco quartet has been largely overlooked by tastemakers and trendsetters. This could be because Roma 79's music is hard to get one's head around at first. Divide is the kind of album that starts sinking in on the second listen -- and really takes hold on the third and fourth.

The band's material tends to evolve stylistically from song to song, and incorporates hints of Midwest post-rock (huge drums, slightly complex time signature shifts), progressive rock flourishes (epic song lengths, keyboards and synth-patches placed over guitars) and melodic indie rock (think Death Cab for Cutie, but heavier on the abstract lyrical motifs and lighter on pop sensibilities).

These songs make up for their lack of catchy choruses and instantly gratifying hooks with slow-building dynamics and constantly morphing arrangements. Twinkling layers of syncopated percussion flourishes and loops mesh with arena-sized bursts of concert toms, tasteful acoustic drums and synthetic drum patches. These elements never get too busy, but can crescendo into bursts of overwhelming noise when absolutely necessary. For instance, the title track is one of Divide's mellowest, until an absolutely breathtaking wall of heavy guitar, piano and synthesizer chords errupt and ring out in majestic fashion for the last 90 seconds of the song.

Divide proves once again that it can be really fun to listen to music that has so many musical motifs and sonic textures -- as long as those motifs and textures are well-placed and tastefully executed. Roma 79 has this formula down pat.

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