Philip Frobos pauses when asked if Carnivores, the band in which he sings and plays bass, is a punk band. "You could say we're a punk band," he offers, "but we're a punk band in the way that the Pixies were a punk band, or the way the Replacements, the Minutemen and Pavement were punk bands. The roots are there but we're going somewhere else with them."
To get a handle on where Carnivores (formerly Chainstereo) takes these roots, it requires a psychedelic trek into lo-fi tropicalia, lounge and death-afflicted sound collages that defy easy categorization. Frobos – along with Nathaniel Higgins (guitar), Caitlin Lang (keyboard/vocals) and Tauseef Anam (drums) – splatters songs with a clutter of fuzz and musical inflections that come off busy at first. But every rhythm, melody and yearning voice is placed exactly where it's needed. The spirit of punk is undeniable in its presence, but the experimental bend of the songs is on par with the likes of Animal Collective, Faust and even the harmonic complexities of early Beach Boys records.
From the sad, ethereal pace of "For Griffin" to the bouncy, Brazilian flare of "Heart of Copper" on the band's debut, All Night Dead U.S.A., (due in March on Double Phantom), Carnivores shows genuine enthusiasm for exploring the fringes of fun, exotic music. Drummer Anam studies music at Emory University where he dabbles in everything from Samba to classical. The rest of the group springs from the traditions of homespun DIY. Their strengths and weaknesses provide a counter-balance of chaos and considered songwriting.
Frobos and Anam provide a simple bottom-end to each song, over which Lang and Higgins create dissonance. "We don't want to get too fancy or showy," Frobos says. "[Anam and I] like to keep it classy, but then Caitlin and Nathaniel come in with the melodies and just beat it down until it's the perfect middle ground."
It's a middle ground where Carnivores' skewed take on punk and worldly roots finds its own sense of direction.