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Modern Skirts get a musical makeover

Athens band sheds poppy sound for rhythmic grit

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Sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize the look you're sporting isn't as flattering as you once thought. So it is that Modern Skirts recognized the need to give their old sound the heave-ho.

The Athens band formed in early 2004 and, by summer of the next year, had released the well-regarded debut LP Catalogue of Generous Men. They followed that with 2008's All Of Us In Our Night, recorded with help from David Lowery and Mike Mills. But they were already chafing at the confines of their musical style.

"That first record is really poppy, a lot of piano. It's just what we did when we first met," says bassist Phillip Brantley. "We sat on it for three years and people pigeonholed us into this nice piano indie-pop band, which isn't what we were or what we were ever going to be. We've learned a lot and the sound has changed."

The genesis for the change came by way of singer/guitarist James Gulley's four-track bedroom recordings. Composed on his vast collection of old analog keyboards with "crazy, very Japanese, pre-programmed settings," the recordings were "fucked up," Gulley says. But the quartet rallied behind the new approach and headed to New Orleans to recreate his vision in the studio with better fidelity and a broader scope. The resulting tracks feature synthetic keyboards, rhythmic beats and a grittiness missing from their polished pop.

Though the band risks alienating old fans, they feel impelled to explore their more adventurous impulses. "We're just now hitting our stride, even if it is maybe too little too late," Brantley says.

They've begun integrating the new material into sets, and the response has been "more enthusiastic than anything we've ever done before," says Brantley. They'll be mixing the new album down later this month, and if Modern Skirts doesn't find a good label deal, they'll release it themselves by late spring or early summer.

"My mom hated it the first time I played it for her," Brantley confesses. "Honestly, that reaction was expected and made me feel we might be going in the right direction. Parents shouldn't like your records."

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