The Selmanaires' singer, guitarist and mini-Korg knob twiddler Herb Harris doesn't mince words as he shrugs his shoulders and exhales when asked about the divisive electronic sound of the Selmanaires' third, self-released CD Tempo Temporal. "We all got a little burned-out on the garage-rock scene around here," he admits. "We love the music and listen to a lot of it, but to allow ourselves to be pigeonholed by it, or any one genre of music in this day and age, is pretty ridiculous. We want to make music that is of the moment and vital now."
Their emboldened stance willfully parts ways with the Atlanta punk and garage-rock scene that weaned the group from its earliest days as a karaoke band before it grew into an arty, post-punk four-piece that toured the country with the Black Lips. But it's a fair admission from a band whose members – including Herb's twin brother, Jason Harris (drums, keyboards, samples), Tommy Chung (bass), and Mario Schambon (percussion) – are driven by a broader musical palette than three chords and a 4/4 beat.
It's a fundamental difference, however, from the sentiment shared by Chris Devoe and Zano Bathroom (née Eric Ludgood), who express humble gratitude toward the local rock scene. Together, Zano and Devoe make up the experimental hip-hop duo Social Studies, an act more likely to split a bill with a rock band than with those among Atlanta's indie hip-hop ranks. "There's definitely more support for what we do coming from the rock scene than anywhere else, but that's where we're from," says Devoe. Social Studies' latest CD, a mixtape titled Proxemics, even features a deconstructed rhythm from the Black Lips' cover of Jacques Dutronc's "Hippie, Hippie, Hoorah," chopped and buried in a mire of abstract beats.
With these respective releases, both the Selmanaires and Social Studies are honing an increasingly unique vision of their music. Despite their aesthetic differences, both have found fertile soil on the fringes of Atlanta's defined musical territories, and on Jan. 23 they will share the stage for a dual CD release party.
The Selmanaires' Tempo Temporal arrives as an unexpected merger of warm, electronic textures anchored by the familiar pop songcraft that defines the band's '06 debut Here Come the Selmanaires. Whereas their '08 release The Air Salesmen emerged as a mess of Kinks-style rock steeped in faux disco, Tempo Temporal is a stylish electronic pop album. Opening number "White Chrysanthemum" and the album's strongest cut "Resonance Alright" unfold with soft, drum-machine beats, breezy bass lines and analog ambiance. Like Kraftwerk playing dreamy lounge pop beaneath subtle tropicalia textures and sweeping songcraft, each number revels in a comfortable atmosphere of retro futurism. Other numbers, such as "Spun from Witch's Daughter," present a psychedelic return to the rock rhythms and '60s pop stylings the group previously hinted at, while "Vacant Land" builds with a droning, climactic atmosphere that summons the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" sans the Velvet's scratchy, sadomasochistic inclinations.
In many ways, the group's artistic trajectory resembles the transition that British post-punk founders Wire went through when they abandoned the terse rock of their '70s albums Pink Flag, Chair's Missing and 154 for the critically maligned '80s pop of The Ideal Copy. "We've been feeling ourselves out with different genres, but Tempo Temporal is the first time that we're coming up with our own original sound that maybe doesn't exist yet, or is based on a melting pot of a bunch of different sounds that we've explored and are now all coming together," says Herb.
By contrast, Social Studies' Proxemics finds Devoe crafting dark beats sculpted to fit Zano's rapid-fire, mostly improvised lyrical flow, creating a sound that the duo dubs "gothic snap music."
Since 2005 they've worked together, fostering a Dada-esque approach to cerebral hip-hop. Initially, the idea behind the recording was simply to document the chemistry that exists between them, but soon morphed into a mixtape. "I wanted it to get people's attention with recognizable musical elements, things that we really like," says Devoe. "Things like the Cure and Dem Franchize Boys are important in our musical developments." With Proxemics, every sound has been manipulated to carry their personal touches. The musical backdrop of the disc is a pastiche of chunks from such songs as the Cure's "A Forest," Bone Crusher's "Never Scared," and the Horrors' "Sea Within A Sea," all twisted to flow with a swift, stream-of-consciousness pace that matches Zano's brainy, complex rhyme schemes.
The CD functions like a hybrid of Lil Wayne's Da Drought 3 mixtape set to the tune of Freestyle Fellowship's Inner City Griots. On the surface, the flow comes across a bit cumbersome at times, but each word rings with dizzying momentum. Eighty percent of Zano's lyrics are completely freestyled, he says, which infects his delivery with an intense sense of urgency. "I'm not opposed to writing things down," Zano explains. "I just have a hard time memorizing what I write. So what does end up sticking are certain cadences rather than the exact wording."
His wordplay often mashes cryptic verbiage with a distinct intention and open-ended freestyle. Instead of titles, the songs are labeled with assignment numbers. On "Assignment 2," he launches into commentary on hip-hop's constant push to bring back the old-school, spouting, "The old school don't need no surrogates, though time is a linear the past is permanent/This dirge is an urge to invest more ergs to subvert the inertia of works you worship."
At times, Zano's lyrical excursions run so rampant that he has to keep them in check. "I have to rein it in or I'll start rhyming stupid things, like 'Fred sat on his head...'."
Both the Selmanaires and Social Studies are on a mission to refine their eccentricities, and they've honed their personal styles by exploring the periphery of their respective scenes. "We knew that we would alienate some fans of the older stuff but we're really going with our guts," the Selmanaires' Jason Harris adds. "Everyone might not like it, but for our own artistic purposes, we have to keep going like this."