Often experimental side projects, especially those from already established artists, emerge as little more than artistic cleanses. These musical journeys down the proverbial rabbit hole may be important for the development of the artist, but often fail to spark the curiosity of the listening public. Fortunately, CIVILS’ new Elliptical Peach EP avoids the trap of novelty while tapping into the anything-goes ethos of the Classic City. Drew Kirby (Mothers, New Wives) has been writing atmospheric bedroom pop as CIVILS since 2015, but Elliptical Peach is his first release which was written as what he calls a “complete musical statement.”
According to Kirby, the album was written to address themes “primarily concerning distance and leaving.” He wrote these songs while on tour, and though the album eventually progressed into something less self-concerned, each of the five tracks are bound to the passage of time. The highway hypnosis takes hold from the very first song, “Wide Open,” on which Kirby layers insistent humming over a gently clattering guitar. Elliptical Peach comes closer to a traditional album than Kirby’s previous efforts, but cohesion has never been a primary goal for CIVILS, the proof of which lies in the jarring transition between the down-tempo electronica of “Apple Prest Arms” and “Over Distance, the Lightest,” which evolves from jangle pop into something more emotionally intrusive.
Kirby recorded the EP on a Tascam 388 8-track tape machine, a step up from the 4-track recorders which he used on previous works, Young but Ugly and Hothouse Flowers. Mudhoney and the Black Keys may have used the Tascam 388 to indulge noise and grit, but Kirby’s recordings explore peaceful warmth beneath tape hiss. Even the scattered shuffle of “Sad Songs” displays his ability to carve intimate tracks from blurry tones and disengaged vocals. Though the track can be interpreted as a lo-fi answer to the dance rock futurism of John Foxx, it’s best understood through the lens of the rest of Elliptical Peach — as a prehensile combination of intentionality and spontaneity.