There were lots of reasons to worry about the new Calla album. It was
taking a long time, for one thing. There had been no word out of the Calla
camp since the dark and ominous Televise, this writer's favorite
album in 2003. A live show at SXSW seemed OK, but not as cinematically
creepy as the band's best work. And, when any band as sexily low-end
driven as this one announces a change in bass players, eyebrows are
raised. Add to this the fact that drummer Wayne Magruder moved to Texas
and participated only long-distance, and reasonable people might be
Yet with Collisions, the Brooklyn-based,
Brit-gloom-referencing Calla have emerged from all this unscathed. Founding
member Peter Gannon picks up the bass where Sean Donovan left it, lending
menace and sinew to tracks like "This Better Go As Planned" and
"Pulverized." The pulse of nearly subliminal bass underlines Aurelio
Valle's secret-breathing vocals like the blood pounding in your ear when
someone whispers in it.
This is not to say that Collisions is the same as
Televise, only on a level with it, as if Calla's sound had
been supercharged, booster-rockets of anthemic energy fired under its
thoughtful gloom. In cuts like opener "It Dawned on Me," the sound is
bigger, brighter, more triumphant, yet still vibrates with suppressed
erotic energy. There's an unadulterated rock adrenaline in "Swagger,"
which does nothing to undercut its intelligent restraint.
Collisions peaks with the nuanced, gorgeous "So Far, So What,"
with its muted guitar chords and murmured vocal crescendos. "It's all
coming to a head," sings Valle, as the band hurls into a distorted vortex
of guitar feedback and triumphant climaxes. It's over though, almost as
soon as it starts, heading back to coiled, minimal tension. If you think
of the song's energy as a firehose, Calla have their collective thumb on the
opening most of the time, building the intensity to nearly unbearable levels,
releasing, building and releasing.
Hints of the bands that inspired Calla's sound Echo and the Bunnyman,
Joy Division, The Cure and the Jesus & Mary Chain can be discerned here
and there, but not in any obvious way. Among contemporaries, Calla now stand
alone, making dark, beautiful, intensely understated music that's as much landscape
as narrative story. It's just gotten slightly bigger and more
rock-oriented with Collisions.