The world is big and bounteous, but, let’s face it, often menacing and really quite mysterious- and the times call for music prepared to deal with this beautiful mess. Thus, we have Division Day: a fitting name for a young band unafraid of leaping into uncharted musical terrain to challenge same-old rock’s timid complacence.
The L.A.-based foursome’s debut full-length Beartrap Island stands as a wildly diverse combination of both supremely hard-hitting and finely-shaded exploratory tracks. Like its rather portentous title might suggest, the album takes the listener on a tour of a mysterious and ultra-moody place, where they will find scenes of both utter exhilaration and fearsome foreboding. It’s a place that might, just might, refer in passing to the band’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
Says Ryan, “There’s a pervasive sense of isolation here [in Los Angeles]. We’re surrounded by noise, or surrounded by people, or things, but we’re alone. Underneath all of this, there’s tons of things hidden and tucked away, and the diversity is welcoming at one point and scary at another.”
Division Day songs, for which Rohner writes the lyrics, often feature strange creatures or bizarre characters, and lush, dense settings. “There’s a host of natural phenomena in these songs,” explains Rohner. “Bugs, jackals, snakes, trees, sparrows, crows, rivers, oceans, mud, fire, tar, blood. And then there’s a human presence within this environment- paths moving through forest, sky, water.”
Yet while these paths may widely diverge, there’s an overall cohesion to the experience that makes Beartrap Island a time and place to return to again and again. “Hopefully a sense of place emerges from these elements,” says Rohner, “and hopefully it speaks as much to psychoemotional topography as to external landscape.
At the time of their inception in 2001, they could at least agree on the essential greatness of Radiohead and Flaming Lips; however, it was only after the group went their separate ways to travel, study, and work various day jobs that things got interesting. When they got back together, they noticed that they had each followed their own muse to a distinct and sometimes mutually exclusive spot on the musical map, and subsequently, their dissimilar strands of curiosity began to come together in an evocative and memorable way.
Says Ryan, “Rohner had a lot of songs before I joined the band, so when we got together we were kind of like, `Well, let’s turn some of these songs that Rohner made into full band songs.’ But as we grew older and spent time apart, we all had time to marinate in our own personal interests, and then when we came back together, we were all into different music, and we’ve moved on from there.
“We’ve always had this joke,” he adds: “Every time we get together to make some songs, it’s like ‘The New Division Day Recording: Not For Fans of Division Day,’ ’cause it’s always changing.”
Recorded in 7 long weekends over the course of 2005 at producer/engineer Scott Solter’s (John Vanderslice, the Mountain Goats, Court and Spark) San Francisco-based analog studio, Beartrap Island has been augmented with a few new songs for its debut on Eenie Meenie Records. The dreamy titular track, a short drumless hymnal of choirboy vocals, organ and resonant electric guitar squawk, gives way to the jarringly thumping though melody-rich sing-alonger “Ricky,” evolving into deeper textural ground in the meshed keys/guitars/vocals of “Catch Your Death.” By the time disc’s finale of “Is It True What They Say?” rolls ’round, they’ve already tumbled through the gates of punk-funk onto the electro back porch of their beloved Gary Numan and Japan, but not before “Hurricane” finds them actually flirting with jazzy lounge ambience. (Says Ryan, laughing, “Somebody compared it to Fleetwood Mac. It’s got that similar sort of smoothness to it, which is cool.”)
The swirling, melancholy wash of “Lights Out” is met by the raging “To the Woods”, a tonic force that, while maintaining Beartrap’s broad surrealism, plants feet back on earth and calls attention to the importance of a clear head and resolute heart. Interspersing these tracks, the deceptively simple and spacious dub-style “Hand to the Sound” tips you off, should you have by now missed the point, that these guys leave themselves open for full-on swan dives into the dauntingly huge world of sound- a brave stance, all things considered.
While Beartrap was still in the throes of nascence, the band played numerous live dates, becoming in the process a toothsome, four-pronged playing machine that thrilled their growing legion of fans at CMJ and South By Southwest with the taut precision and heady passion of their attack. They also completed their first music video, directed by Josh Forbes of Winch & Pulley. An upcoming EP of cover tunes is in the works, and they’ll soon be appearing live at a venue near you.
Meanwhile, take a trip to Beartrap Island, a wondrous state of mind from which you’ll likely never want to escape. “It’s a grower record,” says Ryan, “and it’s the sound of a growing band.”
And, says Kevin, the music will continue to morph: “Every new batch of songs feels different from the last batch of songs. For us it’s natural, it’s how we’ve always worked. If we were other people, maybe we would’ve been one band and then reformed as another band and then quit and reformed as another band. But we just had a stake in being called Division Day.”