Ask a handful of people to describe what a particular band sounds like and you’re bound to get a handful of different answers. That’s often even true from within the band itself. For the Daily Pravda, the Boston band who are set to release their second full-length, “Columbia,” tonight with a performance at The Pill at Great Scott in Allston, the reference points have always been easy to point out, at least for the outside listener.
Frontman David Jackel doesn’t entirely mind. “You know, there are worse bands to be compared to than David Bowie and Suede. No one wants to be pigeonholed, but to sound like David Bowie is a pretty great thing. If any artist has been able to maintain integrity and change his sound year after year, it’s Bowie. It opens a lot of doors. I don’t think we’re trying to sound like ’70s glam rock all the time, but Bowie’s done it all.”
That touchstone shows up right off the bat on “Columbia” with the theatrical rock flair of “I Can’t Take You Home” — particularly in Jackel’s vocal delivery and the mournful saxophone lead throughout. “Your Heart Is Boring” jumps ahead to the glam revival of the ’90s, channeling the epic melodramas of Brit-rock crooners Suede. “Wish You Were Her,” the album’s standout, sidesteps to Manchester for a Stone Roses-style guitar freakout from guitarist Adam Anderson, and a decidedly brothers Gallagher vocal delivery. In short, for fans waiting for the wheel of nostalgia to spin back round to Cool Britannia, it’s been going on under your nose this whole time in the clubs of Boston.
Reducing a band to the sum of their influences doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. The 11 songs on record here are ambitiously arranged and orchestrated numbers that make a run for harder-edged rock grooves like “Angels” and the pensive piano, accordion, and woodwind balladry of “Shauna Grant.” Just don't try asking Anderson about any of those comparisons.
“To be completely honest, I’m really sick of it. I don’t want to hear Bowie or Suede mentioned,’’ he says, only half joking. “Dave wears his influences on his sleeve in terms of vocal delivery and lyrics with Suede . . . but I don’t hear Bowie, I don’t hear ‘Life on Mars,’ I don’t hear ‘Metal Mickey.’ I just don’t get it. Any band with a charismatic lead singer and someone who can play the guitar with some level of proficiency is compared to Bowie. That’s where it ends with me.”
Regardless, what might be most notable and refreshing is the band trying to make a modern guitar-based record in 2013 in the first place. It would almost inevitably have to sound retro. “I think there’s a type of guitar rock that never quite sounds dated, even if it’s not forward-thinking,” Jackel counters. “Albums like the Velvet Underground and Nico, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Pixies’ ‘Doolittle,’ these all feel more current to me, or at least not bound to a specific time, compared with the most recent wave of synth pop. . . . Whereas much of the music that tries to sound cutting edge quickly ends up sounding dated.”
For “I Can’t Take You Home,” Jackel says he was more interested in writing a ’50s or ’60s-style song that could end up on the jukebox in a David Lynch film, and says there’s more Lou Reed and Pixies to be found throughout the record than seems obvious at first.
Some of this jumping around the temporal map has to do with the length of time the band spent recording, a process that took about 2½ years, and took them to four different studios throughout the city. The hold-up came from the discovery of a new secret weapon in their arsenal in the form of multi-instrumentalist Tom Roppelt, who joined around the time they began recording, and instantly increased their breadth of potential instrumentation.
“Tom changed our whole perspective on songwriting and how we would approach recording,“ Anderson says. “I went into this record wanting to sort of capture our live sound, very basic guitar, bass, drums, and vocals . . . but adding Tom, and his layers, his sort of take on the songs, we went back and kind of rewrote songs. . . . Tom can play pretty much every instrument on earth, so it was like, ‘Hey Tom, why not pick up a clarinet on this song?’ ”
(It might bear mentioning that the band, which also includes Ken Marcou on drums and Mike Gonzales on bass, first played with Roppelt while learning songs for a Bowie cover project.)
Looking back of a different sort plays a major role in the record’s lyrics, Jackel says. “I think a lot of the larger themes of the lyrics are based on nostalgia. . . . A lot of it comes out as stream of consciousness or misremembered dreams or snippets of conversations. Having listened to it after, I think the whole idea of the album is pangs of nostalgia and not being able to go back home.”