Feeding off each other’s energy, productive beat maker Nordwind and thoughtful lyricist Smith wrote a handful of songs before they ever met in-person. Over time, PYYRAMIDS’ sound began to emerge, favoring stripped back instruments mixed with electronic elements and layered with Smith’s laid-back soulful vocal delivery to produce a mystical, intimate sound. Critics have said of Smith’s crooning it’s as if “Billie Holiday grew up listening to The Smiths.” “I’ve never really heard indie music with a voice like that,” Nordwind explains. “It adds three-dimensionality to the moods, beats and chords.”
In 2011 PYYRAMIDS released their first EP, Human Beings, on independent label Paracadute. The 6-song EP gained traction in the underground with savvy music bloggers from across the globe championing the band. Videos for tracks “That Ain’t Right” and “Don’t Go” garnered online attention and warmed hearts, igniting the imagination with a kaleidoscopic wonderland of saturated color and a cheeky playfulness tinged with haunted mystery.
2012 saw PYYRAMIDS translate their sound from the online arena out into the world with live shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
Following these successful shows, the band wrote and recorded the tracks that were fated to become the band’s full-length debut album, Brightest Darkest Day due out on Paracadute on April 9. Made in Nordwind’s basement studio, with the final tracks recorded at Dan Konopka of OK Go’s studio, the full-length gives a nod to their EP while moving forward into PYYRAMIDS’ next phase of evolution. “There’s a pop sensibility to the album that’s bright but the sound and delivery is dark,” offers Smith. “Don’t Go,” a holdover from the Human Beings EP, is a perfect example of this bright pop-sensibility infused with darkness, as Smith croons to her jilted (ex) lover over a bouncing bass-line and angular guitar assaults that are stuck somewhere between the dance-floor and the arena.
Nordwind describes the album’s mood and lyrical themes as the struggle for happiness, of “trying to ride the delicate balance” of being in an intimate relationship. “Nothing I Can Say” conjures this struggle, reflecting on challenges of connection in a symbolic manner, shrouding Smith’s vocals in psychedelic haze and tearing the song’s sound apart at the seams so that it sounds as if it could fall apart at any moment, stretching it out like taffy to build tension and yet never providing an easy answer to the difficult questions posed in Smith’s lyrics. “Is there nothing I can say? / Is there nothing I can do?” repeated over and over captures the desperation of what some relationships can bring. “[It’s about] the madness that can come from trying to communicate with someone that you love who is having a hard time communicating back to you,” says Nordwind.
Mixed by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, MGMT), and Dan Konopka of OK Go, Brightest Darkest Day finds PYYRAMIDS venturing into fresh territory. Experimenting with sonic landscapes on the album’s title track, Nordwind takes a hypnotic drum loop and adds icy synths, a bass-line that bubbles up from the depths, and haunting strings, all adding up to something that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Gorillaz record. This is a darker vision of pop that intersects at the drugged-out clubs at 2 am and the hidden alleyways of the imagination.
Pyyramids comes as a reinvention for both players and steps into new, wild territory. For Nordwind, the guy with the bass, beard, and glasses in OK Go, Pyyramids’ expansive textures find him far from the bright indie pop and all-inclusive videos that have made OK Go one of the most recognizable—not to mention most-watched—acts of the digital age. (Though that doesn’t mean Pyyramids won’t try their hand at videos.) For Smith, formerly the saucy half of the electro-pop duo He Say She Say—and a stint with Lupe Fiasco—it brings her songwriting into a place of bold new maturity without sacrificing the force of her singular presence. For both, it is an unlikely partnership entirely befitting of the new age.
Connected by a mutual friend in Chicago two years ago, the pair struck up an email correspondence that, by the magic of the internet, soon transformed into a small torrent of music. Bonding first over dark British pop from the early ’80s like The Smiths and Joy Division, and stranger more modern fare like Michachu and the Shapes, Nordwind and Smith were natural collaborators. An inveterate home recorder with piles of songs, beats, and sketches leftover from OK Go writing work, his People project, and a fairly unceasing productivity, Nordwind first passed along beats that Smith layered vocals over in GarageBand. Only meeting in person for the first time months later, the cyber collaboration transformed when Smith visited Nordwind in Los Angeles, where they polished off a half-dozen tracks working face-to-face, and where Smith was soon to relocate to work on Pyyramids and other projects.
In addition to the four-song vinyl, Pyyramids comes in digital form, too, featuring a remix of “Human Beings” by Nordwind’s OK Go bandmate Dan Konopka, also his co-star in an increasingly absurd series of 3D movie tributes on YouTube. Between the alt-rock tensions of “That Ain’t Right” and heavy riffage and cooing chorus of “Animal,” Pyyramids’ beyond is an inviting one indeed, a long-promised map back to the buried valley of the dance-rock hook.
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