Review by Tia Forsman
Electric folk, psychedelic pop group Quilt released a brand new full-length album, Plaza, on Friday, February 26th. The album description on their label’s website explains the name Plaza to be “a meeting place, a crossroads, a coming together.” On the 26th, the band did indeed come together with their close friends and family at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to kick off a six-week-long tour and play Plaza live in its entirety for the first time. Across the street from the MFA is the SMFA--the School of the Museum of Fine Arts--where Shane Butler (guitar/vocals) and Anna Fox Rochinski (guitar/vocals) were both visual art students in 2009.
Plaza is the third full-length album from Quilt, following a self-titled album from 2011 and Held In Splendor from 2014. This new record builds strongly on the momentum of the earlier albums by adding new elements but also maintains their familiar 60’s inspired sound. The word “inspired” is vital in praise of Quilt’s latest album because they do not simply imitate other artists like The Beatles or Jefferson Airplane; they find their own niche among their psychedelic predecessors. When explaining the writing process of “Eliot St.”, the first single they released off of Plaza, to NPR, Butler clarified that they “were interested in going for a lot more of a contemporary approach…[and] the songs [they] were listening to in the studio for production inspiration were probably a lot different than what one might think when they hear the final product.” In short, Quilt found a way to bring the 60’s back to life without disturbing any graves but instead by creating their own version.
Each song on Plaza is a product of stitching together small snippets of sound. The name of the band says it all: they created a musical quilt. Heavily supported by twangy guitar riffs and catchy drums, songs like “Roller” and “O’Connor’s Barn” are audible representations of collaboration. During their kick-off show at the MFA, Quilt not only sewed together different elements of sound (including flute and a string quartet), but they also combined different visuals. Throughout their ninety minute set, a projector flashed videos behind them of an amalgamation of things: tourists observing erupting volcanoes, moving clay, people picking flowers, 60’s carpet cleaning ads, and airline commercials. Butler commented on the videos towards the end of their set: “Most people have psychedelic things playing behind them...I find this to be the most psychedelic thing out there....it's interesting to see how we [humans] came to be....how things are represented.” His comment spoke to a central theme in Plaza of human interaction and its complexities.
Butler took human interaction to a personal level by singing about his past lovers on “Eliot St.” and his late mother on “Padova.” “Eliot St.” opens with an honest confession: “I’ve been walking silently/Through the ghosts/Of what we’ve known/ They only showed us/ The sad signs of our start/Without the growth.” On the record’s first song, “Passerby,” Rochinski tackles the idea of human interaction in a more abstract way when she sings “knowing eyes of passersby gaze into mine.” Much like a fleeting moment of eye contact, a simple guitar line starts the song, but fades as quickly as a blink when Rochinski’s wistful voice joins in.
Indeed, one of the most enjoyable elements of Plaza is the variety of voices and lyrics present in the ten songs. Rochinski’s voice dominates some songs, while Butler’s voice carries others. Even their drummer, John Andrews, wrote and takes over lead vocals on “Something There,” the slow seventh track on the record about what he explained to NPR as the “concept of ‘you get what you give.’” Many albums with one lead singer can easily seem centered on a singular voice, and Plaza provides a variety of perspectives and stories through its patchwork of vocals. “Something There” is in fact a wonderful example of how all of the members’ voices brilliantly blend in breathtaking harmonies.
Ultimately, Quilt stayed true to their synthesized style, but added more layers in Plaza than their previous albums. Despite all the different elements the band added, from strangely tuned guitars to harp solos, Plaza feels everything but disjointed. It is a true resemblance of musical chemistry, and Butler summed this idea up perfectly when he explained to NPR that their song “Own Ways” came about in a purely collaborative way; it “never had its final form until [they] were all in the studio.”