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Posted March 19, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Chris Harris + Friends + Musicians = Subatomic Pieces

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Many of us are familiar with the two faces of the music industry: the performers and the executers. Behind the stage and hidden in recordings are the professionals who get the job done through mastering, mixing, recording, and publishing; all bringing out the greatest potential in talented performers. Chris Harris started behind the stage as a recording engineer out of Bell Labs, also owning a home studio in his native Norman, Oklahoma in which he calls Atomic Sound. In addition, he was the sound engineer on the Starlight Mints’ recent tour, blogging descriptively about life on the road here. For those who aren’t familiar with the Starlight Mints, I actually reviewed their album over a year ago in one of Obscure Sound’s first posts. Even with his regarded status, Harris always held musical aspirations close to his heart, whether he was visible to the public or not. As a sound engineer, he obviously knew a thing or two about songwriting and the completion of music. During his years surrounded by musicians, he learned a variety of instruments such as the guitar, bass, piano, and moog. Harris always dabbled in writing songs, though it was not until the winter of 2005 until he realized he had enough for an album of quality. As a sound engineer, he had his share of connections in the industry and enlisted the help of several proficient musicians to aid in his wishful task. Upon informing a couple good friends, drummer Sethy McCarroll and multi-instrumentalist Brent Wall, the trio set out to see what could become of Harris’ proposed album. After practicing for several weeks and settling on the name Subatomic Pieces (an ode to Harris’ favorite band The Flaming Lips and their song “When You Smile”), the trio began to see that Harris’ material was quite solid. McCarroll added some uplifting percussion work and Wall added his skills on guitar, drums, ebow, and piano. At that point, Harris had enough songs completed to release the album that would eventually be called Hold Out For Science. Still, he wasn’t quite satisfied. Harris felt that many of the songs could use more depth, eventually calling up bassist Matt Fowler and Brian Brewer, who has played lap steel in Cheyenne and Starlight Mints. Brewer added the lap steel on two of the tracks, “Something To Me” and “In Spite Of What”, and Harris was thrilled with the execution. Even after that, Harris wanted more. With his infatuation with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in mind, he had a yearning for trombone on his album. Ironically, Harris found out that his good friend Colin Ingersol was a gifted trombonist, eventually placing him on six various tracks. After Mickey Reece appeared on the album for a few guitar solos on “Hold Out For Science” and “Something To Me”, Hold Out For Science was finally complete.

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Harris’ debut is a rather interesting affair. His vocals, as he admits himself, are fairly rough even though they echo their own personal style, something he hoped will carry on like they did to the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Jeff Mangum, all extremely talented musicians who were not exactly blessed with the greatest voice but still used what they had. Harris’ vocals may have some moments where they are off-key, but his own unique style is certainly present. With a deep and booming presence, Harris reminds me slightly of Michael Gira, who used his intimidating vocal power to propel Swans to cult status. Hold Out For Science contains over ten varying musicians in total, explaining the numerous layers contained in most songs. “Something To Me” is an enjoyable piece of the album, with Brewer’s lap steel and Reece’s guitar licks being helpful additions in a rather solid song. The song is one of the most straightforward on the album, with Harris’ lyrical emphasis being on personal values with a familial touch. “I’ve had my ups and downs with family,” Harris pours out with his raw vocal delivery, “the people closest to us make us who we grow to be”. “Something To Me” was the last song written for the album. Initially intended to be slow piano ballad, it transformed into an alternative-country jam after Harris found the additions of McCarroll, Brewer, Fowler, and Reece to be dramatic. “Ripcord” is a nice display of Ingersol’s trombone usage. Clouded by the trombone, occasional synths, and guitars is a very simple love song. “Nothing brings me down when I’m with you,” Harris genuinely says, “nothing makes me frown when I’m with you”. Simplistic it is, but it also comes off honestly with a melody that is catchy enough to hold a tune. The little things do the song great justice, such as Wall’s quick piano swipe and McCarroll’s shifting percussion. The synths that enter mid-way through the song are a bit of a surprise but they pull off a sound natural enough to glide smoothly with the melody. The album’s opener “Probe” is quite different from the other two tracks that appear later on the album, mainly due to the fact that it expresses Harris’ influences a bit more loosely. For anyone who is familiar with early Flaming Lips, “Probe” is certainly somewhat in the same category. With a display of several distorted guitars over a moog and frantic percussion, Harris’ vocals sound faint but powerfully gratifying in distinguishing the beginning of Hold Out For Science as a period of intense alternative vibrations. For those curious as to what the photo above is, it’s the recording of the album’s finale, “Something Huge”, where Harris, his wife, some friends, and several of the collaborative musicians all sang during parts of the seven minute capper. If you manage to get past Harris’ unique vocal delivery, Hold Out For Science is a collection of impressively written songs that showcase a fine form of musicianship and collaboration. While several songs may sound rough initially, a few more listens will prove to be worthwhile. You can buy the album now on Little Mafia Records.

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Subatomic Pieces – Something To Me

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/subatomic-som.mp3]

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Subatomic Pieces – Ripcord

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/subatomic-rip.mp3]

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Subatomic Pieces – Probe

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/mp3/subatomic-pro.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].