After struggling to settle into a listening routine with Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty), the sprightly debut from Bay Area trio Cryptacize, I decided to take the recording for a walk. Buoyed by the sudden spring weather, I floated down Harrison to the candy-striped fuzz of "Heaven Is Human," and before long, found certain street noises complementarily weaving their way into the track. "Bells are ringing / Gates are singing," Nedelle Torrisi coos on "Cosmic Sing-A-Long," before bandmate Chris Cohen joins to harmonize on the gentle rallying cry, "Every note is an unfinished song."
Cryptacize's numbers are arranged as twisty medleys, their frequent stops and starts redolent of the impressionistic fragrance of melody. Torrisi and Cohen previously explored similarly horizontal song structures together in the Curtains, but the addition of percussionist Michael Carreira who plays drums as if he were painting and proper duets lend Cryptacize a markedly easygoing, domestic air. Sharp melodic inversions and time changes are softened by Torrisi's and Cohen's disarmingly sweet voices and a general balancing of tunefulness with cacophony.
As with Cohen's earlier band Deerhoof, Cryptacize strives for the development of a private musical language rather than the typical filtering of influences. "We never really jam," Cohen e-mails from his Oakland home, "but some songs are sections designated as free tempo so we [just have to] follow each other's movements out of the corners of our eyes. There are also parts where we improvise on a specific theme or riff, but these moments are built into a song." This kind of programmed free association is especially evident on more mosaic pieces like "Heaven Is Human," but instead of resulting in free-jazz confusion or Deerhoof density, Cryptacize's wide-eyed stitch often seems like the score to an imaginary musical.
Part of this stems from the album's isoutf8g production, in which the multiplicity of the compositional elements plays against a sparing sound. The overdubs are few and far between, and the silences many. "Hearing parts separately was important to us for this album. We wanted the listener to have lots of empty space," writes Cohen. Even on thicker-sounding productions like "We'll Never Dream Again," the two guitar tracks are panned to either side, emphasizing the song's moving parts on headphones.
One can be forgiven for picturing a stage while listening to these wide expanses. It's there in the plaintive opening of "The Shape Above," the pitched mood swings on "How Did the Actor Laugh?," contemplative confessionals like "Water Witching Wishes," and the outstretched verses of "Stop Watch." When I ask Cohen about it, he fills me in on his and Torrisi's youthful exposure to musical theater and sings the praises of Leonard Bernstein. "Mike actually isn't a big fan of show tunes, although we did turn him on to our favorite, West Side Story, when we were on tour in October," Cohen e-mails, before explaining the theatrical roots of the disc's inviting title: his father, an aspiring collegiate composer, cowrote a musical review of the same name. He lent the title to Cryptacize "cautiously," Cohen continues, "warning us that his cowriters might sue us!"
Legal proceedings notwithstanding, Cryptacize has all the qualifications to reinvent the rock opera. In the meantime, the band is readying Dig That Treasure's prismatic pop for the road, angling for bewitchment. "Since we don't exactly bombard the audience with volume," writes Cohen, "Nedelle has developed a set of hand movements to hypnotize them."