By Mike Faloon
Think Buzzcocks, Clean, and/or early Figgs and you’re getting a sense of the Reports. Dinamo Cambridge, the band’s second LP, is full of short, up tempo pop songs distinguished by fuzzy guitars and vocals that are just beyond the grasp, easy to hum along with, not so easy to pick up the lyrics, which hardly gets in the way.
The title track is the centerpiece. It’s just over 12 minutes long and could easily go on twice as long. It’s a beautiful mix of hypnotic keyboard, guitar, and bass lines. The song is largely instrumental — vocals surface every two minutes or so but they’re on the periphery, almost like another instrument that they periodically bring up in the mix and then fade out. Taken as a whole the track seems dense but when you follow the threads you realize that aren’t that many parts and each of those parts is relatively simple. It’s all in the placement and the subtle shifts — a punk rock take on Steven Reich. The drums push things along but resist the urge to fill the space with heaps of fills (are there any?), often keeping time on the rim of the kick drum in place of hi-hat or ride.
“Dinamo Cambridge” seems to pick up where title track of their debut album (Mosquito Nets, 2007) left off. (See interview below) But whereas that song put the vocals and guitar front and center, “Dinamo Cambridge” is more decentralized, more of a swirl. It’s a fantastic song.
The Reports’ guitarist and singer, Martin Pavlinic, was kind enough to field a few questions. (Interview by Mike Faloon)
Go Metric: With the song “Dinamo Cambridge,” what was the balance of written out/sketched out vs. improvised? Related to that, was this a studio only song or one that you play out live?
Martin Pavlinic: It began as a massive improvised cloud that, over the course of many months, coalesced into a composed piece. Usually we start practice with some manner of inchoate warm up jam, but for whatever reason, this one lasted for about half of practice, and we noted what we liked about it and started to refine it into an actual thing rather than just discarding it as a pile of nonsense like we usually do with our practice warm up.
We played it live for about a year and a half before recording it, and it was daunting to try to think of how to treat it in the studio. The first time we played it, the song was our whole set, and lasted about 28 minutes. It settled into a regular 8-12 minute feature in about half our sets, the more we laid down guidelines and cues. The version on the record was the only take we recorded.
GM: A band I was in once wrote a 7-8 minute tune. It was a leap for us so we listened to a lot of longer songs by pop bands (Figgs “Tint,” Weezer “Only in Dreams,” Berserk “Lucifer Chin”) in order to hear how they’d stretched things out. Were there any particular bands and/or songs you used as templates?
MP: I'm a huge fan of extremely long songs and repetitive compositions by pop bands and non-pop bands. That said, I can't think of "templates" as much as I think we in the band all share an affection for that kind of patient repetition, and so have internalized a lot of the lessons taught by the best bands. If you find a riff or a pattern you can live in, then there's no reason not to live in it for a very long time, and one day we found that riff.
You should be able to visualize a pop song as a perfect closed package. Beginning to end should be a coherent thought, and that coherence is the strength of the song. But on the other hand, long songs like "Sister Ray," "Mother Sky," the entire Spacemen 3 catalog, Harmonia's Live 1974 album, "Spec Bebop" by Yo La Tengo, "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" by The Clean, "Sheets of Easter" and many others by Oneida, etc. aren't about beginnings or ends. I'll bet that none of those started as a short song where they thought "how do we extend this?" They've all got an endlessness to them, and at some point you open it and at some point you close it, and sure, there's undulations and lulls and climaxes, but those aren't the point. If the main spine of those songs were to repeat for literally 2-3 hours or longer, they'd still work (and probably be surprisingly compelling and awesome). It's not about stretching anything, if anything it's deciding how short to make this potentially endless thing.
GM: Longer songs tend to lead to polarized reactions — punk/pop/indie fans tend to embrace such songs or reject them. I know they have can similar effects within bands too — everyone galvanized by the process of pushing the boundaries together (best case scenario) or one or more band members resisting, coming along hesitantly (worst case scenario). Where were you guys along that continuum?
MP: We were all really excited when we got it to work. After the first time we kind of spontaneously wrote it, we decided to make it our set at the next show (it was with 4 other punk and hardcore bands, figured we'd be cheeky). Then over the next 18 months or so it came together as a coherent single piece, probably the biggest single collaboration by all the members of the band. We really like writing our fast noisy pop songs, but this song gave us something to play with the same energy but smaller moves could have bigger effects, and let us play around in a totally different way, and I definitely hope to revisit the move in the future too, and explore new long-form ideas.
GM: Your debut album, Mosquito Nets, also featured a lengthy title song toward the end of the record. To what extent is "Dinamo Cambridge" a reaction to "Mosquito Nets"?
MP: I've never thought of it as a reaction, its more that both songs worked in the second half better, in my opinion. “Dinamo” is much more of a "title track" in my mind than “Mosquito Nets,” which I just thought had the best title of all the songs, rather than somehow holding the key to the record, haha.
GM: What's "Dinamo Cambridge" refer to?
MP: In Eastern Europe and Russia, Dinamo is a pretty popular name for sports clubs. For example, the biggest soccer teams in Russia, Ukraine and Croatia are Dinamo Moscow, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb, respectively, and there's plenty of others, and I think it sounds so awesome while also being evocative of this sort of grey concrete Eastern Europe vibe. Joe, the drummer, and I are both Croatian as well, and I wanted the album and the centerpiece song a club name that would make a sideways reference to our ancestral homes.