Rating:Revisiting the two LPs and single EP that make up Lansing-Dreiden’s combined musical output, it’s impossible not to mention the Miami multimedia art collective’s bizarre relation to the press and their fans. The quote that tends to end up in every review of their music – all released between 2003 and 2006 – is that Lansing-Dreiden doesn’t even call themselves a band, instead insisting they’re in fact “a company that sees no distinction between art and commerce – or anything else.” This shadowy description, combined with the group’s refusal to play live and a dedication to remaining anonymous, cultivated an air of high-brow inapproachability that reads as either magnificently pompous or a bizarre method of garnering attention. Either way, it’s hard to determine exactly how much any of this matters when listening to any of the three Lansing-Dreiden records; that forcefully cultivated mystique proves to be a distraction when lyrics are buried under dense layers of guitar, synths and reverb.
This year Mexican Summer is remastering and releasing vinyl editions of all three albums. Pulling aside and forgetting the veil of art-pomp marketing Lansing-Dreiden so carefully constructed, how does the music itself fare a decade later? All three feature the group’s distinctive lack of musical focus, jumping around from song to song, working in ideas culled from psychedelic ’60s pop, late ’80s rock, and post-punk. Underneath that ever-present reverb-heavy production, diverse melodies feature hints of orchestral Pet Sounds extravagance and the occasional burst of new-wave meets Depeche Mode kitsch. Even on tracks that create a swirling, textural haze – like the five ambient exercises that close The Incomplete Triangle – Lansing-Dreiden never sounded particular settled or confident. The references are impeccable, but all that jumping around rarely created moments that Lansing-Dreiden could really call their own.
Perhaps that’s why each of the three albums features a few expertly crafted songs that go beyond style. The Incomplete Triangle opener “Metal on a Gun” launches into a driving dream pop rhythm with a flutter of multi-tracked vocals bouncing around the soundstage, the combination as tense and attention-grabbing as anything Lansing-Dreiden would ever release. The six-part saga that starts with “Desert Lights” and ends with the five ambient electronic tracks is similarly engaging, demonstrating the group’s command of sounds that seem futuristic, even if they’re technically retro and decidedly uncool. The A Sectioned Beam EP suffers from a lack of ideas while still managing to sound scattered and a little bit fleeting, but its first two tracks make up for it. “Locks in Shadows” channels bouncy ’60s pop with a focused intensity that’s rarely noticeable on their other work, while “Spectrum of Vapor” creates a woozy, narcotic-like bliss that has aged remarkably well despite the song’s relatively amorphous melody. Listening to “Spectrum of Vapor,” it’s no surprise Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear is a fan.
While all three releases make for an appealing combined package, 2008’s The Dividing Island is easily the most interesting offering of Lansing-Dreiden’s musical career. Single “A Line You Can Cross” contrasts low, mumbled verses and a falsetto refrain, the song’s tempo suddenly shuddering and shifting under warped synths. “Our Next Breath” works in similar rhythm changes, but ultimately stalls because they’re far too frequent. The Dividing Island closes with the ridiculously titled “Dethroning the Optimyth,” frantic metal riffs cribbed from Slayer or Queensryche translating Lansing-Dreiden’s dreamy production into a very different genre. Even with that last track, The Dividing Island feels more concise than its two predecessors, all of the dynamic stylistic changes working towards an exotic whole. Lansing-Dreiden’s music improved over time, even if their public-facing demeanor didn’t.