Atlanta has rediscovered its indie rock strut. The emergence throughout the past half-decade of Deerhunter, Black Lips, and Gentlemen Jesse as national heavyweights did more than just raise the city's outside profile: It sparked a fire underneath the underground Atlanta's collective fanny. Soon, a new crop of budding musicians began to recognize that there was indeed life beyond Little Five Points. These kids were no longer simply satisfied with the dwindling East Lake house-show circuit or the possibility of a monthly slot at the Earl. They wanted more.
Carnivores is part of this rising generation of fresh-faced Atlanta bands (along with Balkans, the N.E.C., and Mermaids) who have been taking notes — and learning from their elders' mistakes. "We all realized," says guitarist and vocalist Nathaniel Higgins, "that a lot of [bands] fall into what we call the Atlanta syndrome. They never tour enough to support themselves, and they just stay stuck in Atlanta. Deerhunter and the Black Lips [toured] really hard. If you work at it enough, things can happen."
Carnivores' raucous new album, If I'm Ancient (Double Phantom), is a testament to the band's tenacity and talent. In the middle of sessions at Decatur's New Street Studio, the business shuttered its doors. Rather than let the setback deter their vision, Carnivores enlisted Cyrus Shamir — a local producer who worked on T.I.'s Urban Legend — to help complete the project. Bassist and singer Philip Frobos insists the switch was a blessing in disguise. "We had a lot of time to sit and work on the other half of the album," he says. "We realized we kind of wanted to do something a little darker. More mature, more cohesive."
Like Deerhunter's Cryptograms — the result of a similar recording situation — If I'm Ancient feels like two separate albums crammed into one concise package. There's the noisy, brain-ripping Carnivores — see opener "Feral Children," with its steady blasts of piercing drone — and then there's the melodic doo-wop surf of tunes like "Planet Dream" and "Salts to Mine," the latter of which features keyboardist Caitlin Lang as lead vocalist. Her sultry, languorous singing serves as a potent counterpart to Higgins and Frobos' pointed phrasings. It's a role that fits her nicely, and one the band would do well to exploit further.
Higgins' professed love of "records with a lot of variety" is reflected in the album's manic moxie. At times, the disparity between the band's Jekyll and its Hyde is jarring: The newer material sounds generally warmer and more spacious, while the rest is content to simply skull-fuck. More often than not, though, this balancing act works in Carnivores' favor, and If I'm Ancient holds up swimmingly to wide-lens examination. It's not simply a collection of songs but the band's first real statement.
At the core of that statement is "Georgia Power Company," the album's longest track (pushing four minutes) and its undoubted centerpiece. It's the strongest, strangest thing the band has committed to tape, all swirling, shaped feedback and teasing half-dance rhythms. It sounds like everything and nothing else happening in indie music today. Most notably, it finds Carnivores successfully melding their two combating halves for the first time — a development that certainly bodes well for the group's future.
"We're so far ahead of ourselves," says drummer Ross Politi. "We're all constantly coming up with ideas. I think that's what makes the band interesting. We're taking our time and really getting experimental with the future." If I'm Ancient dropped this week, but already Carnivores look beyond. An upcoming EP is complete ("more traditional punk stuff," says Higgins), and plans for a post-punk, goth-influenced full-length are in the works. Think "Bauhaus, Pylon, Echo and the Bunnymen. A lot darker, but still with hooks. It won't be total weirdo stuff."
For now the group looks toward its CD release show on Saturday at the Earl, where it will share the stage with Austin, Texas, garage revivalists Woven Bones, Brooklyn's So So Glos and Atlanta punk rebels the Coathangers. "We want it to be a big party," says Lang. After that it's a quick trek to New York City for CMJ, where, with any mixture of luck and justice, the rest of the world will begin to know Carnivores' name.
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