LeMaster & Commander 

Athens' Now It's Overhead finds rewards in the act of yearning

It's a feeling so endemic to humanity that it's spawned self-help movements, religions and scores upon scores of rock bands: that circling sense your life is missing something; something a little indefinable and, frustratingly, just out of reach. It's a feeling that Athens fixture Andy LeMaster knows well, a looming feeling that permeates the subtly danceable grooves and pensive, atmospheric eddies of Fall Back Open, the second album from LeMaster's aptly named band Now It's Overhead.

"The songs are kind of like searches for fulfillment," says LeMaster during a break at Athens' Chase Park Transduction Studios, which he co-owns and co-runs with producers Andy Baker (the Glands) and Dave Barbe (formerly of Mercyland and Sugar). "[The album] is kind of a cycle, of searching and finding, and realizing that's not it and starting over."

Close listening bears out that summation, from the robust propulsion and restless imagery of "Wait In a Line" to the kinetic jangle and everything-is-coming-unglued lyricism of the sprawling "Reverse." The band's 2001 debut (the first Saddle Creek release from a non-Omaha, Neb.-based act) covered similar terrain, tracing the arc of a single romantic relationship through to its dissolution. But neophytes shouldn't infer that Overhead's synth-rock and '80s new wave, alternately gauzy and visceral, translate into the aural equivalent of extra-strength Zoloft.

Yes, the record's slabs of echoing guitar reverb, ebb-and-tide arrangements and plaintive vocal lines create an unmistakable air of dissatisfaction. But LeMaster's yearning is focused, not defeatist, wistful instead of whining. "There is not what I want/In a mountain peak/ There is not what I want/In a valley deep/I don't know," he muses on the deliberate "Turn & Go." On "The Decision Made Itself," LeMaster declares, "It was a long year and I wasted it/Now each breath's getting shorter," with an emotional clarity that suggests the bright melancholy of Australian psychedelic forefathers the Church, or blue-collar Nashville rocker Matthew Ryan's hard-won peace through resignation to life's cold truths.

That intensity doesn't spring, however, from a need for LeMaster to purge himself of any demons. "I'm a very happy person," says LeMaster with a bit of a chuckle, acknowledging the questing spirit of his work. "I love what I do. I just started writing songs. It wasn't something I set out to do, but I kind of recognized it and went with it."

Now It's Overhead, then, is more a function of LeMaster's jones to create, to be involved in as many aspects of music-making as he can physically handle. He's already racked up an impressive resume -- in addition to his work at Chase Park, he's toured and recorded extensively with Omaha's Bright Eyes, whose albums he's engineered. But something, he concedes, will have to give at some point. "Now It's Overhead is becoming [more of] a focus for me," says LeMaster. "It's hard to do [everything] equally at once. You spread yourself thin."

That may be one reason LeMaster is so quick to credit the contributions of others, and cops to being something of a sponge, absorbing ideas from his fellow musicians including Overhead bandmates Clay Leverett (drums), and Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink of Omaha-by-way-of-Athens duo Azure Ray. "Having people whose musical input I value involved in the project is certainly vital," says LeMaster, "because it helps you step back and reconsider things in a new, fresh way."

Although Fall Back Over was just released, LeMaster is well on his way to a completed third album. Don't look for him to predict whether or how much it will resemble its predecessors. But he does admit that certain themes are likely to recur.

"The words that come to mind [to describe the music] are pretty cheesy, like 'catharsis' and 'therapy,'" says LeMaster. "But it is kind of like that. I don't think it's just blatant, like emo, for God's sake. But it does have a confessional element. And to me, [when] pop songs have that element, bringing things out in the open, on the clothesline, it's kind of healing.

"Hopefully, there's a balance. My goal isn't to say bad things and bring everybody down."



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