Our youth is often the time period that most informs our musical tastes as adults. And the Balsa Glider’s sound is indicative of the alternative rock and jangle pop styles that surfaced in Southern college towns in the `80s and `90s as alt-rock was beginning to really grab hold of the mainstream. While Chapel Hill (where the band members met) was gathering indie cred for bands like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, the members of Balsa Gliders were collecting professional degrees. Its members are all grown up now. Their day jobs include banker, lawyer, doctor, and Episcopal priest. But those years spent absorbing the Southeastern sounds of R.E.M. and Let’s Active certainly color its brand of rock nearly twenty years later.
A lot of bands of that era come to mind when I listen to its new EP “Photographic Friends.” The matter-of-fact vocal delivery with a slight whine reminds me of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore or Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus crossed with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, but without the slacker quality of those voices. The material ranges from bright, hopping jangle pop to more introspective.
You get a sense of nostalgia from the lyrics too - maybe some of the characters the group sings about are inspired by those from its past? The lyrics are like clever little puzzles hidden beneath bouncy pop songs that the listener can piece together with multiple listens. They aren’t necessarily cloaked in mystery, but include colorful details that flesh out their subjects. “Cable Came to Kinston” is pretty obvious, but that’s why I like it. There are also subtle musical touches as well such as the keys (which get a zippy solo) and backing “oohs” of the opening track “Cooleemee Girl” or the fluttery guitar picking as “Man the Mountain” builds to a close.
Producer Greg Elkins who has worked with Whiskeytown, Chris Stamey, and Birds of Avalon adds to the raw authenticity of the record.
The Raleigh-based sextet keeps two feet firmly planted in Charlotte (those of drummer Chuck Price) and the band’s main songwriter and vocalist Charles Marshall grew up in Charlotte and has family here. What’s becoming its annual winter show at Visulite Theatre is sort of a homecoming. The group, who got its start in DC, is back in Charlotte Thursday, December 15 at the Visulite with Yates Dew. Tickets are $10. Show starts at 8:45 p.m. 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com.