By Ty Simmons
Local musicians and LSU seniors Levee Daze are no newcomers to making music. They’ve spent four years together as a band, and keyboardist Dom DeJuilio and Andrew Borniak have been playing together for eight.
With their experience comes a mature and measured philosophy of recording, which is becoming rarer and rarer in today’s single-driven world: a deep respect for the album as a coherent, sonic experience. On their first, eponymous release, that’s what they try to accomplish.
When recording the record in Austin’s Eastern Sun Studios, Levee Daze had more than 20 choices for songs to put on the record, byproducts of so many live performances and jam sessions. Eventually, however, they boiled that number down to seven. The transitions were polished and the themes were condensed.
They made an admirable point to choose not necessarily the best songs, but the ones that worked best together.
For all its proficiency and sonic contiguity, however, Levee Daze is almost too perfect. It has a bit of a live feel, but with excellent mastering. All of the record’s instruments are well-pronounced, masterfully played, and clearly audible and sparse, with no distortion or fuzz to be seen.
Yet this lack of distortion sometimes screams out as disingenuous. The second track in particular, “In the B.A.G.,” is supposed to be an instrumental funkout, featuring slide guitar work from John Trufant, and deft keyboarding by DeJuilio. However, it doesn’t have too much personality, instead sounding like a session musician’s audition tape – like they’re just trying to prove that they can play, and play well.
“Blue Mountain” is a bit of a recovery, with a wonderful intro that blossoms from a sparse and hazy guitar riff into a sprawling bluesy track punctuated by the same riff surrounded by textured percussion and burgeoning keyboards.
The transitory work really shines both here and between the tracks “Spontaneous Combustion” and “Pass Around the Wine” – which blend together as if they were the same song.
The band calls themselves a “gumbo of musicians and styles,” and it’s true that their sound is difficult to classify. It’s definitely rock, but with blues, funk, jam, jazz, and even reggae and bluegrass influences.
The effort they put forth for sonic continuity shows, though; all these influences shine, but within a definitive overarching style. Jam band-y “Wolves in Sheepskin” is a piano ballad that’s equal parts Billy Joel and Widespread Panic.
My favorite track on the record, “Shady Grove,” starts with a bluegrass-infused intro. You’d expect it to explode into a foot-stomping romp a la the mountains of Trufant’s home state of North Carolina. About 15 seconds in, though, it chills out marvelously into a lazy, syncopated reggae song. The bluegrass influence doesn’t disappear, though, and rears its head periodically, inconspicuously, wonderfully.
Considering the extremely diverse background of the band (DeJuilio & Borniak are from Chicago, Trufant is from Brevard, North Carolina, and percussionist Scott Graves is from Austin), Levee Daze has done extremely well condensing their sound into a cohesive little unit for their first release.
They have the right idea in mind.
Their respect for the album is admirable, but is this the quintessential Levee Daze sound? I doubt it. This album smoothly brings together so many different elements and histories, but it doesn’t bring too much new to the table. I feel like this young band has quite a bit more in the chamber.
Levee Daze has their eyes on another project slated to sound entirely different, and I hope it involves a bit more creation as opposed to skillful synthesis. Until then, the curious combination of their self-titled release is unlikely to leave my car stereo.