Swirling clouds of mystery surround the fuzzy, unearthly sounds of Berkeley band Art Nikels’ brand new EP, Primitives. This local psychedelic indie-rock band is notable not only for its dreamy, eerie style but also for its mysterious benefactor and musical contributor, whom the band has never met — a man named Arthur Nikels. With the release of its debut EP, Primitives, the band has yet to meet Nikels, but his contributions to the band have only gotten stranger.
“We don’t get sheet music or lyrics in the mail as much anymore, and when we do, they’re curiously wrapped,” explained bassist Grayson Flood. “Packages will show up in the mail wrapped in silk or velvet and include little items like newspaper clippings or rocks or mugs. Half the time, the box is just empty.”
The band members are unsure how to interpret the odd change or whether to interpret it at all.
“We take him to be a pretty thoughtful guy, so we spent a lot of time arguing about what it was supposed to mean, which is stupid because we also realize that there’s a possibility that it’s just meaningless trash, which I guess could also be the message,” said keyboardist Robert Gibboni.
While Nikels’ mail has only been getting more abstract, the band has managed to put together something concrete. Primitives is an ethereal, psychedelic collection of songs blending seamlessly together in a cloud of smoke that slowly dissolves into the brain, effectively putting the listener in a trance.
The opening track, “Hesitation Makes,” draws listeners in with lead singer Xavier Perrone’s calm, soothing voice before the beat kicks in with breezy, arpeggiated synthesizers and atmospheric guitars, coming together into something more defined. The rest of the EP is a journey through the night sky, with careening synths soaring sleepily down from the clouds, echoey harmonies, creepy vocoder effects and weird spaceship noises.
The band builds a wall of swirling sound on various occasions, such as the breakdown at the end of “Visitor.” The prevalent use of vocal effects in “Whipped Cream” helps to further enhance this mysterious and entrancing sound. Gibboni feels that the EP would be at home as the soundtrack to “a campy, mind-bending, sci-fi classic like Zardoz.”
Although Primitives is a new release, most of the songs off the EP are ones that Art Nikels has been working on since the band’s formation.
“The more we played (the songs) live, the more they evolved, and they continued to change once we started recording,” explained drummer Jake Barczak. “So in a way, Primitives is the most recent stage of some of our earliest material as a band after a lot of transformations.”
The band recorded and produced the EP by itself over the course of a year with limited resources. This impressive feat was made possible by both the determination and creativity of the band members and the contributions of their shadowy benefactor, gazing down somewhere from the cloudy Berkeley skies above.
Contact Madeline Wells at [email protected].