Turning a Musical Corner

What's Not Plastic? (Label X/Toucan Cove)
Digby

By Kevin Gibson

Music is changing. The way we purchase music is really changing.

Whereas the album was for years the main vehicle for rock 'n' roll, the iPod more and more defines the way music is being bought and sold - typically one song at a time. Forget gatefold covers and extravagant liner notes, now you can buy your favorite hit for a buck or less just by getting on the Internet.

Enter What's Not Plastic?, a five-song EP by Louisville's Digby, which is the first installment of a trilogy of EPs by the group. While you can get a physical copy of the CD, one can also download the album - the cost being a donation of your choosing - from the band's Web site. Or, naturally, you can purchase it online from iTunes and other sites where fine music is sold. Label X's other Louisville bands are following suit.

And much as music in general continues to evolve, so does Digby's sound - now a foursome, the happy-go-lucky sound from Go Digby, the group's first Label X release, is a distant memory, having given way to a more indie-rock approach.

From the first track, "New America," this becomes clear - this noisy, angry track grabs you by the throat and commences to shake. The heavy guitar distortion and Paul Moeller's occasionally shrieking vocals, along with a pounding rhythm track, pave the way for a positively demonic guitar solo - putting an exclamation point on the equally angry lyric.

After the last scratchy chords fade out, the driving "Self Evaluation" moves in with a sustained guitar riff that will get stuck in your head for days. This tune leans toward the Digby sound of old, but the overt pop hooks from the past are delivered more subtly here, painted with smaller brushes if you will. It works - the song ultimately satisfies, but without any notion of gimmickry. And the subtle guitar hook at the end of the song is superbly simplistic in a George Harrison kind of way - it isn't meant to be an earworm, it just fits the song.

"Bad Swing" eases in with a smooth, easy, ascending melody and a lyric that, while melancholy, is also somehow soothing. The gentle piano strains that back this track really add to it, even though they can occasionally disappear somewhat in the mix (it sounds intentional). And once again lead guitarist Rich Oeffinger delivers a deftly restrained instrumental break that lifts the song.

"Knocking" swings back to a more serious tone, especially during the verses, when a heavily-reverbed guitar interplays with Ben Schneider's somber bass lines and drummer Mark Book's restrained rhythms. But when the chorus kicks in, the song turns into a straight-ahead rocker with an amazing guitar swell that works perfectly with Moeller's energized vocals.

The lyric, as with many of Digby's lyrics, is somewhat mysterious - in this case, being a look at a troubled relationship: "You know what you see/Isn't really me/I know what you are/You look just like me/Look into my eyes/I'm forever knocking, knocking at your door ..."

The final track, "How Long," is a gentle ballad that eases the tension created by the aforementioned. It builds on a fairly simple and catchy melody - but again does so without sounding patronizing or commercialized - and capitalizes on some great backing vocals, shining acoustic guitars and a bright keyboard track.

As someone who has been following Digby's music almost since the band first formed (full disclosure: yes, I know them personally and consider them friends), I'm mildly torn. I still like jumpy pop hooks, songs like "Minerva" and "It Doesn't Matter" that just make you want to sing along and my ears wanted to hear more of that when I first listened to the EP.

But at the same time, it's satisfying to hear the maturation of this band. Essentially, they've dispensed with any and all musical pretense (not that they ever sounded pretentious to begin with, but I think you know what I mean) and, well, decided to just record some rock songs. We need more of that in music these days.

You can download the EP as MP3 files (along with printable album art) at www.digbyonline.com.