By: Tyler Francischine
A cool breeze tousles the fronds of some tall palms, and the sea laps lazily at the shore. Sitting high in a cloudless sky, the sun turns the tips of each wave into a string of jewels. Like a dream, the ocean lures you closer, deeper.
Then comes the shift. One wave after another crashes down on you, twisting you around like a rag doll. You gasp for air before the next one knocks you on your face. Defeated, you hobble back onto the shore, just to burn your feet on the scorching sand. Looks like it’s time to pack up the car in search of a dark dive bar in which to nurse those wounds.
Even the most idyllic paradise erodes with time. It’s a harsh reality, one which New Orleans band Room Thirteen explores sonically and lyrically throughout their latest album, “Roccopulco,” released in February from Gainesville label Elestial Sound. On Friday, June 2, Room Thirteen will transform the Atlantic, 15 N. Main St., into a seedy and humid seaside lounge with help from Gainesville bands Euglossine and The Dewars.
For Room Thirteen guitarist and keyboardist Danny Clifton, tropical imagery serves dual purposes on “Roccopulco.”
“I play with the idea of a tropical paradise as a kind of purgatory, like a place that was fun at first, but you stayed too long and now you’re bored,” he says.
Room Thirteen’s lineup can be appropriately described as fluid. Currently, it’s composed of Clifton, Courtney Asztalos on vocals and keys, Ryan O’Malley on percussion, Abigail Clark on vocals, Pete Leonard on drums, Mike Skaggs on bass and Heather Lee Smith on vocals. Clifton says Asztalos and Smith bring an intuitive approach to collaborating, and the band’s sound is informed by a membership made of both musicians and visual artists.
With influences like The Lemon Twigs, Beck and ? and The Mysterians, Room Thirteen creates songs with a certain sense of nostalgia. Room’s vocal harmonies echo those of Sixties girl groups, but they’re combined with unexpected rhythmic shifts to create a sound born of this present moment.
“I love oldies, tightly crafted and emotive pop songs,” Clifton says. “So when I write, it ends up sounding like my weird, lower fidelity, bedroom version of that.”
Like the ebbing and flowing of the tide, Room Thirteen’s music builds into moments of dense distortion just to settle into yet another sublime groove. Even in paradise, good times erode into moments of existential struggle. But eventually, the sun comes out from behind the clouds and bleaches all negative thinking.
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All photos by: Ian Clontz