Review: Miracles of Modern Science @ Drunken Unicorn

It was a great surprise, since I’d missed them at SXSW, to come home and have the opportunity to see Miracles of Modern Science play for the first time at one of my favorite local venues. I didn’t know much about the Brooklyn five-piece before the show. All I could conjure up was a crossbred image of Apocalyptica’s technicality in approach and Rasputina’s popness. So I went into it with the David Lynch approach – clean slate live show experience; no preconceptions (well, almost none). I will say that I listened to a couple of tracks online before attending, and that the vocals on those recordings bothered me. There was something about the range he was sitting in, or the nature of the tracks. I couldn’t put my finger on it, precisely, but there was something unduly amiss, and I aimed to figure out what or why.

The nature and configuration of this band is what drew me. String-based with drums that seemed controlled but only lightly reserved on record, my experience with music assured me that the live show would be ten times as lush, and that the experience of a band like this is one never truly ‘captured,’ in any capacity. That was certainly the case – even given the fact that cellist Geoff McDonald couldn’t make this tour – and probably an ongoing antagony for Miracles of Modern Science, I have to assume.

I was thrilled to find, upon approach to the front, a POG and a Boss looper at violinist Kieran Ledwidge’s feet. Certainly, the POG made his sound larger live, and the loop station allowed him the luxury of breaking away into more solo-esque parts when needed.

Mandolinist Josh Hirshfeld stood ground as a guitarist would. Though I didn’t get the chance to check out the tools of choice at his feet, I assume that some sort of light, tasteful delay and some lush reverb were somehow included. I could close my eyes and imagine those strummed melodies cutting through from the pickups of a Tele, but much, much brighter, and with more precision than any counterpart indie band would be able to bring on a guitar. The overall feel of wooden construction and warm strings created a tone that was larger than the sum of its parts. Hirshfeld, my only complaint, could’ve been significantly louder. The frequency of his tone, especially minus a cellist, wouldn’t have technically stepped on the toes of any of his bandmates.

I was impressed by frontman Evan Younger’s command of bass live, given that he was holding the ranks of lead vocals. The smooth use of dynamics in the bass and the creation of a marriage of its sound to the drums make Miracles of Modern Science a rock band. Drummer Tyler Pines’ use of progressive drumming in such a technical band environment and on such a small drum kit (kick, snare and two toms were all significantly smaller diameters than your run-of-the-mill kits) helped the rockness, too. I know that the room for error in a band like that must be tiny, and that made me respect and enjoy his style more and more as the set progressed.

Set wise, this show was definitely running as support for Miracles of Modern Science’s most recent LP (December 2011), Dog Year. A couple of listens to that record post-show confirmed that my annoyance problem with Younger’s vocals could be attributed to earlier recordings, because the tracks on Dog Year were much smoother and more somber than what I had previously listened to online. It’s worth noting that Younger also won my fandom for his vocal performance live, his voice more humble and mature, and like carefully woven harmony with the accompaniment of his bandmates.’

The second track the band played, “Stranerous,” was the most moving to me, except for some personal instrumental expression towards the bottom of the set. “Bossa Supernova” was great for solos, Ledwidge really extending the use of his violin on that one, especially with the chords that he implemented near the song’s end. And the reverb on Hirshfeld’s mandolin after the break sounded holy; a great sonic cliffhanger.

“Luminol” was a longer song fashioned into a sort of journey live. Much more flourishing live (again, it’s just one of those technical things), the vocals were exceptionally smooth. For whatever slight angst might be heard in them on record, the live version seemed more established and realized, even given the usual live vocal quirks. It was more serious and less indie.

“Moms Away!” was the final tune, a professed dance song that was certainly that compared to the others. Again, I was concretely realizing that I wanted to hear more mandolin on this one, but the overall mix went over okay. After the set, I got a chance to talk to the Miracles of Modern Science guys. I, the stranger, was approached with smiles and positive expression over touring, SXSW experiences and having been able to jump onto this bill (which was a bit last minute, I believe). The attitude was refreshing, another enlightening characteristic to couple with this group’s other, more obvious uniqueness in this genre in which I love to write.