"People think of nature and they think deer and trees and preserves," Carlos Avendano said, "and they don't think about how it could put you on your ass or kill you."
But nature took its toll on Avendano, the driving force behind long-standing local music fixture Flotation Walls. In 2002, Avendano began suffering from dizziness, double vision, memory loss and other symptoms of Arnold-Chiari malformation, a rare genetic condition caused by a misshapen brainstem and cerebellum.
Flotation Walls had existed since about 1996, evolving from a noisy creative outlet for teenage Avendano into "silly stuff" specialists. The band went on hold when Avendano's health problems left him bedridden for a year.
He had already begun writing songs for the album that would become Nature, Flotation Walls' long-delayed full-length debut. But during a year when he left the house only three or four times, many of the songs and concepts that comprise the record came to fruition.
Avendano became fascinated with life and death and how they play into the grand scheme of nature. He wrote songs like "Sperm & Egg" and "I've Seen Death and His Tremendous Pink Eyes," at first trying to leave out any lyrical reference to man-made items.
"It was sort of a reaction to everything being so pop culture-y. Everything is retrospective in some way," Avendano said. "Not that this is that incredibly far removed from that, but it's at least an attempt to do something that's sort of ours, our own voice."
Seven years later, Flotation Walls is finally releasing Nature, a restless orchestral pop album reminiscent of forebears like Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and Arcade Fire but always stridently personal. In moments like the triumphant gang chorus of "Willis the Fireman" and the entire glorious slow-build of "Body," none of those years of toil seem wasted.
Dozens of local musicians played on Nature in sessions spanning five years of stops and starts. But it's here at last, a true event record in an era when any old band can crap out an LP.
In 2007, Flotation Walls settled into a four-person unit featuring Avendano, Luke Brevoort, Ryan Stolte-Sawa and Zak Moses.
Next week, those four will embark on an extensive jaunt to support Nature. Their road-warrior ambitions are as grandiose as their orchestral arrangements - they hope to play as many as 250 shows by this time next year.
"We're quitting our jobs and going on tour," Avendano said, grinning at the prospect of finally getting Flotation Walls afloat as a touring unit again. In 2000, a previous lineup traveled for a month in an old school bus before the engine exploded, stranding them in Kearney, Nebraska, for more than a week. This is the first version of Flotation Walls to tackle any significant touring since then.
But first, a large chunk of those guest musicians will step on stage with Flotation Walls for the album-release party Friday at Skully's. The band will be joined by a 10-piece orchestra to recreate and reinterpret songs from their magnum opus.
The touring show won't be quite so elaborate, though the group will don yellow costumes as usual as a signal of unity and a reaction against rock's standard black T-shirt. They're hopeful they'll make an impression through honest performances and an eye-catching stage presence.
"If you're at a bar and there's a guy in a yellow suit screaming 'The sky ejaculates!' at you," Brevoort said, "whether or not that's a way to start a conversation, in terms of making a personal connection with someone, it's a really hard handshake."
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