Five years ago Alive awarded Heavy Mole "Band to Watch" honors. I wasn't with the paper yet, but upon hearing the group's recordings, I heartily agreed. Sam Craighead and his associates were masters of matching lighthearted, instantly nostalgic pop music with incredibly vulnerable personal narratives.
Despite the navel-gazing tendencies, it wasn't emo in any conventional sense - more like elegant yet scrappy daydream pop born of Craighead's frustrated twentysomething psyche. He employed enough self-deprecating charm to pull off lines like "Love is little more than a stupid f---ing feeling/ That I came up with one night when I was staring at the ceiling," especially when balanced with subtly joyful lyrics like "It's nice to lay in bed with you and tell you you're retarded."
Nothing much happened with Heavy Mole. They recorded one brilliant EP and kept pushing back their debut album until eventually disappearing into oblivion.
Thankfully Craighead is fronting a new group called Feature Films with other familiar Columbus musicians including Paul Rentler (Audion, The Cinema Eye), Alex Romstedt (The Blue Revision), Pete Shumaker (Heavy Mole) and Steve Randall. They made one of their first appearances Sunday at The Treehouse.
The first thing I noticed was the three guitars. You don't see this formation much these days - seems like indie bands abandoned it after "Kid A" - but Feature Films utilized it to marvelous effect.
If Heavy Mole unfurled bedroom pop symphonies, Feature Films feels bigger, weightier and (appropriately) more cinematic, like floating over vast and varied landscapes in a hot air balloon. Craighead's gone from an extreme close-up to post-rock's widescreen scope.
Facebook demo "Going M360" encapsulates the vibe: They tend toward atmospheric slow-builds, with arpeggios galore and a firm foundation of Shumaker's inventive bass lines and Romstedt's spare, subtle drum parts. On Sunday, Rentler occasionally manned a keyboard rig and Randall sometimes picked up auxiliary shakers.
Craighead's moody melodies are the main common thread with his previous endeavor. From what I heard, he's playing it a bit closer to the vest lyrically, but he has retained his ability to string together melancholy melodies both intuitive and unexpected. Here's hoping this project actually gets around to releasing an album.