Andrew Graham enlists Dane Terry and others to make consistently enjoyable new pop record

On previous Swarming Branch releases, bandleader Andrew Graham wanted his albums to sound like mixtapes — a listening experience filled with variety and surprise. But on new record Surreal Number, Graham took a different approach.

“I wanted to attempt to make a pop record, where each song was as much a single as the next, just to see if it made more of an impact when there was a stronger thread between the songs,” Graham said recently by phone, contrasting the new album with 2013's Classic Glass and 2010's Andrew Graham's Good Word.

“If someone was into ‘Take it Easy on Kathy at Least She Can Dance' from the Good Word record, when they bought the record, they wouldn't find another song that was remotely similar to it,” he said. “Classic Glass was pretty similar. If they liked one of the fast songs, they'd think it was a punk band.”

To make Surreal Number, singer/guitarist Graham, drummer Lon Leary and New York City-via-Columbus pianist Dane Terry (a longtime Swarming Branch collaborator) flew to Los Angeles in 2014 for recording sessions with engineer Drew Fischer and producer Rob Barbato, who also handled bass duties on the album (session musician Will Canzoneri added keys, as well).

After a failed attempt to release the record last year on a label that subsequently dissolved, Graham partnered with Dayton, Kentucky's Sofaburn Records (R. Ring, Buffalo Killers) to release Surreal Number. It's a less verbose record than Classic Glass, which featured lyrics that could be written as complete sentences (“I think that was baffling to a lot of people,” he said).

Graham hopes this new batch of songs inspires movement. “I want people … dancing to a lot of the songs,” he said.

Change is a purposeful constant in Swarming Branch, so even though piano and keyboard are cornerstones of Surreal Number, the live version of the band often has no keyboards. But at Ace of Cups on Friday, May 5, Swarming Branch will feature two keyboardists — NYC's Terry and Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison — along with Ben Ahlteen (formerly of Domes) on bass. Terry will also be celebrating The Wild of Town, an album he recorded last year at Musicol and will release digitally through Bandcamp the same day as the show.

“I want to branch out a lot more in the future. I want to bring in more saxophones and steel guitar. I want to try out some instrumental stuff,” Graham said. “I wouldn't call Surreal Number a last-ditch attempt to make a rock record, but it's an insurance policy just in case we never go back and make another one.”