The Color Exchange Passes Important Tests

I remember the first time I saw U2’s “Beautiful Day” video back in 2000. It was sharp. It was in focus. It was visually devoid of irony as well as overwhelming production, and the music featured a stripped down sound as compared to most of the band’s ‘90s fare. It was like a cool wash of bright color being poured out onto a canvas no less broad as the world in which it existed. Upon hearing for the first time, and seeing their video for “Sparks,” I had a similar experience. While The Color Exchange aren’t U2 (or their imitators Coldplay for that matter), they definitely share a kinship with these previous alternative-gone-mainstream pop/rock acts. The Color Exchange rely on their stripped down yet atmospherically and spatially lush sound that’s composed of bass, drum, minimalist guitar and keyboards. While not quite a minimalist band, The Color Exchange does make a point of doing a great deal with very little, and they do that “great deal” very well.

Hailing from the musically, culturally and educationally progressive Chapel Hill, NC area, The Color Exchange have recently released their first album as The Color Exchange. Evolving out of the band Clockwork Kids, Justin Ellis (vocals, bass) and Chris Petto (guitars) seem to have found the right bandmates as well as the right sound necessary to take their musical careers to the next level. Cubed, the band’s first full length release, is a relatively short, yet sonically dense, album composed of the kind of chord progressions, moments of ascent (as I like to call the little moments where a song erupts musically into a sort of ascendent sonic stratosphere of sound) and great hooks that hold their own with the above two mentioned pop rock stalwarts (and obvious influences).

The greatest “moment of ascent” on Cubed occurs two-thirds of the way through the album’s standout track “Sparks.” It’s one of the moments where guitarist Petto really gets a chance to display his sonic sensibilities by using his instrument to evoke the kind of mental colors that only guitar-playing of his style can. Slightly psychedelic and completely supersonic, the minimal notes he employes musically personify gentle rising winds and buoyant cloud stairs that encapsulate the listen and transport them to brightly colored blue and white skies; or at least they to do me (through my mind’s eye) when I hear them.

Powerful moments in The Color Exchange’s songs aren’t always of the supersonic kind though. About two-thirds of the way through the very next track on the album, titled “Answer,” Patto digs a shallow, yet deeply-earthy, sonic trench with a thick, low-end solo. The excellent opening track on the album, “Tongues,” manages to weave all of The Color Exchange’s elements into yet another lush, full tapestry of sound where the band really comes together to form a complete sound that paints so vividly with so little, as far as the technicalities are concerned.

The Color Exchange’s lead singer Justin Ellis has a voice the rides the waves between The Killer’s Brandon Flowers and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Never straying too far from his strength, the mid-range, Ellis manages to coax as many different shades of emotion and atmosphere out if it as Ellis does out his guitar without resorting to extremes — something that seems to be dominating the performances of many popular singers these days. It’s as refreshing a vocal performance audibly as the aforementioned Flowers’ was upon hearing his for the first time.

Each time you play Cubed, in many ways it does sound like you are hearing, or at least experiencing it again for the first time. Therein is the test of a great album. The greatest albums stand up to multiple listens when the listener continues to discover something new woven into the landscape of the songs on it. Cubed is a very accomplished album for a new band, and there should be many more to come from this young and talented group.



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