Indie-Electro Gurus Tone Down the Whimsy

The Octopus Project
Hexadecagon
Peek-A-Boo

Though there are legions of performers who market eccentricity to attract the indie crowd, The Octopus Project is a genuine oddity — marching to the beat of its own glockenspiel.  But after a while, even the wackiest beast can be tamed.  The band’s latest, Hexadecagon, cleans up the rough edges, and the result is their most accessible release yet.

For over a decade, this Austin foursome has been turning out instrumental pieces whose sound defies simple explanation — traces of psychedelia and ambient house build upon post-rock foundations — while somehow staying grounded.  After dipping their toes in many subgenres over the years, combining their skills and concentrating on indie pop was the smartest move they could make.

The band has always had a knack for blending styles. Hexadecagon brilliantly marries analog and digital instruments — layering catchy drumbeats almost indiscernibly with random beeps and shrieks, yielding a sweet confection of old and new.

The group sounds as if they compose while they record, tinkering with different arrangements on the fly until they hit a sweet spot.  But this time around, the improvisation is somewhat tempered.  The initially sluggish “A Phantasy” takes a calculated twist mid-song, illustrating a svelte maturity unheard of on the band’s more erratic predecessors.  Every song’s trajectory, while divergent as ever, is now plotted out in advance.

This is not to call them formulaic by any means.  Each track has its own distinct musical personality; the Octopus’ sound is just a bit more mindful and polished now.  Album bookends “Fuguefat” and “Catalog” recall the band’s spontaneous, rowdy beginnings, but the six songs in between trade in the madness for a newfound breeziness.  Songs like “Circling” would have been dance hits before, but here they have a soft, orchestral value, making them ideal for studying or just a ruminant stroll through the park.

If their first two records were the band finding their footing, and 2007’s Hello, Avalanche sang of self-discovery, then Hexadecagon marks an autumnal change of pace for the group.  Despite their unorthodoxy, The Octopus Project is finally settling down — albeit at the periphery of pop music.

7/10

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