The jarring blast of guitar feedback that opens local four-piece Church Key's debut EP, The New Travel Plan, is something of a trick: There is nothing on this record that wasn't planned. Throughout these five songs, the meticulous structures and musicianship are evocative of math rock—minus most of the math.
As the guitars and bass chase each other around, Beau Bowen's mostly calm vocals prevent total chaos and provide a guardrail. These songs feature aggressive instrumental prowess, but still contain catchy melodies and pretty textural sections that come along right as the knotty arrangements threaten to overwhelm.
Underscoring the jarring and unexpected time-signature changes, guitar lines and shifting moods are well-crafted and nicely arranged songs. The band opens a vein and lets it bleed out. Example: The strongest track, the somewhat poppy "As Far As," belies its masqueraded yearning words with early-period Pretty Girls Make Graves-esque guitar interplay.
Church Key's sound is constructed from golden oldies like At the Drive-In, Modest Mouse and, especially, Built to Spill. But they've been able to synthesize the disparate elements into a unique and recognizable style. The last song, "Oh Me," perhaps points to the path of their evolving future: Much heavier than the other four songs, this one is very much straightforward rock 'n' roll.
Oh, yeah: Garth Bryson is one hell of a bass player.