Sonic Experimentation

With an explosive approach and delicate melodies, Spitalfield is more than an emo band

So fresh and so clean, the sound of the Chicago-based pop-punk band Spitalfield is that of gorgeous power-pop melodies colliding head-on with a bludgeoning, progressive punk-metal attack. Crank it up, and it can sound not unlike an amplified symphony orchestra shredding through an avalanche of Cheap Trick, Raspberries and dBs records.

Spitalfield, ladies and gents, is making its way to Tucson for a July 5 gig at Club Congress. Technically, the band is co-headlining the tour with the Long Island synth-pop revival band Action Action, which shares a record label (the Chicago-based Victory Records) with Spitalfield. Also on the bill will be the groups Gatsbys American Dream and Down to Earth Approach.

The explosive approach and delicate melodies, not to mention the quasi-sensitive lyrical content, have inspired some to slap Spitalfield with the same "emo" label as contemporaries such as Taking Back Sunday, Engine Down, the Get Up Kids and Piebald.

Singer and guitarist Mark Rose recently called this a bittersweet blessing. "I think the emo label is a little overplayed and overused, but if that's the word that people are going to use, and it'll bring listeners to us, so be it," said Rose via cell phone from the band's tour bus a few days ago.

"I mean, people are people, and you can't dictate how people are going to receive or hear your music. I don't want to disrespect their reasons for liking us, whatever they may be.

"But I also think emo has come to mean so many different kinds of music these days, it really doesn't mean anything in particular now. I mean, what is typed as emo now would never be called emo in the pure sense during like the late 1990s."

The band's members--who range in age from 21 to 25--prefer to cite as prominent influences/heroes such acts as the Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World and the Foo Fighters.

For my entertainment dollar, Spitalfield's third full-length album, Stop Doing Bad Things, delivers better melodies and heavier riffage than do any of those groups--Foo Fighters on a good day might be tough to beat out, though. And because of a proclivity toward adventurous chord changes, intricate time signatures and a sense of sonic experimentation, the band sometimes recalls the more straightforward side of the mighty At the Drive In.

Spitalfield formed in the suburbs of the Windy City about seven years ago, when original members Rose and drummer J.D Romero were but teenage lads. After an album and EP on the Sinister label started getting national attention, the band signed with Victory, the hometown label to which the band members practically grew up listening.

After making its name as a hardcore punk label--releasing numerous CDs by acts such as Earth Crisis, Snapcase, Shelter and Hatebreed--Victory Records has in the past few years been branching out into metal (Atreyu, Darkest Hour), hard-edged indie pop (Spitalfield, Action Action), Latino ska (Voodoo Glow Skulls) and even Celtic punk (the Tossers).

"There's no definable sound now on Victory Records," Rose said. "Some hardcore punk fans may say that indicates a sell-out, but the label is trying to represent a wider range of heavy music, and they still have the really brutal bands. I think its roster is the biggest it ever has been, and its staff is the biggest it ever has been. The staff is just amazing. We are very happy to be on the label."

Spitalfield's Victory debut was 2004's Remember Right Now, which is an admirable and highly listenable record, but the intensity, immediacy and sophistication of songwriting on Stop Doing Bad Things is a major leap forward.

Much credit for that must go to the production of Ed Rose (no relation to Mark), who has helmed recordings by such bands as the Get Up Kids, Coalesce and Motion City Soundtrack.

"We feel that this record is closer to capturing our live sound than anything that came before," Mark Rose said.

"Ed Rose pretty much helped us define that and then recreate it in the studio. What he really helped us do was going for an open and honest record. He's really good at finding that clean, natural sound without having to resort to ProTools or computers. He also challenged us a lot. He was always offering constructive criticism to make us push ourselves further than we have in the past."

None of which helped avoid one of the songs, "Gold Dust vs. State of Illinois," being repeated on the first pressing of the CD. If you pay close attention, you will notice that the third track and fourth track are identical. Which was OK with me, because that tune--the leadoff single and first music video--is easily the album's gem.

Rose is a little reluctant to cite the reason the song is repeated, but he said the band made the best of it and created a contest in which listeners were supposed to identify the error to win some special prizes. FYI: The second pressing is out, with "Gold Dust vs. State of Illinois" appearing only once.

Rose is looking forward to that pressing disappearing and hopes the CD sells enough copies so those discs with the repeated track become collectors' items.

Finally, in case you are wondering, the correct pronunciation of the band's name is "spittle-field." It refers to a small town outside of London famous for giving the world a fellow by the name of Jack the Ripper. Word has it that Spitalfield is a quaint, modest village, but Rose and his band mates "appreciated that it also has that dark undertone."

Sadly, the members of Spitalfield did not have the opportunity to visit their namesake town earlier this year on their virgin tour of the U.K. with Fall Out Boy. But Rose said they hope to stop by on their upcoming English tour this fall.

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