Rather than go completely over the top with lysergic synth swirls and keyboard samples, Brooklyn trio Traveling Circle keep to a rudimentary, sub-retro psychedelia, holding back on the flourishes to concentrate more on tone and basic presentation. This plays largely in their favor on their Nasoni Records debut, Handmade House, which relies mostly on the guitar, bass and drums to carry across the band’s sound. There is cello on opener “Cylindrical Time” and “Cloak My Trove,” and electric piano/organ also on the latter and “Wooden Eyes,” but by and large, it’s the three members of Traveling Circle acting on their own for the album, giving it a live and somewhat sparse atmosphere, especially on a song like “Somethings,” where the slower pace adds a minimalist feel if only for all the space between the notes.
The vocals are going to be an immediate standout for anyone experiencing Handmade House. Both bassist Charlie Freeman and guitarist Dylan Maiden sing for Traveling Circle, and right from the start, there’s a high-pitched soulful approach established on “Cylindrical Time.” It’s not the only tactic Traveling Circle use to carry across vocals (it’s contrasted right away with “Somethings”), but it shows up on several songs and, at its best, it’s like hearing Curtis Mayfield front Jefferson Airplane. There is one section of the otherwise excellent “Streamlined” that sounds like Richard Stamos trying to hit the high F singing “Loving You” on South Park, but I’m not about to fault the band for trying something different. Brooklyn’s not short on psychedelic rock bands at this point, and honestly I’d rather hear Traveling Circle do something more their own and fall flat once or twice than have to review another CD of hipster reverb played through Orange cabinets bought with trust fund money. Maybe that’s just me.
They toy with bouncing pop convention on “Bang Twig and Stone,” but quickly counter it with Maiden’s guitar, which is a quality retro tone played at smoky pace, occasionally effected with flange or some such. I expect a board with several vintage-type boxes, possibly large, possibly capital-M Muff. Either way, Maiden does well to vary his attack, playing into the subtlety of a track like Handmade House-highlight “Note Drops” and then picking up both the song and Freeman and drummer Josh Schultz as the gradual build progresses. Freeman also has a few shining moments on bass, starting the album and the soon-riffy “Forest Floor” with a righteous ‘70s soul groove under warm tube-amp feedback. I find the late moments of Handmade House are some of my favorites, with closer “Formations” seeming to accomplish the quiet hypnosis that the earlier “Cloak My Trove” and “Eve Falls” were too active to really pull off.
Bands don’t get signed to Nasoni Records by accident. The Berlin-based label is among the finest purveyors of psych the world over, and Traveling Circle wholly justifies their interest in the band here. I don’t know if I’d be able to make it to a Traveling Circle gig for all the obnoxious, young, urban creative professionals who’d show up, spill beer on me and then call me “bro,” but in terms of appreciating the creative endeavor Freeman, Maiden and Schultz have undertaken with the band and the results they’ve gotten in the form of Handmade House, yeah man, I can get down with this. The vocals take some getting used to, and there’s something of a dip right around the middle, but it’s a solid start and I’d be interested to find out where the road Traveling Circle are on is leading.Brooklyn, Nasoni, New York, Traveling Circle