Young men carrying old souls, Baltimore four-piece The Flying Eyes first made an impression by collecting two EPs into a self-titled Trip in Time full-length debut early last year, blending heavy psychedelia and Southern blues to an effect both surprisingly individual and confident given their age and the fact that it was their first album. Now following it with Done So Wrong, the collective of childhood friends continues to refine their approach and expand it a bit, shirking off some of the more stonerly elements in their sound – for better or worse – and instead working shades of indie, country and folk into their palette. The lead vocals of guitarist Will Kelly remain soulful and strongly presented, embodying in many ways the “beyond their years” aspect of The Flying Eyes’ sound, though the overall retro psychedelia in tracks like highlight “Overboard” and the Dead Meadow-toned instrumental “Heavy Heart” don’t hurt in that regard either, the band drawing more from late-‘60s pop sprawl than the hard-driving riff rock that would rise to prominence just a few years later.
As stylized as they are, though, what’s most consistent about The Flying Eyes is prowess in songwriting. The funky, bass-led groove of “Poison the Well” – Mac Hewitt laying down warm low end in the verses while drummer Elias Schutzman one-e-and-a’s his hi-hat to classic affect later echoed on the toms during guitarist Adam Bufano’s solo break – offers immediate contrast to the fuzz and wah swirl of opener “Death Don’t Make Me Cry,” but both ultimately work. The diversity is subtle, but it’s there, showing up also in the chic neo-grunge feel of “Sundrop” and the thoughtful acoustics of closer “Leave it all Behind,” on which Kelly is joined by a female guest vocalist for a duet worthy of capping off Done So Wrong. Their heaviest moment, at least in the sense of playing fast and loud, might come in the cut before “Leave it all Behind,” “Greed,” which in addition to breaking down to guitars sounding more like violins, has one of the album’s several catchy and memorable choruses. Another strengthening Done So Wrong’s swaggering back half is “Overboard,” ringing notes from Kelly and/or Bufano topped with vocals that sound run through a just-overmodulated vintage mic. There’s obviously a self-aware element to what they do, but The Flying Eyes make it sound spontaneous, and ultimately, that’s why they succeed with the record.
Songs like the pastoral foreboding sway of “Clouded” (another guest vocal included) offer variety of mood and feel, guitars layered with care and the all-around mix offering enough echo that Done So Wrong never sounds empty or lacking in heft. Ultimately, I think that’s what stops it from being an indie record. The Flying Eyes’ rhythm section – Hewitt and Schutzman – propels the band into an in-between territory that borders on heavy and occasionally crosses over, but capitalizes also on a kind of quasi-hipster reverberation. The guitar on “Nowhere to Run” starts out spindly, but winds up in this swamp bluesy lockstep with the bass and drums that would still be heavy and groovy enough to draw the line in the proverbial sand. Likewise, the overall flow of Done So Wrong – which is easy and generous complement to orange summer sunset – is more complex than the strip-it-all-down mentality post-White Stripes indie allows for or the current crop of LCD Soundsystem imitators would dare touch on, busy recycling ‘80s dance beats as they are. The Flying Eyes roll opposite such trends; the difference between them and a lot of other acts is they sound cool doing it, as on the seven-plus-minute title track.
And I suppose in the end that works in their favor. With Done So Wrong, they’ve managed to take an ethic well worn by underground rock and make it fresh. Their style is immediate but staid, and the potential they showed on the two EPs of their self-titled rears its head again here, leaving one to wonder if they’re headed for psych-blues bliss or if the heaviness underlying some of these tracks finds its days numbered. Wherever they go, The Flying Eyes have the momentum of two strong albums behind them, and with runs of dates in both the US and Europe already beginning to show in their chemistry and the tightness of their arrangements, they remain a creative bright spot in a derivative genre. With any luck, they’ll be able to keep it going across their next and subsequent releases, delving even further into the blues rock of yore while not losing sight of the modernity and sneakily innovative aspects in their methods.
Tags: Baltimore, Maryland, The Flying Eyes, Trip in Time