"Opposites," Parlor Walls' new debut full-length album — Brooklyn musicians Alyse Lamb (a Connecticut native), Chris Mulligan and occasional member Kate Mohanty — embraces both disarray and tight control.
Those qualities compete everywhere: in the impossible closeness of Lamb's double-tracked vocal melodies and dissonant guitar clusters; in Mulligan's odd-meter grooves and rumbling synth ostinatos; in the persistent back-and-forth between strictly composed forms and pure-noise episodes.
"I really love physical, visceral music," Lamb says. "I just always want to abandon all rules. I'm not big on rules. If something moves me a certain way, I'm going to do it."
Parlor Walls plays the 10th annual SWAN Day CT at Trinity-On-Main in New Britain on March 25, along with a dozen or so female-fronted acts, as well as burlesque performers, artists, DJs, food vendors and other creative types. The event starts at 5 p.m.
Lamb was raised in Cromwell. (Her older brother delivered The Courant.) Her musical foundation was dance music — ballets, mostly, by Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Erik Satie; you sense the influence in the through-composed structure of some "Parlor Walls" songs.
As a music composition major at University of New Haven, Lamb dabbled in four-track recording. She learned about tritones and microphones. Soon, she'd formed the post-punk band EULA, to try out her ideas.
"It was a mix between bringing my songs to the table and working out musical elements with the other musicians, a good mix of collaboration and my writing," Lamb says. "Your first band: you never know how it's going to turn out."
EULA cycled through band members. The band released a few EPs and a debut album, "Maurice Narcisse," in 2011. Lamb moved to Brooklyn and resurrected the four-track, demoing songs for what would become "Wool Sucking," EULA's final album (for now), which was released in 2015.
Lamb was also itching to start a new project, something more experimental. "I didn't have a specific path in mind," she says. "I try hard to be flexible and keep myself open to collaborating with other musicians. I wanted to keep that conduit open, and it just sort of happened that way."
She met Chris Mulligan of the band Shark?. "Our energies kept slamming into each other," she says. "I was looking for something more heady, heavier, more textured. He was feeling the same thing."
Calling the project Parlor Walls, Lamb and Mulligan played duo gigs and recording textured, effects-heavy demos, which later developed into completed songs. Things progressed quickly; Parlor Walls released "Suspenseful Music," an EP, in 2014, before EULA's "Wool Sucking" came out. For a while, Lamb wore both hats.
"We toured with EULA and released that album," she says. "After that, I pushed really hard with Parlor Walls, to see the vision we had through."
Lamb's eventual break with EULA wasn't a hard one, "no drama or anything like that," she says. "It was cathartic. It came out, and then it was there. I moved on to this new thing."
Parlor Walls stayed busy in 2015, playing shows and reworking songs. Live, Lamb and Mulligan set physical and mental challenges for themselves. Early on, Mulligan chose to play drums and synths simultaneously; during subsequent recording sessions, he tried to separate out the parts, but couldn't. "We love being masochistic, giving ourselves more than we can chew off," Lamb says. "We know we're capable of it, so we're just going to do it."
In the studio, Lamb and Mulligan want to sound like they do at shows.
"We didn't want this overreaching, supersaturated record, because we love minimalism," Lamb says. "Live, sometimes Chris will drop the drums. It will literally be just synth and me singing. We really love the beauty of minimalism. We made a firm point to reflect that in our recording."
"Cover Me" and "Birthday," from "Opposites," the first two songs Lamb and Mulligan co-wrote, evolved over three years of live playing. "Play Opposites," a song Lamb says "came out in 30 minutes," gets somewhat political:
Hey why don't we go
and play opposites
trigger and divide
the starved and overfed
there ain't no compromise
until you clean your hands
wash it all away
and open up your eyes
There's a mechanical vibe to "Crime Engine Failure," the opening track on "Opposites," which layers four-square vocal phrasing by Lamb over Mulligan's triple-meter groove; the hook, if there is one, consists of Lamb and Mohanty playing a clashing, contrary-motion riff. It's almost something to latch onto.
Connecticut musician Jennifer Hill founded SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day CT 10 years ago as a way to give "women in our state a voice within the music and arts communities," she writes in a press release.
In addition to Parlor Walls, this year's music lineup includes Murderous Chanteuse, Tiny Ocean, Nan Roy, Elizabeth Dellinger, Nikki Mathis, Patti Rothberg, Canyon, Scarlett, That Virginia, Gracie Day, Terri Gladwell, Sarah Golley and Jen Taylor.
WTNH style reporter Ryan Kristafer and artist/designer Ebony Amber Parish host the event, with between-band music by DJ Breakdown, burlesque by Mistress Leona Star, Vivienne LaFlamme and Harley Foxx, and Kerry Kennedy's live on-stage paintings (a SWAN Day tradition).
Lamb and Mulligan will perform without Mohanty, an experimental alto saxophonist who played on "Opposites," which was released March 10, and "CUT," a 2015 EP. (Mohanty also performed with EULA.)
"We loved what she was doing on the saxophone, just her artistry," Lamb says. "She's so percussive with her instrument. It almost doesn't sound like a saxophone. She has this alternate approach to playing, which I loved."
Looking ahead, Lamb says they'll explore different configurations.
"Our vision with Parlor Walls was Chris and I would do the majority of the songwriting," Lamb says. "We would be the anchors, and we'd have a revolving cast of musicians collaborating and interacting with us."
SWAN DAY CT 2017 will be at Trinity-On-Main in New Britain on March 25 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $20 here.