Review & Interview
Denver, Colorado's Confluence return after 4 years of inactivity with their new and final album "Closure, Start Over"
"Believe" starts off with a bang, utilizing a quick, intensely syncopated snare/kick drum pattern and falling into a 4/4 groove that instantly had me swaying back and forth to the beat. I immediately notice in this song, as well as Confluence's other music, that their guitarists often play off of each other with "call & answer" patterns making expert use of harmony and counterpoint to create a sonically rich, textured sound that is only further thickened by the rhythmic precision and melodic nature of their bassist Alan Hubbard's playing. The first verse of "Believe" begins with their singer/guitarist Ian Gassman joining in the mix, providing his high and unique vocals. At just under a minute, the song then goes right into a chorus-type section, seeing the guitarists strumming heavy chords in a staccato, quarter note rhythm with the drummer and bassist following suit, making this section incredibly easy to bob your head to. The lyrics are infectiously catchy. Most likely you'll be going on about your day then in your head you'll hear.. "Some things are best left.. ALONE!" After four measures, the guitarists and bassist continue their staccato attack while drummer Spenser Leighton spices it up a bit with some flashy fills in between. During all this, the singer belts his lyrics with conviction and clarity, making it impossible to not dig along. This leads into a post-chorus bridge consisting of the right guitarist Gastón Leone softly picking through an arpeggio which leads into the second verse. The instrumental section of the second verse varies a bit from the first, though still maintaining the flawless melodic and rhythmic interplay between each musician. The chorus then comes in again with some variation in the lyrics but maintaining the same jazzy, staccato groove. This is followed by both guitarists picking an arpeggio which builds in volume and intensity, leading up to a satisfying and melodic solo section, followed by another repetition of the chorus and one final crook from the singer to close the track out. With bright headlights shining from a luxurious, fully realized vehicle of lush sounds and with every optional add on you can think of, Confluence strikes me as the "Cadillac of math rock."
is a smooth, flowing, easy going jam that easily keeps the listener swaying and bouncing with the groove app throughout. It seems to be mostly in 4/4 time, though the band does a great job of masking that behind some timing and rhythmic tricks, with a couple transitions that appear to be in 6/4. The song begins with Confluence's signature melodic guitar texturing, with one playing a melody consisting of dotted eighth notes while the other lets some single notes ring out every four bars or so. Both guitars are mostly clean with some reverb and perhaps a slight delay to keep things nice and chill. The guitar melodic guitar riff then continues with both guitarists as drums, bass and vocals join as we get into the meat of the song. I really notice with song that their makes a great combination of both his natural voice as well as his falsetto voice which a subtle yet important emotional emphasis at just the right points in his vocals. We then hear a transition section that shits the timing to 6/4 before leading into a catchy riff alternating between more dotted eighth note chords and a fast tapping/sliding section (which I am an absolute sucker for) played by the left and right guitarists, respectively. After this, the band plays a fun little riff with some odd timing and rhythmic placement to throw off the listener, which is another technique that I absolutely love in this style of music. After that, The previous sections of the song repeat again in the same order as the singer's story continues to unfold through his lyrics. All throughout the song, the bassist maintains a solid melodic groove while the drummer dances between the snare and hi hat. After the second repetition of the fast tapping section, we're greeted with a new, bouncier guitar riff backed by a more driving rhythm from the drummer and bassist while the singer reaches the heights of his range and even adds some grit to his voice for more emotional intensity. This then leads to my favorite section of the song, the outdo. The guitars add on some distortion as all instruments break into a hard, driving groove to close the whole thing out.
is a happy and upbeat tune that invokes feelings of content. It seems to have two main sections. The first begins with a single guitar tapping a simple descending arpeggio for several measures, followed soon by a second guitar picking through another arpeggio for another few measures until the drums, bass and vocals kick in. The song seems to be in 4/4 time for the most part, though it doesn't necessarily feel that way due to the accenting snare hits on the third, sixth, and eighth beat of each measure in the beginning. This eventually leads into a kind of groovy, sliding, transitional guitar riff that turns into the second main section of the song, which contrasts the first by switching to 5/4 time and making excellent use of delay and reverb, long, drawn out chords, and a melody played by the bass guitar to create a dreamy, spacey vibe. The song continues like this for a couple minutes until the same transitional guitar riff from the first section plays again, followed by an outdo consisting of the left guitar playing its same picked arpeggio from the first section while the right guitar plays ambient, single note volume swells until the song's end. Throughout the song, the singer does a great job of carrying the melody with his higher vocal register, adding greatly to the emotion felt in this tune.
Overall, Confluence's swan song "Closure, Start Over" is an excellent showcase of the immense talent possessed by each member of the band. What I love most about the album is that each song has its own separate, distinct character, but they each have similar elements that allow the whole thing to flow together smoothly and coherently. "Closure, Start Over" also features top notch opening and closing tracks ("Believe" and "Up to Here" respectively), which I consider vital for any memorable album. This album stands as an example of the band in their best form, and though it is bittersweet knowing that we won't be receiving any more music from these talented individuals, it's safe to say they they're going out on a fantastic note. Standout tracks for me personally would be "Believe", "Dear Ghost", and "Up to Here" - Nick C.
Confluence: Ian Gassman (guitar/vocals) (far back), Brett Dewire (guitar)(far right), Alan Hubbard (bass)(front), Spenser Leighton (drums)(far left) Interview:
It's been 4 years since Confluence's last song was released, why did you quit playing?
Ian: Wow, it's been that long? Time flies, kind of like our life as a band did. Confluence stopped playing for a myriad of reasons, but specifically our bassist Alan got arrested during our third tour through the Midwest. In 2011, he had a drug offense and was given probation, but didn’t comply with it due to addiction issues. As a result he had a warrant being issued for his arrest.
We didn't know about the warrant. We thought his legal troubles were over. But it was the beginning of a big life change for him, one that put the band on hold for a good while.
We were 55 miles outside of Chicago, having just played Springfield, Missouri, the hometown of our drummer, Spenser. Things were going great. In fact, I was taking a nice nap. I awoke to "We're getting pulled over." Alan was in shock.
"I think I'm going to jail, guys," he said.
Alan was extradited back to Colorado and we finished out the tour without him. Afterward, we went on a hiatus, not knowing how to regroup. Alan, meanwhile, went to rehab at the advice of his attorney and completed his probation. He’s been clean and sober ever since.
Over the hiatus, our founding guitarist, Brett, left the band. Alan, Spenser and I reconnected eventually and had our longtime friend Gaston join. We worked diligently on this final album, playing a few shows in between.
Soon, everyone’s lives were going in different directions, as new opportunities cropped up. We had less time and energy for the band. After we recorded seven songs, we drafted more material but got stonewalled in the creative process. And we had our share of non-musical issues, too. We decided to hang up our hats and let the album sit.
I wasn't actually planning on doing anything with it until I listened back a few months ago and realized how good it was. The rest of the band agreed. It's really, to me, a representation of Confluence at its best.
What's your main musical focus right now?
Ian: My main musical focus right now is a project called Mainland Break. It's kind of a direct descendant of Australian rock band, Rolling Coastal Blackouts Fever: Rollicking indie pop for bouncing around to and swilling beer. Expect new music soon. Spenser is in an awesome, techy punk band called Hotel Bar.
Alan and I will also be putting out new music at some point, akin to Pinback. Alan’s been writing with a Bass VI guitar. It a truly awesome hybrid of a bass and guitar. Spenser will probably drum; Gaston might add some guitar. We'll do it a bedroom project and we're down to try anything, really.
There's a lot to be said for being in a dedicated band that carves out time on the weeknights to write for six hours inside a dingy, cramped practice space. I actually miss it sometimes. But eventually that gets tiring. Now we have flexibility, freedom and, most importantly, time to try out ideas at home.
Who or what inspires your musical creativity the most?
Ian: The inspiration of my musical creativity is the "groove" and my bandmates. For Confluence, I always wrote from the perspective of "can this song get someone up and moving, dancing or bobbing their head?" I identify with whatever hits you physically, before lyrically or even melodically. I think I should have always been a bassist, because for a lot of Confluence, I was writing very bass-oriented riffs on the guitar. Without my bandmates, I probably couldn't have made any of those riffs into songs.
Fortunately, Alan, who plays the bass like a guitar, was able to harmonize and compliment my riffs. Meanwhile, Spenser is the best drummer I've ever played with. He can come up with some of the coolest, most complimentary beats, or beats that lead songs in new directions. He's a really good songwriter in that sense. Alan, too.
Gaston was the perfect final addition to our lineup, because he was able to consummately learn and perform old material Brett wrote. Brett is a virtuoso when it comes to finger-tapping and some of the lines he came up with are insane. Gaston nailed those lines. Then, Gaston brought his own flavors and tones to the record that helped us really define a fresh sound.
Lastly, for this final album, I had always envisioned Confluence as being a groovier, funkier math rock band, akin to Foals or The Cast of Cheers. You hear a lot of those bands on this final album.
What are you trying to convey through your music?
Ian: In terms of mood, tone and lyrics, Confluence songs have always conveyed a sense of uncertainty and urgency. There's always a glint of hope buried in all the emotion, but we get pretty dark.
For "Closure, Start Over," I was ruminating on the passing of time; how our lives have a finite span. And, within that, we're constantly shortening our time by doing the opposite of what is good for us. This ranges from drinking too much to destroying the planet with each commute to work.
"The Possibility of Hope" sums up this line of thinking perfectly. It was inspired by a documentary of the same name which you can find on YouTube. It's essentially a bunch of thought leaders, philosophers and economists talking about globalization, speculating what major shifts natural disaster, war or famine can cause in our overpopulated world. Mind you, they were talking about all this in 2008. Ten years later, it has come full circle. Syria is causing a refugee crisis. Hurricanes and sea level rise are causing similar crises on a smaller scale. And I think a lot of people are just hoping for the best, despite this. I know I am (laughs).
Do you plan on playing any shows or touring for this record?
Ian: I don't think so. Not unless we get a major response from this album. One, because it would take a lot of work to re-learn these songs. And, two, we've grown up and have different musical mindsets now. This band started when we were each about 23- or 24-years old. We're all pretty much 30 now.
Spenser is a dad (major congrats). Alan is a skilled rock climber (also congrats). Brett is hustling in the craft beer world (congrats, save me a cold one). And Gaston is booking for The Roxy Theater in Los Angeles (totes congrats). The thing I can say is: If people give a shit about this album, we'll probably try to make physical copies of it. We never got to make a CD or vinyl record before our band ended. It's a bucket list goal now.
To that end, we just want to thank everyone who supported our band. We had so many friends who just kept coming to our shows, no matter what. We had people come out and watch us in different states. I look back on my time with the band and get emotional, because it meant the world to me.
The only way to keep music alive is to support it. Heck, we thank you for asking these questions and reviewing our final album. The Math Rock Times rules! Love, Confluence.