Seated on a couch in a Charles Village coffeeshop, discussing their views of their new album, Beau Cole and Caleb Moore of Lands and Peoples say they see Pop Guilt as something of a “transitional” record. It also happens to be their first.
Transitional albums are normally the domain of bands that are established, bands that have laid down a certain aesthetic over an album or two. With Lands and Peoples, you might be inclined to ask, “Transition from what?”
The band, originally four members deep, is now just Cole and Moore, and its lush chamber pop has given way to music that is much more rhythm-centric and features more electronics and loops. In many ways, the album is an artifact of a band that continues to exist in name only, which is to say the iteration of Lands and Peoples you see today is much different than the one you hear on record.
Sure, there’s plenty to be excited about in having your music pressed to vinyl and being able to hold that record in your hands. But as a band, the duo’s just as concerned with what’s coming down the pike.
“Is it going to be my favorite album of everything we put out? Probably not,” Cole says. “This is where Lands and Peoples came from. This album is one I’ll look back on in order to make sense of what we do next.”
Pop Guilt was in various stages of recording or mixing for nearly two years, in part because of a lack of funds. Moore acknowledges, “We knew we wanted an album, we knew we wanted a cohesive album. But we didn’t know what we wanted it to be.
“It’s taken a long time, longer than we planned,” he continues. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we have to record this masterpiece.’”
When recording began, the four-piece included Moore and Cole playing a variety of instruments and splitting lead vocal duties, along with Amanda Willis lending backup vocals and guitar, keys, drums, and clarinet and Brian Goldstein fleshing out the low end on bass. Goldstein and Willis decided to depart before the album was mixed.
Both cite creative differences when giving their reasons for leaving, but, by all accounts, the split was amicable. Goldstein, in an e-mail, writes: “I still have much love for Caleb and Beau and Amanda, and we hang out all the time and it’s not weird, and we occasionally will play music together. I wish them all the best. I think the album sounds fantastic. I know they’re going to go on to do awesome things.”
For her part, Willis, also in response to written questions, explains: “Caleb and Beau said they wanted to keep playing as L&P and I supported that idea. They are incredibly talented musicians and I will always remember all the fun, crazy, stupid times we had together.”
Though they are excited by the progress they’ve made in the time since they set out as a duo, Moore and Cole are still grateful to their former bandmates. “I think Brian and Amanda did really amazing shit on that album,” Moore says. “I wouldn’t discount playing music with them in the future. I just don’t know where that will go.”
What links both versions of Lands and Peoples rather seamlessly is the ability of Moore and Cole to plunge saccharine hooks, often in the form of the two singers harmonizing, into their arrangements. The only difference is what they wrap them in, swapping the pounding drums, synthesizers, and polyrhythms of the full band for the slimmed-down, slow-building crescendos of the duo, as demonstrated live on new, post-Pop Guilt material.
As the album’s title suggests, Cole and Moore had a notion that writing pop songs, or songs with strong pop sensibilities, is somehow less artistically pure, because pop, at least in the mainstream sense, is a vehicle for making people lots of money.
Their highest ideal, the one put forth by bands such as Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and St. Vincent, whom Moore and Cole name as influences, is to create music that balances the complex and the pop.
“It has to do with us walking the line between catchy music that [listeners] can bob their head to, even if they’re not into weird music,” Moore says, “but also having something be really cerebral.”
Or, as Cole puts it, “sneak the weird into the candy.”