“What's So Good?
Are you in the mood for a new art rock band? Brooklyn’s own Changing Modes is keeping the genre alive with their single, “Down To You,” taken from their equally artful album In Flight.
This single has a dark and intriguing sound as it journeys into a lethargic, downtempo realm, with a lot of wah effects to emphasize the atmosphere. The vocals are melancholy and slightly sad as the piano follows behind, and the bass and guitar interweave with each other as they eventually meet up with the rest of the instrumentals, creating a precisely calculated orchestral art rock ballad. It’s peculiar, obscure, and off-kilter while still maintaining enough structure to pique your ears.
Check out Changing Modes’ album, In Flight, and if you still want more, perhaps you can catch one of their shows.”
- Christiana Bartolini
“Changing Modes’ ‘In Flight’ album has a bit of a soft pop slant to it. It sounds very safe and uncomplicated from the band but its veiled complexity is, in fact, a testament to the New York City based band’s mastery of their craft. Listeners will appreciate their ability to produce songs that are easy to swallow whilst not exuding amateurish plainness. Arrangements can be a bit stupefying as they refuse to adhere to any conventional linearity and the melodic nature springs from an overindulgence of instrumentation and the manner in which they play them.Compositions are ideally short in length – at least for those, including myself, with shorter attention spans. Still, each 2-3 minute composition manages to deliver on the punchiness and artistic abstruseness of the band’s thought-inspiring messages. Changing Modes often demand that you consider what they’re relaying by repeating their one-lined communications - for example, within tracks like ‘Ghost in the Backseat’ and ‘Knock Once’ – and though there may be a definite meaning within the minds of the band members, lyrics are open to personal interpretation. Describing themselves as art-rockers, Changing Modes’ wistful 80s punk rock stylings, which hare occasionally spiced up by the infusion of other musical genres - combine the zest of new wave energy with catchy instrumentation and playful, rather than distastefully recalcitrant opinions. On the whole, what this means for these experimenters is that ‘In Flight’ has a multidimensional appeal that will no doubt bring in a lot of unexpected punters.”
- Daniel Davidson-Amadi
“Artsy Rockers Changing Modes Put Out Their Darkest and Best Album
For a dozen years, New York band Changing Modes have been been putting out solidly good, smart albums that blend an artsy 80s pop vibe with darker, sometimes more punk-oriented sounds. It’s not clear what the band name refers to – maybe that fashions come and go, but that good music is timeless. Although the group has three synthesizers, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole them as retroists since they’re a lot more eclectic than the legions of Simple Minds and New Order worshippers. Their songs aren’t exactly trendy – imagine Pulp at their most enigmatic and biting, casually ferocious guitars amid swirly, sometimes atmospheric, sometimes lurid keys. Of their seven albums, Changing Modes’ new one, In Flight, is their fifth full-length effort, their most complex and opaque and arguably their best. Keyboardist Wendy Griffiths – who has a second career as an indie classical composer – typically fronts the band; the rest of the group includes singer/keyboardists Jen Rondeau (who also plays theremin) and Grace Pulliam (who also plays percussion), while Yuzuru Sadashige and Denise Mei Yan Hofmann switch between guitar and bass and David Oromaner provides brisk, punchy beats behind the drum kit.
Anger, apprehension and disappointment run deep in these hard-hitting songs. “Will you save for a Brave New World?” Griffiths scarcastically asks over the shuffling disco beat of Particle Collider as it spins further and further toward total annihilating chaos. The insistent piano pop of Life Drawing reflects on a lifetime of regret and disillusion, while Ghost in the Backseat, all one minute 42 seconds of it, reminds of X with its roaring guitar chromatics and unhinged noiserock solo. Anger and menace take centerstage in Down to You, lit up by tremoloing noir guitar: “Comatose and broken, you escape into a dream – did it hit you like a ton of bricks when she told you it wasn’t?” Griffiths asks with a vengeful swoop at the end of the line.
The closest thing to Pulp here is Blue, a cynical, murderously creepy piano tune sung by one of the guys in the band. The Politics of Fear strips the psychology of a police state to the basics, switching from snarling guitar-disco to a darkly carnivalesque waltz and then back again, with a deliciously atonal horror-guitar solo from Sadashige, while Professional Girl puts a feminist spin on uneasy Henry Mancini-style latin pop. Twisted circus piano, an all-too-brief theremin solo and some neat counterpoint between the keyboards all factor into the cryptic Firewall; To the Left sets a venomous lyric over sunny, bouncy 60s Carnaby Street pop. Likewise, Chinatown tells the anxious tale of a killer on the lam over torchy, pulsing cabaret-pop: “A list of accusations, DNA and information, read it on a sunny afternoon when Chinatown looks beautiful.” Houses of Cards, a cinematic noir-pop spy-on-the-run tale, unwinds with surreal layers of vocals; the album closes with the title track, its ominous Pink Floyd melody twinkling out with the steady pings of a glockenspiel.
While Griffiths is responsible for most of the writing here, Rondeau’s three contributions make up some of the strongest tracks. Nature of the Beast, a brooding, funereal, bitter kiss-off anthem blends Procol Harum gothic with a torchy cabaret vibe: “Left his message on the pillow sham/Doesn’t say a word, he’s an honest man,” Rondeau asserts coldly. Knock Once adds a macabre edge to a wounded, vintage soul-infused ballad, while the barely two-minute Thunderwing pulses along on a delicately reverberating Fender Rhodes bossa beat. And Reflection, by Pulliam, mines a lushly orchestrated wah-wah Philly soul ambience, layers of keyboards blaring ominously in place of what would have been guitars and strings forty years ago. Sixteen songs, and they’re all excellent – can you name another band who’ve done that this year? Probably not. Count this among the year’s best albums, another triumph for a group that deserves to be vastly better known than they are. Changing Modes are busy right now: they’re playing Trash tonight at 9, then a Make Music NY show scheduled for 3 PM at the boathouse in Prospect Park tomorrow. They’ll also be at Local 269 on July 5 at 10.”
“Flying High in Friendly Skies
There is an apocryphal story that Wendy Griffiths -- the primary singer/songwriter for Changing Modes -- initially "had no intention" of making her songs public. Five albums, two EPs, dozens of shows throughout the Northeast, and one M.E.A.N.Y. award (Musicians and Emerging Artists of New York) later, I can only say that I am happy she did not relegate her "bedroom tapes" to a shoebox in a closet.Ms. Griffiths identifies her influences (at least on this album) well, particularly PJ Harvey and Blondie. However, the music on In Flight is quite a bit more "progressive" than that: there are whiffs of such prog-rock artists as Renaissance, The Decemberists, and even Frank Zappa here. Indeed, the most appropriate word I can find to describe Ms. Griffiths's music is: quirky. And I mean that as a very sincere compliment.Ms. Griffiths uses lots of chromatics, tritones, deceptive cadences, and truly unexpected (even wild) chord progressions and melody lines, yet she has such amazing control over her music that this never comes across as random or inappropriate. Indeed, most of the songs have a "sense of the appropriate" (i.e., choice of instrumentation, arrangement, sound effects, etc. to create an overall atmosphere) that is fairly rare, particularly in current popular music.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Ms. Griffiths's compositions is that she has the rare ability to write satisfying (even jam-packed) songs in under three minutes: of sixteen songs, only four are longer than that, and none reach three-and-a-half minutes. In one case -- the hopelessly infectious "Ghost in the Backseat" -- she gives us a complete and satisfying song in under two minutes. Not since The Beatles have I heard that done with any degree of success.Ms. Griffiths is not always consistent: though all of her compositions are good (and none are "plain vanilla"), and are certainly worthy of an ear (or two), not all rise to the same level. Still, the majority rise well above the norm of what passes for popular music these days, and Ms. Griffiths has set her own bar higher than most. I particularly like a number of songs that have a wonderful late '60s quality and feel to the music and lyrics, including "Particle Collider" (which has a complex rhythm and a Blondie-cum-Renaissance feel), "Life Drawing," and "Down to You." Also of note are "Reflection" (a sort of "slightly off" R&B), "Blue" (with a male vocal, weird (but excellent) piano, and that Decemberists feel), "Firewall" (a nice ballad with superb harmonies), "Thunderwing" (which goes from samba to circus and back), and the title track, which provides a truly wonderful coda to the album, including a nice use of synthesizer.Yet if I had to pick the tracks that most represent Ms. Griffiths's approach on this album, it would be "Nature of the Beast" (with a chord progression and melody that are truly "out there"!), "Politics of Fear" (as quirky as it gets), and "Professional Girl" (a lovely song that moves from soft rock into a wonderful jazz feel).Ms. Griffiths's voice is pleasant and expressive: less concerned with perfect tonality than with "getting her point across," which she does extremely well. She also has a deceptively subtle approach to vocal harmonies that is refreshing. Ms. Griffiths is also a very talented pianist: she obviously has a grasp on quite a few styles, and her choices are always interesting and often compelling. The band provides excellent, rock-solid back-up (particularly her guitarist), complementing the quirkiness of her writing style. And although her music is generally classified as "rock," I believe that, at least with this album, Ms. Griffiths straddles the line into progressive rock. And in my book, that cannot be a bad thing.I very much look forward to hearing more Changing Modes in the future. - Ian Alterman”
- Ian Alterman
“Playing a similar style of music to Quix*o*tic (Dischord/Kill Rock Stars), Changing Modes has a similar “wow” factor that Quix*o*tic had when I saw them perform at Tonic in the late 90’s. Changing Modes recently released their fifth disc, In Flight, and the band’s music incorporates a veritable stew of musical sounds and influences. Similar to Quix*o*tic, Changing Modes’ music jumps across a range of styles: from late-night torch songs to punk to 70’s funk and bubblegum pop. While one can hear elements of the jagged art-punk of the early B-52s, the sultry cool of Blondie, and the slinky synth-driven dance club beats of Luscious Jackson along with the driving punk of bands like X and the Dead Kennedys (the twisting buzzsaw guitar licks in "Ghost in the Backseat" could have come straight from East Bay Ray's guitar), the band is able to mold all of these sounds into a disc whose sound is both recognizable and distinctive (…but not derivative). Adding to all of this are stellar vocals from the band’s two lead singers Wendy Griffiths and Jen Rondeau which are backed with rich vocal harmonies. In keeping with Changing Modes consistently changing music, drummer David Oromaner takes lead vocals on the slow-burning song “Blue”.”