TVD Double Premiere: NINETEEN THIRTEEN, “Trick Zipper” and “Hot Garbage”

PHOTO: NINA ROBERTS | And then there were two. When a band finds its sound through a unit you could seat at a restaurant’s smallest table, there’s always that rousing surprise when they launch into their first song live and—if it’s the bands I’m thinking of, including this one, NINETEEN THIRTEEN—a large, rich soundscape unfolds, or a wonderful rock and roll thunder.

Thunder-wise, you have the White Stripes, of course. The Black Keys. Back in the late eighties I caught the Flat Duo Jets—a Jack White favorite, featuring psychobilly guitarist Dexter Romweber and cudgel-drumming Crow—down in North Carolina, followed quickly by the Richmond, VA, band House of Freaks, fronted by singer-guitarist Bryan Harvey and drummer Johnny Hott, and both bands were so scorching, blast waves of stage dynamism, percussive slams meeting electric crunch, that I think a part of my listening soul might still happily adhere to the ceiling of Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle music club.

Even that master of noise himself, Big Black and Shellac guitarist Steve Albini, when asked in 2005 about his preference for trios, said the sonic triangle itself could overcomplicate things: “I think two people is plenty. Three people is sometimes excessive!”

Milwaukee chamber rock duo NINETEEN THIRTEEN, comprising legendary drummer Victor DeLorenzo, founding member of the Violent Femmes, and classically trained cellist Janet Schiff, create a gorgeous, mesmerizing sound whose essence emerges from the stick and steel-brush strikes—crisp, swirling, jazzy, witty, martial, trippy—of DeLorenzo, and the deep emotion—the voice—of Schiff’s cello, crafted in Romania in, yes, 1913.

The combination forges songs that are playful and shimmering, that might float, via cello, in the direction of dirge, then veer back from the edge, snapped by drums. Schiff uses a looping pedal to create layers of sound with her amplified instrument, building a hypnotic texture that fills the space of a song—or a concert venue—with orchestral tracery. Schiff and DeLorenzo work off each other—she doesn’t arrive with prerecorded loops—so the rhythms and mood of the moment help construct the songs.

Part of the fun of listening to NINETEEN THIRTEEN, whether on record or live, is trying to analogize their sound. After donning headphones to hear these new tracks and the 16 tunes featured on Music for Time Travel (2016) and EP “The Dream” (2017), I offer this: Imagine if Yo-Yo Ma walked into a bar with his cello, and there was Brian Eno, and Fear of Music-era Talking Heads, and members of Kraftwerk. And they started jamming. (As it happens, DeLorenzo reveres Eno, and the duo covers Kraftwerk.)

The three-minute instrumental “Trick Zipper” showcases the band’s knack for creating music whose taut, rhythmic precision seems to outline a knowable place, with a door, and then that door opens, and the universe enters. Music for Levitation. Guest keyboardist Matt Meixner adds a beauteous, spiraling synthesizer solo that lifts the cello-driven song toward space, then DeLorenzo, with his emphatic drum and cymbal strikes, activates tethers of rhythm, reeling “Trick Zipper” back from prog-rock orbit.

The drumming is almost sprightly on parts of “Hot Garbage,” and Meixner’s analog synth unspools a planetary phrase, with DeLorenzo whisper-crooning, a Bowie shading to his tone, across a groovy tune riffing on ignitable love. And then? The tune turns. The groove gives way to a beautiful, cinematic interlude of violin, played by DeLorenzo’s daughter Peri, and cello: a chamber transcendence. The ache of love, of pain, is there, in full, before the arch groove returns.

“This project’s made me happier than anything I’ve ever done,” DeLorenzo said of Music For Time Travel when I stopped by his attic recording studio, The Past Office, last year. Behind the dreaminess of the music, and the percussive mastery, there’s a joy these musicians take in each other, in the dance of their compositions—you can hear it in the songs, and see it on stage. Music for time travel. For levitation. For joy.

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