There’s nothing that says a band can’t give its sound a complete makeover, but it takes the right group of musicians to pull it off. In the case of Seattle’s Barcelona, the change was so radical that at first, it started off as frontman Brian Fennell’s side project.
Fennell was exploring writing in a different voice and using different sounds and never intended for Barcelona to transition from a pretty standard indie rock outfit to purveyors of lounge-ready electropop. But somehow, they did, and they’re celebrating the release of a slick three-EP set of albums titled “The Melodrama” tonight at Neumos on the tail end of a quick West Coast tour that started at SXSW.
“It’s what us as individuals and us as a band have been listening to over the last two to three years,” Fennell said when describing what helped to prompt the change in direction. “Our tastes changed as well, and we started becoming a little more minimalist.”
Part of the change might simply be a reaction to the growing popularity of electronic sounds in music. When even Taylor Swift is including dubstep in her hit song “I Knew You Were Trouble,” the sea change is hard to ignore.
That doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to switch things up. Fennell and company were on a major label (Universal/Motown) when they released “Absolutes” in 2009, and no one would have blamed them if they continued down the indie-rock path.
“It took a lot of getting over ourselves to admit that we were attracted to that stuff,”Fennell said of the synth-fueled pop music the band now creates. “We had been sort of cut from the Seattle cloth, or at least the box we sort of put ourselves in being from Seattle. We were proud of having an alt-indie sound, but we’ve always felt like a bit of a weird stepchild in Seattle.”
What Barcelona discovered when on tour is that music fans in Ohio, for example, considered them much more “alternative” than do Seattle fans, who Fennell said probably look at the band as “a pop band.” Now, partly thanks to the glacial workings of the music industry, Barcelona is embracing that local reputation.
“It took us forever to do a second album,” Fennell said. “By the time the second album came out, I had kind of moved on. By the time ‘Absolutes’ came out, a number of songs on the EP had been in the works already.”
The set of three EPs are named “Love Me,” “Love You,” and “Know Love” and cover love from multiple points of view. On the first EP, “Love Me,” Fennell said he indulged his id before taking a more restrained approach on the other two EPs.
Overall, they’re a sharp collection of pop tunes that would be at home on the radio or at your favorite swank bar. “Background,” the lead track off the first EP, is a perfect example of the shimmering, hook-laden cuts that populate the collection, while the atmospheric “Fall In Love” demonstrates Fennell’s great range on his delicate, engaging voice.
This is music to start and end a party, which should make Neumos the place to be tonight. See you there.
Barcelona with Mackintosh Braun and Gibraltar
8 p.m. Thursday, April 10 at Neumos, 925 E Pike St., Seattle; $15 (206-709-9442 or neumos.com)
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails