They wanted to get a little messy again.
Where the members of Gomez were musically neat on 2006's acclaimed How We Operate, the guys color outside the lines, so to speak, on their follow-up album, A New Tide. In stores next Tuesday, the CD isn't necessarily a departure.
But "it's a little less straight-forwardly about the songs. ... It's about the dynamics of the music, the crazy sounds," says guitarist-vocalist Ben Ottewell. He and his British indie-rock band mates (vocalist-guitarist Ian Ball, vocalist-keyboardist Tom Gray, bassist Paul Blackburn and drummer Olly Peacock) headline Rams Head Live on Thursday night. "We make one kind of record and a different kind afterward. We make a contrast to what we did before."
The production this time around isn't as tidy or precise. Buzzing electronic textures overlay the lilting folk-rock sounds for which Gomez has long been known. Swaying, melodic tunes suddenly shift, giving way to dramatic, strutting rhythmic breaks. The songs aren't as immediate as the ones on How We Operate.
"This is more adventurous," says Ottewell, who last week was with Gomez at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. There, the band was rehearsing cuts from A New Tide.
To refresh the band's direction on the album, Gomez hired producer Brian Deck. (Gil Norton, known for his work with the Foo Fighters and Counting Crows, had overseen How We Operate.)
"Brian was much more involved in the sonic universe," Ottewell says. "He was a bit more of a musician than Gil. Gil was kind of a disciplinarian. Brian was the right guy for these songs, and Gil was the right guy for those songs."
The new music is cautiously progressive. After a decade together, Gomez has locked down a definite sound. Even as the guys push sonic boundaries, they mostly stay true to the pastel blue-shaded pop-rock that garnered the group a sizable fan base, especially in England.
Gomez has long been a critical favorite, too, beginning with its 1998 debut, Bring It On. Three subsequent efforts for Virgin Records, including 2002's impressive In Our Gun, were critical hits, if not runaway sellers in the U.S. The band parted ways with the label in 2005 and signed with Dave Matthews' ATO Records. But even with the positive buzz How We Operate received, Gomez's profile didn't rise much above hipster indie-band status. A commercial smash eludes the group.
And, with no immediate, straightforward songs, that's unlikely to change with A New Tide, which echoes the personal and artistic maturation of the group.
"There's been a lot of life-changing stuff going on," Ottewell says. "Two of the guys got married. I have twin boys. Your life and work can't help but change."
The album's calmer tones were funneled from Ottewell's new life with his babies.
"The more folk elements came from me playing guitar; it had a lulling effect on the boys," he says. "They're 19 months now, but when I was writing for the record, they were 2 months old. I'd play this kind of cycle folk guitar, finger-picking things that were like lullabies, actually. Like, three of the songs on the record came from that, just me trying to keep the boys quiet."
But noisier elements - electronic programming - were also integral parts of the music-making process.
"There's a lot more programming going on with this record," Ottewell says. "Rather than programming being tacked on at the end, it was part of the songwriting. It was very intricate to the sound."
Although the well-worn Gomez approach remains intact, the embellishments are refreshing. Hence the album title.
Ottewell says: "It's a new frame of reference, a new start."
if you go
See Gomez with Josh Ritter at 8 p.m. Thursday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place. Tickets are $30. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.