Tracking points

By SHARON STEEL  |  February 28, 2009

The earliest equation for Bon Savants goes back 11 years, when Moran was 18 and in the Air Force. He spent his days as a flight mechanic in Frankfurt but started writing songs after meeting Kevin Whelan, the base’s chaplain’s son. He and Whelan both wound up in Boston after college, and they continued to collaborate, eventually hooking up with Wessel, Dole, and keyboardist Brian Halley, a former Bostonian who now lives in Detroit. Whelan, who played on all the songs on Post Rock, left the group last July and was replaced by Hendrix.

Post Rock wasn’t officially available in the US till November 7. But the Savants weren’t exactly turning away fans who wanted to buy it at shows. After all, the album came out in the UK a month earlier on e to the i pi, a label Moran named for his favorite physics formula and started for the express purpose of Post Rock’s release. The disc has all the textured keyboards and built-up distortion of an urbane Britpop outfit. Add to that Moran’s distinctive baritone, which one could compare to that of Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker — a “good baby step,” he says, though he’d rather it reminded you of the French singer Jacques Dutron — and Bon Savants could be mistaken for stuff you’d hear over the speakers of some arcane record store on Berwick Street in Soho London.

There are Moran’s worldly lyrics, too, filled with the bittersweet goodbyes of youth and misguided make-out sessions. The kernel of “Between the Moon and the Ocean,” the disc’s best song, was written five years ago and got buried along with some of Moran & Whelan’s impromptu four-track jam sessions. After he unearthed it, Moran says he knew they’d hit on something special.

“It was magic!”, Wessel kids.

Well, it kind of is — both visually evocative (“I killed my love in the ocean, where it sank with the moon and the night”) and unabashedly pretty, it pitches gently forward on a slow bender of twinkling piano trills and a head-rushing chorus. The rest of Post Rock’s meticulous, misty-eyed pop feels just as sophisticated and well-read. Songs are peppered with smarty-pants references to the Schrödinger function and lunar gravity, yet the band aren’t afraid to break a song wide open before its fizzles out. Moran describes his songwriting process as “mostly serendipitous.” He records tracks and then rides the T for hours, listening to them on his headphones, searching for words that fit.

Bon Savants are a bit more calculated when it comes to measuring their success. It has nothing to do with their collection of MySpace friends or the number of calls from A&R reps they get per day. They use a different method, one they’re quite serious about. How big will the band name appear in the next listing? Can an out-of-state promo trump an ad in Boston? At this point, wherever they are, a steady rise in flier text style is far more dependable than a last-minute record deal.

“Right now we’re at like, 11-point font in any new town we get into,” Moran says. “Hopefully over the next six to nine months we’ll go up.”

“What’s the limit, like 22 point?” asks Wessel.

“First things first, we need to go bold,” Moran nods. “Bold 11. Someday, 24.”

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