New Collisions rediscover their pop identity

Smashing sound barriers
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  October 4, 2010

THE NEW DEAL: The Optimist retains the jubilation and sparkle of New Collisions’ new-wave phase, but there’s more of a post-punk wallop.

Ever since Adam and Eve invented pop music by writing the first song, "Snake Is a Jerk," local bands have honored a time-tested structure. We're not talking about music theory. Fuck, no. Let us never speak of music theory. We're discussing a series of tasks we expect scrappy regional outfits to carry out, and an order in which divine design decrees that these events take place.

New Collisions have accomplished most of the requisite tasks, and they've landed on ideal terra firma. But it's as if they'd turned the ladder upside down before climbing it. For example, a band are supposed to figure out what kind of band they are sometime between the casual-jamming phase and guilt-tripping their friends into seeing them play Tuesday night at Club Slime. Bands are absolutely not supposed to find themselves after they open for the mythic likes of the fucking B-52's and fucking Blondie.

"After every show, a dude would ask me for my pick," founding New Collisions guitarist and co-songsmith Scott Guild recalls, as he knocks back a few at Cambridge's Green Street Grill with the rest of the gang. "I was like, 'Really? Here's my pick, man.' They'd be like, 'Thank you.' Those were very different kinds of shows. We're more used to playing in a club, where at the end some dude walks up and spills a beer on me and goes, 'That wasn't an accident.' "

The fate of New Collisions — who unveil their first proper long-player, The Optimist (self-released), this Saturday at Great Scott — unfolded like one big happy accident. Sometime during last year's mega-tour and some less glamorous jaunts across the nation, the conceptualized-as-synth-pop Cantabrigian quintet realized they didn't sound the way they were supposed to sound. These days, they're attracting approving Cheap Trick comparisons aplenty. We could call them the New New Collisions, but we won't, because that would be stupid.

"Synths sound awful. Anything less than a $5000 synth sounds terrible," proclaims bassist Alex Stern, who along with drummer Zak Kahn splits time between New Collisions and Boston ensemble the Sterns. "It stinks that a month after we put out our first EP, we started to find our sound. It's important that when you realize that you're doing something that's not you, you move on as quick as possible."

Things do happen quickly for New Collisions. It was only a scant two years ago that globetrotting husband and wife Scott and Sarah Guild landed in Cambridge, intending to express their mutual love for '80s pop to the frothing masses. Before long, an avalanche of gushing media accolades smothered the nascent band. Along came the Cars' Greg Hawkes, who stopped by to tickle the keys on the aforementioned inaugural EP, Invisible Embraces.

"All that's been hugely beneficial, but you can't rest on your laurels or the things that were handed to you," says Sarah, the voice of the operation, about her band's early hullaballoo. "You have to grow, so that's what we're doing."

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