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Sympathetic Vibrations: Excuses to Commit

Above image: Y God Y is Joel Martin (left) and Garrett Marsh. | Photo: Flynn Fox

Lawrence, Kansas synth pop duo set to release gritty debut EP

In art, technology often conjures up feelings of anxiety and despair. And that’s likely because our  growing reliance upon tech seems to signal human beings’ ever-increasing surrender of identity and personal control. Indeed, the very nature of computer language itself can evoke a sense of claustrophobia – a combination of letters, numbers and math whipping around in a finite ecosystem with very defined boundaries.

But for Garrett Marsh and Joel Martin, the creative minds behind Lawrence, Kansas synth poppers Y god Y, embracing technology has expanded their musical world and driven the growth of their band.

Y god is set to release its debut EP, “S/T”, on Friday, April 5, accompanied by a record release show on Friday, April 12 at Replay Lounge. And while debut releases are cause enough to celebrate, the fact that the band is releasing an EP of tracks like those on the record shows just how far Marsh and Martin have come in a short two years.

Martin, who is heavily responsible for the band’s electronic sound, employs an array of hardware synths and composition software, like Ableton Live, to achieve the sonics on “S/T.” And for vocalist/guitarist Marsh, the pliability of sounds one can achieve with this type of software made music exciting again.

“What attracted me to working with [Martin] was that it felt like there were so many more possibilities,” Marsh said. “Before we started Y god, I felt like I was stuck in a box in what I was capable of doing with just a guitar and myself. With this type of music you can mold the sound. You can change the notes, shift it and look at it a different way melodically.”

Y god formed in 2017. And to hear them describe it, Marsh and Martin’s journey to collaboration seems to illustrate an ongoing effort by both to break free of their own confines. Marsh grew up in Chanute, Kansas, and described his home as one of those unfortunate rural towns that was decimated by Walmart’s arrival – which left a trail of empty Main Street storefronts in its wake.

“Small towns survive by their businesses,” Marsh said. “And when those things are taken away, a lot of the culture of that town goes away as well, and a lot of the people end up moving.”

Marsh was similarly compelled to leave Chanute and move to Lawrence – partly to get away, but perhaps moreso to be a part of Lawrence’s established music scene. It wasn’t long before Marsh met Martin, who had moved to Lawrence from nearby Baldwin. The two began playing in each others’ bands and touring, and recognized an immediate creative connection.

Fairly soon thereafter, they began demoing songs back and forth. Their then-unnamed project began as more of a guitar-driven indie rock band. But the more they honed their sound, the more Marsh and Martin came to embrace the particular brand of R&B synth pop that prevails on “S/T.”

And as a collection of songs, you can see why the two landed on those sonics. “S/T” is a glitchy, headphone-forward release that finds Marsh and Martin leaning heavily into a texture-based pop that can be bright and airy on one track, and brooding and sinister on the next.

Marsh’s vocals are strong and ranged – with a breathy delivery that can sometimes veer uncomfortably close to James Blake. Fortunately, the band’s instrumentals provide an unmistakable line of demarcation. Marsh’s guitars are peppered throughout the background, whether giving a solid color to the tracks or providing tiny, plunking fills. And Martin’s sawtooth synth loops smear the tracks with a gritty edge, offering an auditory handrail that anchors a few of the EP’s more downtempo moments.

The EP was clearly an important step in Y god’s short career, but putting together a collection of songs in a single project like this is somewhat new territory for the band. Y god has successfully toured for the last two years off the strength of a catalog of sporadically-released singles. But that hasn’t stopped them from racking up supporting slots for heavy hitters like Phoenix, Grizzly Bear and Spoon.

In fact, Marsh and Martin still seem a little conflicted about the best approach for sharing their music, but they both feel that they’ve waited for the right moment to release their first body of work.

“I’ve always really liked the idea of releasing singles, because you don’t get tied to a direction,” Martin said. “Since we’ve put out our first singles, we’ve changed our sound significantly compared to this new EP. And if we’d just released whatever we had come up with in the first few months, we might be more defined to a sound that we’ve kind of walked away from at this point.”

Y god Y’s debut EP “S/T” will be available Friday, April 5 and they will celebrate the release of the record on April 12 with a release show at Replay Lounge (946 Massachusetts St, Lawrence, Kansas). The band also plans to head out on a short East coast/Midwest tour in August.

—Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney and contributor to 90.9 The Bridge and Flatland. You can contact him by emailing pdancalderon@gmail.com or on Twitter @dansascity.

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