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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fog/Mist
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All Tiny Creatures evolve: The experimental band bring vocals to the fore
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'We're never going to be a guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar sort of thing.'
'We're never going to be a guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar sort of thing.'
Credit:Chris Rosenau

All Tiny Creatures' new album, Dark Clock, is pretty accessible, so it's strange to think that it might alienate some fans. The local experimentalists insist that this was not part of the plan. Like many creatures, they're just evolving.

The change is noticeable. Dark Clock emphasizes vocals more than any other Creatures record, which may surprise admirers of the band's highly instrumental approach. Hometapes will release the album on June 25, and the band will play a release show at the Dragonfly Lounge on June 28.

Chief creature Thomas Wincek says All Tiny Creatures haven't abandoned their old processes. They've simply refined them.

"We're never going to be a guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar sort of thing," he says, adding that they still build a lot of their songs from chopped-up guitar lines. And they still maintain the steady groove fans know and love. That's a result of the rhythm work of bassist Matt Skemp and drummer Ben Derickson.

"Any time you're going to make any sort of art, it's going to be an experiment to an extent," guitarist Andrew Fitzpatrick says. "I guess it's just a matter of how far you want to deviate from what you're usually comfortable doing."

Wincek sang and wrote lyrics for all but one song on Dark Clock. He came up with the words first for much of it, which is not the way he's done things before.

Wincek wanted to treat these tracks more like songs and less like processes. This meant sticking with a clearer verse-chorus-verse structure, which in turn meant mixing the album more like a rock or pop record. In the process, the vocals were moved closer to the surface. While creating the band's 2011 debut, Harbors, Wincek was fascinated with making the vocals barely perceptible. They served more as texture than melody. Dark Clock, meanwhile, is his first album that has a printed lyrics sheet.

On Harbors, many of the lyrics came from other people, some in a language Wincek doesn't speak. Since the guest vocalists weren't touring with the Creatures, Wincek was forced to sing parts other people had recorded. In many cases, these were totally out of his natural vocal range.

Wincek had never sung on stage before Harbors came out. But a couple of years singing in front of people has definitely bolstered his confidence.

Wincek says that hasn't led him to write songs specifically for his voice, a trap that ensnares many musicians. He doesn't want to be stuck in one sonic frequency range.

"The songs happen, and there's no consideration for the vocal range," Wincek says.

This makes singing live a challenge, but at least it's by his own design. As the vocals bubbled up to the surface of Dark Clock, songs from the past gained new vigor.

"Comets" appeared on the 2010 mixtape An Iris before becoming the first track on Dark Clock. The earlier version was born from Wincek and Fitzpatrick improvising a lot and piecing it together. As the band played the song live, it changed into something more dynamic, with more distinct verses and choruses.

Half of the tracks on Dark Clock were part of the band's live set before they figured out how they wanted to record them, Wincek says.

"Quickest Cut" represents the latter group, built in the studio and then learned for the stage. Fitzpatrick's guitar solo was pieced together lick by lick. Wincek notes that Fitzpatrick recorded 20 different takes. Then the band picked the five best ones and stitched together parts of each. Fitzpatrick mastered the final result.

The urge to shred might have come from Wincek's Def Leppard allegiance, which to this day surprises Fitzpatrick. But the two musicians agreed on overarching themes for the record.

Science fiction, particularly the concept of time travel, influenced Dark Clock. Wincek shared these ideas with Hometapes, which led to the cover art's "unstuck in time" motif.

"There are a lot of bands that are like, 'Oh, we're like this era of the '80s," Wincek says. "I like the idea of all influences happening at once. Not necessarily quoting things, but just incorporating."

Fitzpatrick reflects on how much the band have changed since putting out the Segni EP in 2009 and pursuing a mixture of krautrock and Philip Glass-style minimalism.

"We're more comfortable having more influences seep into the mix now," Fitzpatrick says.

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