The Final Frontier

Denver's Space Team Electra takes its music to new places.

The process was accelerated by subtraction in November of that year: Ayers, whose guitar had dominated the quintet, dove out of Dive. The remaining members considered hiring a replacement, but before casting out a net, they decided to play a gig at Cricket on the Hill with Prasad on guitar. Afterward, they knew they could survive as a quartet.

"What surprised us the most was the energy that came out of what we did," Kunkel says.

"Actually, what surprised them the most is that I would bother to learn how to play guitar," Prasad interjects. "I had done really simple stuff before. But with Todd doing so much, I really fell in love with being able to surrender and disappear into everyone else's sound and everyone else's work. Then he left, and I was put in the position of generating the music, which was horrifying for me. I would be in the basement at 4 a.m. trying to come to terms with what the instrument was and what I could do with it. But in the end, everything worked out. Even Todd agrees. He says the best thing he did for the band was to leave it."

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The four retained the Dive moniker for a few more months ("Taking a Dive," March 8, 1995), but mentally they had already moved on. The new lineup was first captured on a demo tape overseen by Judge Roughneck's Kyle Jones, with assistance from the Apples' Robert Schneider. For a pair reputed to be studio pros, their technique was far from meticulous. "When I came in to do my vocals, they were both so stoned," Prasad says, laughing. "They were lying under the console, and I had to say to them, 'Okay--are we ready?'"

The completed recording was shipped off to producer Keith Cleversley, a Chicagoan who had previously worked with Hum, Mercury Rev, Spiritualized and other big names and whom Prasad had met through a friend. Before long, the players were shuttling back and forth between Denver and Cleversley's Chicago base of operations, recording what would become The Vortex Flower. "The schedule was really irregular," Prasad says. "We never knew when we would be able to get in there. And there were a lot of trips. I can document the album by my string of [speeding] tickets. The CD came out within a month of my last court date."

Things didn't always go smoothly in the studio, either. "There were times when Keith would leave the room while Bill and I worked things out," Prasad admits.

In general, Kunkel says, "We'd disagree about how layered a song would be, and the interaction between the vocals and the guitars. We had a lot of strong differences--places where I felt I wanted my guitar to get the attention and not the vocals, and vice versa. And I think we eventually found a balance. It feels to me that there's an evenness to where the guitars and the vocals are at."

"The only victories were when one of us would say, 'You know, you're right about that,'" Prasad admits.

"Or sometimes we'd take out both parts," Kunkel says. "And then it would sound good."

The results pleased both parties--and in Prasad's view, "the arguments ended up making it a more complex record. I think Bill's vision wouldn't have crossed the line into some of the weird areas we got into without them. Besides, my instincts tend to erode consistency. I like it that the record is something of a map, and you can choose to let it take you to many different places."

True enough, The Vortex Flower leads the listener on numerous tangents, each of them intriguing. On the heels of "Transmission," a statement of purpose imparted by Prasad in a robotic, studio-enhanced voice, "Shadow" divvies up artsy Brit guitars, verses that gain momentum with each bar, and provocative couplets ("Run away if I fucking scare you/I don't bow to the gods you bow to/I'd rather die") that Prasad spits out like the love child of Jim Morrison and Patti Smith. That's followed by "Saints Are Bleeding" and "Winter Queen," a pair of nods to the aforementioned Cocteau Twins; "Lucifer's Tongue," a two-minute dollop of wavelike noise; "Oasis," an eerie excursion whose drum track rivals the one at the heart of Peter Gabriel's "Intruder"; and the pure pop of "Dizzy." Even better are "Helios," a soft-and-loud epic driven by Kunkel's mad riffing, and "Luminous Crush," a lovely yet anthemic piece that finds Prasad at her most vulnerable. In the latter, her obsession with making herself clear rises again: "I try to give my mind and heart and soul away," she sings, "but you don't understand a single word I say."

From a musical standpoint, the Team is proud that Flower is open to multiple interpretations. "There are times when it feels better to do something five and a half times in a song instead of eight times," Peltzel concedes. "And if it works, we'll do it." He adds, "If people just listen to the record on the surface, they'll miss some of the really magical stuff."

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