Unlike previous releases Machine and Enigma, which are collections of distinct songs, Transcend includes cohesive storylines that stretch from the beginning to the end of the album.
For singer Stephen Pamas, the new approach — carefully threading consistent themes through the material — proved challenging but worth the work.
“This one’s been a little bit different, because it was kind of past our first batch of songs,” says Pamas. “When we first started the band, we were putting together a whole bunch of songs and were deciding: Which ones do we want to record? How much money do we have to record? So we put out six, and then the next EP was almost like a couple of the B-sides from the first one, as well as a couple new ones.
“We sort of acted like we were just starting," Pamas continues. "When we got together in rehearsal after releasing Machine, we didn’t play any old songs; we would only play new songs. It was really fun to do it that way and start from scratch and not even have the other songs as a warm-up.”
Nonetheless, Hello, Mountain waded through some tense rehearsals while writing Transcend, debating the direction each song should go.
“Rehearsals have always been kind of a battle between bandmembers, and it’s a good thing, because I think it pushes things forward," Pamas says. "Those are always difficult parts when writing new songs with people — accepting that you’re wrong in a lot of places.
“Stuff like that during the writing process is probably what makes it fun, and it teaches you a lot about yourself and the people you write music with," he adds. "But it can also be very frustrating. We know each other super-well, and most of the time that’s a good thing. But occasionally that can seem like a bad thing.”
On Transcend, Pamas sounds more confident than ever when reaching for the top shelf of his vocal range, and there’s a tenderness to his songs that was less apparent in older material. New songs like “The Window” and “Futures” are prime examples of his artistic development.
“I really enjoy how I was able to tie a lot of the songs together with a similar theme," he says. "In the past I did that some, but the title Transcend really ties a lot of the lyrics together for me.”
But Transcend is a developed blend of catchy rhythms, Pamas’s fluttering vocals, enjoyable guitar lines and intricate production all marked by the band's attention to detail.
The album explores the uncertainty that we carry inside and the accompanying fear of not knowing the future — themes that also reflect big changes in the band. Drummer Zach Shacter recently left the group, tossing things into the air.
“There’s so much uncertainty within everybody," notes Pamas. "I think we were able to capture that on the EP. Every song touches on it in ways that I feel are pretty interesting for me as a songwriter.”
Like peeling an onion, Hello, Mountain has worked through the layers of its music and is finally getting to the good stuff. The band is growing artistically, and while lineup changes can be disruptive, Shacter's departure and the subsequent arrival of new drummer Patrick Smith offer the potential to evolve in a fresh direction.
Hello, Mountain album-release show
With Turvy Organ and Two Tone Wolf Pack, 9 p.m. Friday, January 11, Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway.