Octopus Nebula brings a different electronic groove

Dave Kirby | Boulder Weekly

There’s an almost sinister grace that pervades Octopus Nebula and their limber, unforced sleepwalk through deep groove electronica. OK, it’s not rocket science; a quartet of live players, all more or less graduates from groove scenes of varying success and commitment quotients, more or less plugged into samples/efx/laptops/loops, what have you, coaxing that uncertain consummation between the wire and the neuron. They’re not the first.

But the current incarnation of ONeb may take part timers followers a bit by surprise, in part because they’re barely a few months along, and in part because they sound like they’ve been doing this together for years.

Speaking with band members Robin Bloch, guitarist/samplist, John Safarik, keyboardist/efx and the only original member, and bassist/efx Fleeb Thomas, it was a little weird. Not so much speaking with three band members at the same time, but that crackle you detect that all of them are actually thinking and responding in more or less the same way. It’s like a weird telepathy.

What you hear in the music — a sort of seamless fabric of melody and texture, groove and ambientia, presence and disincarnation — is actually how these guys to seem to work together.
But ironically, the band has lurked around the Denver scene with a revolving lineup for several years, with Bloch being the sole remaining original member from the band’s beginning five years ago.

“We were a completely different band back then,” says Bloch. “It was a bass and drummer and me on guitar and a couple of other things — very loosely based jamming, real Dead-style guitar, that sort of thing … it’s finding the right chemistry with the right group of guys, y’know?”

“And the chemistry thing is kinda funny,” adds Safarik. “When Robin asked me to join and come onboard, I had been in projects with Fleeb for years. So he and I had a musical relationship for years, outside of what Octopus Nebula were doing. So when he joined, that bond that we had had musically just kind of worked into what Robin and I were doing. It was kind of melding our experiences into what Octopus Nebula were doing. And when Dan joined … that was the lock that put everything into place.”

A snippet of a live performance of the band from 2008’s Tatanka Fest, heavy on the groove, lingers on the internet these days, a little cyber tag of where the band was a year and a half ago … and barely a distant relation to the deeply chilled goddess the band summons these days like a snake charmer. Compare to “A Garden in the Shade,” one of the band’s demo cuts sliding across their site (a CD is coming in the spring or summer), a throbbing, slightly bottom heavy textural tone pastiche, bouncing beneath swirls of pale blue satin etherea and lady-voice sampling, winding and unwinding with a relaxed, almost breath-like winsomeness, before giving way into a heavy melodic, more aggressive, gently chaotic run out.

Or the sample-hook funk of “Asoyo,” disembodied voices worshipping around the edges of a drowsy funk figure, quickly shaken off in favor of a slightly, hooky bass figure supporting a wailing slow anthem line on top. And the redemptive chill of “Anahata,” drifting off on thermal swells of broad synth pads and fringe guitar lines fluttering around the margins.
The wire never sounded more human, and you find yourself shaking in disbelief that this lineup of the band has played out less barely half a dozen shows.

“We’re going down with that electronic vibe,” says Thomas, “but we still have our own instruments and play our own instruments, but we still utilize laptops and drop samples, which we weren’t really doing much of at all before.

“We don’t really subject ourselves to a single genre. Not having vocals in the music means that we’re open to more meditative, vibrational music. That’s kind of what we’re going for.”

“A lot of the themes, y’know with technology today,” adds Safarik, “literally happen on the couch. I can just sit there and come up with all these ideas, and bring them in and everyone puts their two cents on top of it. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but once we collaborate on it and put it together, it becomes a song.

Photo: Rene Gautreaux

“That’s kind of how we approach music.”

On the bill: Octopus Nebula plays the Fox Theatre on Feb. 24. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. All ages. With Papdosio and The Passage Project. Tickets are $8 in advance, $12 day of show plus $2 for under 21. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.