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Will Schube brought NASA back.
There’s something hauntingly familiar about Pioneer 11, like a half-sketched apparition appearing before you or the gentle tap of a hallucinogen-laced flashback. Perhaps it’s the way the duo, consisting of Alex Hastings and Bryan Gomez, quietly knock on the door of their favorite bands, echoing the hollowed-out guitar lines of Darkside and the upper-register eeriness of Thom Yorke. But like any good band, reducing Pioneer 11 to the sum of their influences is a disservice to all parties involved. So maybe, then, it’s in Hastings and Gomez’s use and insistence upon electronic drums, giving their music a rigidity and alien atmosphere both uniquely artificial and effortlessly warm. Whatever it is about Pioneer 11 that lodges into your brain and reminds you of a memory not quite yours is fully harnessed on the duo’s latest record, a collection of old tracks titled RF Daze. With a debut LP coming soon via our own POW Recordings, Hastings and Gomez found it important to arrange an album of deep cuts and rough gems from their days as Red Ferguson, and the result is a lingering grandeur of electronically-infused psych pop and hazy dance tracks equally suited for the club or a pair headphones and a dark room.
Hastings and Gomez don’t want you to overlook RF Daze, and they’re right to express that sentiment. It’s an excellent album in its own right, but the duo can’t help but look ahead to what’s next. “It was interesting putting these songs together because we hadn’t heard some of them in a while,” Hastings, who plays bass, explains to me over the phone. “I was really struck by how far we’ve come in terms of our recording techniques. The earliest song on there was written like six years ago. Some of the last songs on that album are from so long ago. They’re not bad songs—I think they’re good—but we were limited in what we were able to create from a songwriting structure.”
RF Daze is structured in reverse chronological order, with album opener “Mango Storm” being the closest representation of where the band’s at now, and the LP’s last track, “We Didn’t Know,” having been in the rotation for six years. If anything, RF Daze is an example of perseverance, of the very unsexy but very important notion that the only way to get good at something is to do it over and over again. This shit doesn’t come overnight. It’s also a sterling reminder that not all bands fit conventions. When you watch Pioneer 11 on stage or in the studio, it’s just two dudes, Hastings with a bass around his neck, Gomez with a guitar. The drums are provided by a machine. RF Daze is proof that you don’t need a drummer to be a very good band.
“We’ve created a sound that’s very much our sound. I worry about swapping out our interesting, digital drums—if that would push us back to the three piece band sound which is maybe too familiar,” Hastings says, before adding, “I like that we’re trying to do something different. I don’t think you see a lot of guitar-based duos with electronic drums. I’m trying to embrace that instead of shifting back to the more familiar three piece band style.”
On RF Daze, the drums serve as texture rather than the genesis of groove. On “Good Ole Urns,” rain sounds and hand claps accompany Gomez’s ethereal falsetto. Hastings’ guitar work weaves in and out of the arrangement, bouncing off the digital ping of sampled hi hats. “Reflection,” one of the duo’s older songs, is a stripped down R&B jam, bare bones and utilitarian, using the hefty punch of the papery snare to whip the track into delirium. While “Reflection” works as a sparse track, it’s the last we’ll be hearing of such exercises from the band.
“The scope has changed,” says Gomez. “The soundscapes we visit are now much larger. RF Daze is a really good look at how we built our process leading up to our new LP. I’d say that all of that led up to the workflow we were able to use to create our forthcoming album.” RF Daze is a guide to Pioneer 11’s galaxy, a mapping of their sonic tendencies and basic structure. “The earlier stuff is more minimal,” explains Hastings. “The beats are more minimal, the layers are more minimal, everything is more minimal. This newer stuff, we decided to put as much creative instrumentation into it as possible. We really flexed those muscles more than we did on our earlier songs.” While Hastings and Gomez are focused and locked in on the future, RF Daze is a more than dazzling showcase of the world they’ve begun crafting. Rarely are formal introductions this fully formed, this keenly aware of what makes a band great. With Pioneer 11, it’s certainly not a drummer.