On first listen, there may seem little atypical about the band that calls itself Atypicals. Their music pulses with sweaty electronic-dance synths and the vibration of hookup-friendly love poems. But will you want to listen to Atypicals' music once that initial club buzz wears off? Or will the morning find you walking away shamefully from some toxically simple pop?
"The next day, you want to check out some more of that music because you have all these great associations with it," says keyboardist Jacob Bergson. "And when you listen to it again, you're like, 'Ah man, this is really stupid — these songs are awful!' So part of what we're trying to do is make stuff that works as functional music, but also you can just listen to it. You don't have to be in a club dancing."
Here's where the detour from house music starts. Bergson and drummer James Muschler are jazz students at New York's New School and founding members of the now-defunct Cleveland Jazz Project, a free, experimental group that prized improvisation. Their musicianship is leagues above what you'd expect to find in a dance band with programmed beats. Add singer-guitarist Adam Zucker — whose 2008 debut solo album, The Western Glow, features dark singer-songwriter tunes in a Conor Oberst mode — and the mix becomes even more intriguing. And though Zucker's lyrics have been tempered somewhat in the transition to dance music, they still have a tendency to jolt his bandmates.
"Me and James are here [in New York], and Adam is in Ann Arbor," says Bergson. "So I'll write the tunes and rehearse them with James, and then Adam will write some lyrics and basically surprise us with them at the gig. We'll have no idea what [the finished song] sounds like."
It's the type of spontaneity Bergson seems to relish, even though he draws a clear line between Atypicals' music and jazz.
"Playing a jazz gig — there is no perfect," he says. "Playing one of the Atypicals gigs there is, at least in my mind, a very clear idea of what it would be like if I played the gig perfectly. In some ways, it's liberating. Because those interludes [between songs] are mostly me and James playing together, there's tremendous room to improvise on a small scale. And if we're really listening to each other, we can do subtle melodic or harmonic or rhythmic things that are really fun for us and hopefully make a difference for the people listening."
Things should become even more varied when Wenzl McGowen joins the band this summer. Hailing from Europe, McGowen is the only member not originally from Cleveland Heights. He befriended Bergson and Muschler at the New School and will lend his laptop, EWI [Electronic Wind Instrument] and woodwind talents to the group, an addition Bergson says will again change the texture of the band's music.
"The whole band's gonna be in this [Brooklyn] apartment next year," says Bergson. "We'll spend some time in Cleveland rehearsing, then hopefully do a big blowout show at the end of the summer, and then all move to New York."
But that's the future. Presently, Atypicals are putting the finishing touches on their first EP (with assistance from the Cleveland-based trio Digiraatii). And Friday's gig at the Grog Shop will mark the final date on their first tour, which kicked off in Brooklyn on February 24 and hit a handful of Midwestern cities. The tour has also given them the chance to play with New York-based folk band In One Wind.
"Of all the bands I've heard, they do one of the best jobs balancing complexity and accessibility," says Bergson. "The compositions [have] drastic tempo changes and meter changes, and the harmony is fairly complex. What they do and what we do is drastically different. I'm kind of into that. We're just trying to do our thing. For us, it's fun to play music for our peers. That's something we don't get to do very often playing jazz."