Philadelphia indie rock group Spelling Reform continues to evolve on their new LP "No One’s Ever Changed." Building off their 2015 debut EP "Diving Bell," the band delivers more of their eclectic, distinctive sound – a mix of snarling pop rock and power pop, somber sing-alongs and melodic guitar solos. The tunes are anchored by singer/songwriter Dan Wisniewski’s feverous lyrics and urgent vocals, which have drawn comparisons to The Mountain Goats, Dan Bejar, the Silver Jews and Woody Allen (for real).
After years of songwriting and arranging, Wisniewski, bassist Tom Howley, guitarist Andrew Ciampa and drummer Mark Rybaltowski recorded the 11 songs on "No One’s Ever Changed" in a single, donut-fueled weekend in March 2016 in Philadelphia with Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart.
Sonically, the tunes pay homage to some of the band's major influences: the fun and loose pop of Wilco ("For Clair Patterson"), the hard-hitting yet melodic rock of Guided by Voices ("Microscope") and the acoustic folk rock of Neil Young ("Drag Your Horse").
Lyrically, Wisniewski stretches out on "No One’s Ever Changed." Character studies include the examination of the thoughts of a stalker on “Tuscaloosa” and personal tales, like “Everyone Else’s Experiences” and the brief title track, explore the awkwardness of bumping into old prom dates on the train to work and overhearing friends having sex.
Wisniewski’s wide-ranging interests in science and history also shine through: particle accelerators and Charles Willson Peale both make quick appearances. One song – “For Clair Patterson” – tackles the concept of time while also paying homage to the titular geologist who discovered the age of the earth in 1953.
Between its well-formed songs, energetic delivery and varied instrumentation, "No One’s Ever Changed" makes for a fascinating listen, and a worthy addition to a Philadelphia music scene that’s overflowing with amazing music. Spelling Reform, which has been compared to The Weakerthans, Apples in Stereo and Pixies, are on to something.
released November 18, 2016
Spelling Reform is:
Andrew Ciampa: group vocals, lead guitar, piano
Tom Howley: backing vocals, bass, group vocals
Mark Rybaltowski: drums, group vocals, tambourine
Dan Wisniewski: banjo, rhythm guitar, keyboard, lead vocals, piano, synthesizer
Recorded, produced and mixed by Joe Reinhart at The Headroom in Philadelphia in March 2016. Additional recording by Dan, Mark and Tom at Sunnyside Studios. Mastered by Ryan Schwabe. Released by Black Rd Records (blackrdrecords.com).
Photographs by Jonathan Brown. Artwork and graphic design by Dan Dinsmore.
I’m gathering materials: a centrifuge, smock and goggles. ’Cause naturalistic observations expose behavior proposed and engaging.
Procuring a microscope would cut through the fog on your headlights. Procuring a microscope is all that I need to know that you like me.
Da da da da, da da da da da da
And marching bands would play for us. And they’d name lakes after your Mom. Now everything is something else, I win the award for “Least Attentive.”
Procuring a microscope would cut through the fog on your headlights. Procuring a microscope is all that I need to know that you like me. Every bone, every cell is alone and it’s wanting.
I love the idea of you.
Track Name: Expiration Date
I’ve got my numbers in a row. It’s just your expiration date, babe.
Hauling the wanting (separate from everything I’ve learned and read) is a pristine illusion. Probing planets from miles away. Master of Nothing — except learning how to pretend. And you’re a poem that I’ve never read but who’s to know? Who’s to know?
I’ve got my numbers in a row. (It’s wild strawberry time.) I’ve got my numbers in a row. (And I’m fishing out of season here.) It’s just your expiration date, babe. (Pretend you’re not here.) It’s just your expiration date, babe. (Pretend you’re not here.)
Track Name: Tuscaloosa
“What if I told you I’m not in love?” That’s what she said to me — or at least in a dream. I held her hand and woke with a wry laugh. And so Tuscaloosa is where I’ll be. That’s where I’ll wait for you and underneath a water oak I’ll smile and lie till my skeleton shines through.
I know one day we’ll get married and then maybe you’ll make me better, but how to get your attention?
Track Name: For Clair Patterson
I was guessing your atomic weight but only like a gentleman and raising a glass to 1953 and the scientists toiling in the past. I was stealing 26 packs of gum and hoisting home a big bag of napkins. Let’s celebrate the age of the Earth and wreck my house like we’ve always done in the past.
Though I kissed my body goodbye, I couldn’t stop looking at the clock.
Emily, your brain is such a magical mess. Emily, we’re floating drunk upon the abstract. Emily, our time amounts to nothing at all.
I was drinking stolen rum on the beach and sifting through my friends’ memories. Let’s stay up way too far past our bedtime. La la la la la la la la. I was stealing copper wire and paint and shooting every bird in the tree. Let’s drink to Charles Willson Peale and walk 4,000 miles out to Moscow alone.
Though I kissed my memory goodbye, I couldn’t stop looking at the clock.
Track Name: Everyone Else's Experiences
Listening to my friends fuck each other brought me down severely, but the every day appeared so new. There is love that we all see and something intimate behind it. And I felt like I’d walked right past a secret. I’m not proud to say that I just stayed there.
I wish I had a list of things I was trying to make right, but I’m busy laying in the dark wondering what everyone else’s experiences are like.
I stood in the hallway pretending it meant nothing while the dust kicked up inside of my head. And I thought, “Do I deserve to feel something like this? Or do I want to be alone? Don’t I want everyone?” I went back to bed and I just laid there.
I never told you.
Track Name: No One's Ever Changed
You won’t ever move away. And I’m not ever gonna pay you back. Sun’s high as it’s ever been.
Decades filled with nothing. Empty nights in houses, tuning out escape. No one’s ever changed.
Track Name: Tourniquet
You say the things I hate are the things that I defend. I just don’t want to see how I’ve lost touch again. Of all the beautiful things, I was only trying hard to forget. But suggesting the bloom was only tied to an end.
Now I can see all the feeling return to my hands. I’d put in for leave, was on retreat, but the opening’s/tourniquet’s here. Now I’m alone in an all new and surprising way but I’m not afraid to see you.
Track Name: Everybody's Going Home With Someone Else
Everybody’s going home with someone else. So you wait in your car and you hope that he calls you.
Picture yourself with a mouth full of chemicals, longing for words that you thought you heard long ago. Pitmarked and sold, you can’t let go of him.
Na na na na na na na. Na na na na na na na.
You waited by yourself till you knew that he saw you. Penitent for the touch ’cause it’s not what they sold you.
Track Name: Let's Start Over
I have so many memories of you but all of them have come unglued. They shifted when my brain grew its legs and marched an endless downtrod thought parade. Now I assume that how things set is not quite how they actually went. I can’t ignore that now.
So let’s start over. All the things that I want are no longer under cover and let’s start over.
I want to talk to you so I know if I should bother, and...
(Say!) (Say!) (Say!) (Say!) I’m falling through
(Say!) that you love me (Say!) that you love me (Say!) that you love me
Like a tiger asleep in a cage or the space shuttle that’s docked in bay, I’m dangerous and just out of place with all the thoughts that I won’t send away. Now I assume that what I said is not quite what I actually meant. I can’t ignore that now.
Track Name: Drag Your Horse
Drag your horse across the lawn. Tie it up and then sit still, my love. ‘Cause you’ve come as far as you might. You’ve come as far as you can tonight.
And comfort is right if comfort is just what you need. And forget logic, this boulder is lighter than you think.
Hold me close and then let go. Remember this when I am getting old. ’Cause you can’t take this away from me. You can’t take me far, far from anything.
Track Name: The Coolest Guy
Let’s make some new friends, some mean ones, and let go the weak ones. Learn how to say no and buckle our seat belts and let’s do some new things and eat right. String up a new kite and whistle some new songs. Discard the old ones. No no no no.
Even progress can’t stay. All of my best thoughts are floating away. I’ve never been much for theories but I’d be the coolest guy if you’d just say my name.
Let’s burn our letters from old loves and only use crayon. Talk to our neighbors and pick up the paper and let’s parse a sentence and bird watch. Remember our old selves. Stretch in the morning and never stop reading. No no no no.
But no stone rolls away. Particle accelerators get strained. Madness descends in a fit of nostalgia. The coolest guy, he just won’t get made.