Album Review: The Color Exchange, ‘Cubed’

Album Cover- The Color Exchange The Color Exchange Cubed
(Self Release – April 11, 2015)
(Indie, Alternative)
Review by Jeb Brinkley

Life throws us curveballs every day: a flat tire, a cavity, a broken string, or a thunderstorm that pops up and soaks you when you least expect it. Sometimes it feels like everything is collapsing all at once, and all we can do is cling to a little piece of driftwood while watching our precious ship sink. Change sneaks up on us, and if we’re not ready to weather the storm it’s easy to succumb to the waves.

For former Clockwork Kids members’ Justin Ellis and Chris Petto, the thunderstorm hit a year ago when the band experienced a mass exodus, losing key members along with their distinct identity and college-oriented fan base. The year since has proven a humbling crucible for these two. In the end, with the help of friends both old and new, they’ve weathered the storm.

In short, The Color Exchange is attempting less, but doing more than Clockwork Kids ever could. Lead vocalist Justin Ellis’ attachment to Brit-Pop-Rock is still apparent, but the arrangements and production values have reached a level of professionalism that complements Ellis’ anthemic vocals and Petto’s ambitious compositions. These songs sound spacious and full. Everything works together with a mature simplicity. Where previous tracks would have contained busy, multi-layered, and often competing guitar parts, there is now a distinct focus on showcasing the songwriting with distinct elements that deepen the groove and complement the lyrical delivery. New members Chris McCarty (keys, violin) and Brett Scott (drums and producer) deserve the most credit. While Ellis’ voice is textured and confident, it’s the spacious beats and synth hooks that keep you listening. In the opening track, “Tongues”, McCarty’s mellow synth pulse is the backbone of the song. In “Beacons”, the standout track of the album, McCarty’s electro-pop groove mixes well with Petto’s arpeggiated picking — the choral “oooo’s” are the cherry on top of the arrangement. The song is genre-bending, but familial and warm at the same time.

It’s not all swings and roundabouts though. While “Beacons” is a knockout, other tracks like “Century” and “Crows” feel overwrought and redundant. The album is edgy at places, but for the most part stays safely in a genre that hasn’t been relevant to music scenesters since the early aughts.  This isn’t to say that the music lacks ambition. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear these guys on satellite radio or on tour with a band like Keane or Coldplay in the next few years. But the music is distinctively pop music. British pop music, to be exact — an unexpected sound coming out of North Carolina’s oversaturated folky-bluegrass banjo scene. Thankfully, this band has grown long legs in a short span and have already toured up the east coast to Canada and back this year. With a growing fanbase, an ambitious sound, and the gumption of a band rebuilt and more determined than ever, there’s no doubt The Color Exchange is on their way up. They won’t get a lot of pats on the back for originality, but it doesn’t seem to matter much to them. This band is pursuing success, and the sound is ripe for the sort of mass popularity that commands a stadium as a venue rather than a bar or club.