prone finds beauty, soul and fun in the machine

by Richard Thomas

prone. The word can mean having a tendency, being likely to do or experience something, often something regrettable. You are prone to losing. You are prone to messing up. It can also be positive: you are prone to discovering. You are prone to dancing. Prone can also mean lying down flat, especially face downward, maybe in a sex position, or relaxation or death, or collapsed in exhaustion, despair or joy.

We can now add another definition to prone, the name for a Duluth-based, synthesizer-based music group. The name is spelled with all lowercase letters. That’s an irritant for this staff writer, whose job it is to list in the calendar an increasing number of musical acts with eccentric punctuation and capitalization. But it’s also intriguing: “prone” lowercase implies it’s in the middle of a sentence. What’s the rest?

prone is a local supergroup of sorts, the collaboration of three musicians with their own identities: Chris LeBlanc, cofounder of the DJ collective The Crunchy Bunch; Ned Netzel, who performs as a.k.a Seymour and is a member of the disco-esque band Àlamode; and Gavin St. Clair, a frequent solo performer.

As the album cover implies, this is electronic music, some of it dance music, some of it just for listening. It feels very new yet it’s got elements of the old, sometimes sounding a bit like Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk or Alan Parsons Project. (Maybe it helps that I just saw Alan Parsons Project.) I just name those because LeBlanc, when describing what music he’s into, rattles off the names of acts thoroughly alien to me: Breakbot, NxWorries, SebastiAn, Thundercat, Backstreet Boys … oh wait, I might have heard Backstreet Boys ...

The first track, “Dismantle,” has an artsy, indie feel, kind of like that song Casey Affleck sang (or lip-synched) in the movie “A Ghost Story.” LeBlanc sings with passion and the layered harmonies build to a spiraling climax. Track 2, “Bestest,” is a rousing dance number, part funk, part disco and it turns into salsa with (electronic?) horns.

“Pity” is a throwback to the ‘80s, catchy driving rock that wouldn’t be out of place on the “Flashdance” soundtrack. “On to You” begins the opposite, with shimmering, new-agey chords, but then it breaks into a loose, funky dance beat. 

“Charge” is appropriately titled, as the song feels like an electrical charge. It opens with tricky but intriguing percussion, then adds alternately pulsating and arrhythmic keyboards and electric guitar. Then the rhythm goes insane in the chorus. You know the weird time signature in Pink Floyd’s “Money?” This outdoes that. There should be one of those internet challenges to dance to this number.

Not that I know the electronic music market (SebastiAn who?) but I’d say “OMW” (text shorthand for “on my way”) is likeliest to be a hit single. Again the rhythm is tricky, but works along a steady, infectious baseline. The chorus adds smoking electric guitar and singable if enigmatic words: “I’ll be there in a minute / I gotta right my wrong before I make myself commit it … I gotta write this song just to have myself a minute.”

“Follow Through” is a slower dance song. It begins with a heavy baseline and that sound effect like a small glass jar falling over. LeBlanc starts singing and then he’s joined by a female vocalist, identified only as “KidGirl,” and she ends up owning the song.

The eighth track, “Knew,” is an excellent instrumental with shifting tempos, highlighting electric guitar accompanied by keyboard. There’s also a hidden track after a four-minute gap, a cover of America’s “Ventura Highway,” which lends itself surprisingly well to electronica, though old fogey purists may prefer the folky original to this glittery version.

Chris LeBlanc (lead singer, synths and guitar) answered a few questions for the Reader:

What’s the background of the band?

Al LeBlanc, Mr. Ness of The Crunchy Bunch, was the originator along with myself of this band. We wrote “_project 1” (a four-song EP in 2016) and added our friend Ned to start playing with us. Then Al moved to Chicago and we picked up Gavin. A lot of these songs had been written by Al and I and Ned has assisted in arranging as well as writing his own parts. Ned and Al wrote the bones for a couple tracks and I helped arrange. Gavin has taken the original bass parts and made them his own, as well as being a big part of the writing process on the new songs coming up in the near future. 

Who does the album covers and why is that girl crying?

Al has been doing all the art except for the single of “Follow Through,” which was done by local artist Madeline Devich. I have my own thoughts on the girl crying and what it represents, but I'm more concerned with art being perceived by individuals who create their own experiences with what it means to them.

What do you compose the music on? 

All of the drums are programmed in Reason. A couple songs have some live drums recorded on them for flavor. Some bass is synth and some electric bass. Ned and I have a couple synths we use for the project, too. 

Who is KidGirl?

Kidgirl is my sister, Jillian LeBlanc! She had been a part of an Ides of March project way back. She's got mad chops and she wrote that whole chorus of “Follow Through.”

Is it hard to get people to dance at live shows these days? 

I feel like culturally we've shifted to generally preferring individualized experiences rather than connecting with others around us to feel something in tandem. This is certainly something that's becoming more prevalent in how people show up to a band playing music or a DJ spinning records. However, not dancing doesn't always equate to not having a good time or experience. I look out in the crowd and see people intently watching and listening to everything that we're doing, and that feels just as good to me as people dancing. But I think some people are self-conscious of themselves in all sorts of ways that prohibits them from dancing because they don't want to look silly. One thing I found with The Crunchy Bunch is that dancing your ass off, acting silly and singing along super loudly to the song you know is contagious. When people see the artist doing that, they immediately feel more at ease to express themselves through dancing or something just bopping around a little harder. 

If the first album was _project 1 and this one is project_2, will the next one be project 3_?  Where will the underscore be in project 4?

The underscore placement debacle is an ongoing debate from project to project. To be determined.  

pronebeats.bandcamp.com