Division Day
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Division Day

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"DIVISION DAY'S STARTLING REINVENTION"

DAVID GREENWALD
Published on August 12, 2009 at 5:00pm

Division Day: It’s been a long road to now.
Dayenu. In Hebrew, it means, “It would have been enough.” It’s also one of Division Day’s best songs. The L.A. quartet have, in the past four years, self-released an album, released it again, blasted an EP’s worth of covers into the blogosphere to promote it, toured the country, been name-dropped on 90210 and made another record on their own dime. For many bands, doing half that would’ve been enough. But then Division Day went ahead and signed with local powerhouse Dangerbird Records, which’ll release the group’s sophomore album, Visitation, on Tuesday, August 18 — two weeks before they kick off a national tour at Spaceland on September 2. Dayenu? Not yet.

“We had waited so long, we weren’t about to wait again for somebody to show interest,” guitarist Ryan Wilson says of the drive behind the new album, which they recorded in a two-week session several months back with busy session bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Goldfrapp and many others). The songs came from a year of writing and demos that found the band — whose debut, Beartrap Island, drew on the dark romanticism of ’80s acts such as the Church and Tears for Fears — pilfering different influences (David Bowie’s Heroes for one, and black-metal acts like Deathbell Omega and Ofermod).

“I’ve listened to nothing but metal for the last year and a half, maybe almost two years,” singer Rohner Segnitz, whose Brita vocals run the opposite of the genre’s usual shrieky theatrics, admits abashedly. “I’m not a Satan worshiper, but it turns out my favorite black-metal bands are the ones that are really fucking curious about Satan. I don’t think you can really hear that in any telegraphed way, but a lot of that music informs the way we work — noncompromise and disregard for the stuff you don’t care about.”

It’s that sensibility that found the band going into what Segnitz calls “hibernation” after touring Beartrap Island into submission following its 2007 release on Eenie Meenie Records, a year after Division Day’s own self-release. After what Wilson calls an amicable parting with Eenie Meenie, the band stopped booking shows and started cutting demos, going home alone after finding their practice space uninspiring.

“There was a period of feeling a little lost creatively,” Segnitz says. “Once we figured out the process, it got really exciting. It was liberating to decide, ‘We’re not going to just slink away and decide that that was enough work and now we’re tired.’ It really was a period of withdrawal from the rest of our musical lives, the scene that we’d been in.”

Indeed, Visitation is an album apart, certainly separated from the lo-fi punk blowing out amps at the Smell on Saturday nights. While the synth-heavy ’80s influence is still evident, it paints a bleaker, heavier picture than Beartrap Island — at times, drummer Kevin Lenhart’s tracks seem ready to punch through headphones. It sounds like the work of a band ready to evolve.

“We felt like the other thing had been out for so long that it wasn’t really us anymore,” Wilson says of Beartrap Island. “We hadn’t had the chance to show who we were or what we could do now.”

Getting to now has been a long road. The band’s first incarnation, Flood, began in 1996 or so — junior high days — when Lenhart, Segnitz and bassist Seb Bailey would play in Bailey’s garage and eat frozen pizza. Segnitz, who had already started to write songs, decided he wanted to switch from drums to singing, and Lenhart got behind the skins. Wilson joined the band at the end of 2001, and Division Day, named after the Elliott Smith B-side, was born. In 2005, with college all wrapped up and Segnitz joining the rest of the group in L.A., the band got serious. Dayenu? Nope.

This was when I discovered the band: the spring of 2005, before Segnitz grew a beard and when Beartrap Island was just a gleam in their eyes. They were opening for Xiu Xiu at the Cooperage, a low-rent but lovable pizza place at UCLA, which has probably been replaced by another Jamba Juice. Even then, Division Day had that sense of claustrophobic intensity that has come to define their sound, and with the Internet’s indie revolution in full swing, these were heady days for the college rock scene — Okkervil River would play the same stage a week later. You could smell a breakthrough. In retrospect, it was probably pepperoni.

Despite the band’s best efforts, their debut didn’t set the blogosphere on fire — even with a covers project that saw them reworking tracks by Sunny Day Real Estate and Sponge for giveaway MP3s. They did catch the ears of the producers of 90210, who worked a band sticker onto Converse-wearing rebel Silver’s (Jessica Stroup) binder in The CW drama’s premiere last fall.

“We had a lot of MySpace traffic from that,” Wilson says. “The funniest thing that happened was that my roommate works with kids and tweens, and she overheard them whispering about how cute somebody in our band was.”


Division Day: It’s been a long road to now.
More importantly, though, the band — and Visitation — found a new home a few months later.

“The album was the cherry on top of Division Day,” Dangerbird co-founder Peter Walker says. “We knew we loved the band, we loved their drive and I think once they made this record it was just so obvious it was the whole package for us.”

Walker says they’ll start thinking about a third release “when the time is right” — for now, they’ll plot the band’s tour and try to keep them on the road. Dayenu? Getting there.

“We could make 10 more records or no more records,” Segnitz says. “I hope it’s closer to 10.”

Visitation |Dangerbird - LA Weekly


"Division Day / Dredg"

Café du Nord
San Francisco, CA
November 16, 2006

The Music for America benefit show at Café du Nord was an all-sorts mix of frat and sorority types (from outside the fair city), hipsters (residents, for certain), and those who had to be parents or other extended family members. Such pigeonholing is the best way to describe the extended appeal of both Division Day and Dredg's style of rock.
L.A. natives Division Day jumpstarted the evening by proving that they had nothing to prove. They were an outfit that threw themselves out there with a "love us or don't attitude." Vocalist Rohner Segnitz demonstrated that versatility was present not only within the audience, but also in his voice. His ability to switch at the drop of a hat from harsher to more melodic vocals was refreshing. The ultimate contrast was between his outer appearance and what came from inside. His voice had sweet tones reminiscent of The Decemberists' Colin Meloy and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, while on the outside Segnitz appeared muscular and scruffy enough to front a hardcore band.
Instrumental versatility was also a shining star of the band's set. Segnitz didn't miss a beat, playing the keyboard while holding down the vocals and making sure neither task fell short. Bassist Seb Bailey joined on several vocal parts, putting a twist on the tone of the songs. While the keyboards filled in some necessary holes in the music, it did feel as though the band was too reliant on it at intervals. Overall, each member of the band had fantastic stage presence. Division Day ended with a lively number to tie up its set, featuring drummer Kevin Lenhart abandoning his drum set completely for a tambourine, which he expertly rocked as hard as possible. If it were a guitar, it would have ended up smashed in pieces on the floor.
- West Coast Performer


"Album Review: Division Day - Visitation"

That deep, dark subterranean place from which Division Day pulls their music is certainly fertile ground for the band. In the period since the release of Beartrap Island the band's toured a bit, parted amicably from Eenie Meenie Records, and went into a sort of creative hibernation to reassess their musical direction. Reemerging recently with a self recorded album, picked up by Dangerbird Records and set to launch a major U.S. tour, they land at Spaceland tonight poised to take it to the next level.

Visitation is a challenging and bold step for the band. I have a tremendous respect for Beartrap Island, which I've played steadily for over two years, and had been told that the new work was edgier. It's definitely the work of serious artists pushing themselves, determined not to repeat any formula, and eager to lure their fans into new territory.

The urgency of Division Day's Visitation reminds me of the same quality in Silversun Pickups' triumphant new Swoon, not the same sound, just a similar undertow. The music is dense, swirling and morose, at times dark and brooding, at other times gently tender and heartfelt. With occasional sound effects and instrumental flourishes that sweep you up in an instant, some of it is incredibly beautiful.


I've heard the album described as synth-heavy post rock, which I suppose is fine, but it's also filled with variety, with a couple of songs, nearly lounge ballads, like "Azalean" or apocalyptic, like the powerful "Malachite". Rohner Segnitz and the band write such interesting melodies, they're hard to pin down. A seemingly counterpoint melody will become the main theme, confounding your expectations and keeping the music one step ahead of you. On a stunning song called "Planchette", Rohner's unique voice is so full of feeling and expression, it's hard not to be moved. His characteristic, restrained vocals are the magic key, laying on top of Division Day's full, rich sound.

It's just impossible to properly judge an album so soon into it's life, but that's the challenge of reviewing. I will say, I expect this CD to keep growing on me, because after about a dozen hearings, it's still getting better and better. Seb Bailey keeps things thundering on bass and offers perfect vocal harmony when called upon. Kevin Lenhart's drums get quite a dramatic workout and Ryan Wilson adds serious guitar work, providing the urgency. Especially like the last song, which takes it's title from a Joni Mitchell song, "Black Crow", beginning with an hypnotic, eerie piano, slowly building to a nice crescendo of synth-laden noise, and ending with the quiet entreaty, "Don't go".

I came to Division Day sideways, sliding in after the first release of Beartrap Island when I caught the band playing on a bill with The Western States Motel at Spaceland (5/24/07). I distinctly remember thinking, "I can not believe what I'm hearing". I bought the CD on the spot, played it 1000 times and anxiously awaited their next show.

Sunset Junction 2007 was the next time I saw them and they played a really strong set amidst a terrific local line up that included The Parson Red Heads, The Pity Party, The Broken West, Sea Wolf and others. (That was a great year) They re-released Beartrap Island with a couple of additional tracks on October 2, 2007 and I was at that Echo record release show, too.

Caught them a few more times, at The Troubadour, The Pasadena Music Festivaland elsewhere, until they disappeared last year to gestate. I'd run into Seb occasionally out at shows and he'd eagerly tell me about the new album, so I've been ready for a while. Division Day's Visitation is worth the wait. - Radio Free Silverlake


"Division Day Beartrap Island"

As the recent yacht-rock revival has illustrated, the west coast has traditionally been associated with a certain sunshined contentment and peaceful easy feeling. However, the most prominent indie rock artists to have sprung from the region in the past decade have been defined by a notable lack of fun, fun, fun, from the macro, modern-world meditations of Grandaddy to the fraught, tender intimacies of Death Cab for Cutie. Situated between these two totems-- both geographically and spiritually-- are L.A.'s Division Day, who are seemingly so in tune with west-coast despondency that they named themselves after an Elliott Smith song.

But Division Day are rarely shy about their diffidence-- their debut full-length, Beartrap Island, communicates its overarching sense of melancholy with assertive, sometimes aggressive gestures. The album has been gestating since 2005, and though one can't assume the tracklist reflects the songwriting's chronology, Beartrap Island plays like a spirited juxtaposition of ideas before tempering itself into a more refined, if less captivating, presentation. In its opening stretch, the album touches on wondrous, synth-swathed psychedelic reveries (the 80-second title track), scrappy, staccato rock rave-ups ("Ricky") and, in their most successful turn, a reconciliation of the two on "Catch Your Death", which locks into a swirling, stuttering drum beat (suggesting a nascent dub influence) before double-timing into an effectively urgent chorus.

But with the onset of "Hurricane", Division Day's agenda comes into sharper focus: plaintive, pulse-regulating adult-contemporary indie rock that's often afflicted with a bout of mid-tempo-itis. Perhaps sensing that his bald sentiments (to wit: "I want your blood inside my head") could set off the emo alarm, singer Rohner Segnitz maintains a poised, breathy delivery that keeps the melodrama and histrionics to a minimum, but at the same time seems overly subservient to the songs' lazy haze; by the time we hit the second-act power ballad "Reversible", the portentous synth tones and Edge-y guitars render Division Day indistinguishable from any number of contemporary modern-rock bands striving for 1980s Big Music import.

So it's no small consolation that Beartrap Island's most serious song topic is given an affectingly spare presentation that allows Segnitz's voice to stand on its own humble terms, without attempting to obscure or bolster it. The song is called "Dayenu", a reference to a Passover hymn commemorating the Exodus tale, wherein the title (which translates to "it would suffice us") is traditionally sung with joyous gusto. But in Division Day's case, the song's theme-- essentially, one of just being lucky to be alive-- is appropriated for a downcast rumination on surviving a near-fatal fever, illuminated by trolling organ accompaniment and sparks of feedback. Perhaps it's not the most appropriate selection for the Seder table this weekend, but in their own modest way, Division Day turn their own sorrow into something worth celebrating.
- Pitchfork.com


"A Murky Crossroads for Division Day"

Foreboding, murky and pensive. Visitation, the second full-length release from Los Angeles-based mood-rock outfit Division Day conjures a smoky sonic dream, with packaging, eerie tracking and a title that rather accurately constructs an unfamiliar, though not unpleasant, whole. Gone are the crisp timbres of Beartrap Island. Instead, heavy instrumental washes lap over one another and create waves of melody and noise that obscure clarity in favor of a crafty group identity. The result is an unexpected departure from the band’s bright debut and a movement towards uncharted waters of musical mysticism.

On the cover of Visitation, a blue-skinned mystery woman accompanies futuristic, geometric script carrying the album title. Within, the single fold of glossy red with black undertones of the CD booklet and disc hint at the monolithic and dark content of the music beyond. Alien imagery, complete with azure women and blood-red vistas, frame the idea of Visitation as a murky, mysterious alternative to the accessible sounds that helped break Division Day into the music scene.

Justin Meldal-Johnson, famed for his work with Beck and the Nine Inch Nails, lent his production skills to Visitation. The troupe engineered a brooding album whose tracks emphasize a cold whole instead of a collection of vivid components. Most noticeably, Rohner Segnitz and Seb Bailey’s vocals remain largely obscured throughout the album. With few exceptions, their androgynous croons are shadowy and warbled phrases. Stretching and bending over the waves of programming and guitars beneath them, the words have a subdued fervency that remains veiled in milky delays and robotic doubling.

Kevin Lenhart’s drums are curiously accentuated in Visitation. The blustery timekeeper seems over-mixed and raucous compared with his melodic bandmates, whose instrumental additions seem to suffer for the percussive prominence. Nevertheless, the sometimes organic/sometimes synthetic rhythmic collections on Visitation are intent on capturing the listener’s ear and driving the album against an overarching macabre, downbeat feel.

The most alien aspect of Visitation’s sonics are the mixed-down guitars and keys that stood out so much in the band’s debut. Programmed and patterned with expert nuance, the finer notes in the band’s repertoire shine through the murky storm on tracks like “Devil Light”, “Planchette” and “My Prisoner”. Haunting, these instruments seem subdued and restrained. For the band’s capabilities with production and aural shaping, the deliberate movement towards warped and obscured instrumentation seems a curious, albeit intriguing maneuver.

Though somewhat disappointing on a pure listening level, the album’s instrumental mixes and vocal textures sound complete within the mysterious context of the album as whole. Thematically, Visitation hits as an enigmatic, sometimes macabre world of alien thoughts and mystery. Like its namesake, a precious emerald stone known for its majestic ripples of fine tones within a larger green landscape, “Malachite” builds on repetitive, cresting guitars, celestial choruses and hypnotic phrasing. When the track breaks into the jarring bridge, the words “my skin had changed” hit in an unusual moment of clarity. Division Day casts a hazy spell over the album’s second track and prepares for an album of potent incantations.

The beautiful, wavy balled “Azalean” evokes a similar magic with quietly stated and beautifully phrased imagery. Ripe with the lyrical allure of still water and gossamer reflections on a warm night, the track casts keyboard ambiences as soft ripples beneath the echoes of flickering light heard in four-note guitar accompaniments behind Segnitz’s nostalgic moan. The somatic wash spills into “Devil Light”, where sharp pointed rhythms press over ghosting, sequenced background whispers of electronic insight.

Strung out, buzzing guitars on “Planchette” capture the album’s eeriest track, a reference to an early Ouija board that finds Division Day as a medium between ours and another world. The long sustains that illuminate the track build with “Carrier” and eventually warble into the stringy synth harp, hand claps, and droning bass on the album’s title track and the cacophonous shades of “My Prisoner”.

Visitation is an intriguing album that reveals Division Day’s aptitude for dynamic music. Murky and somewhat inaccessible, the album paints shades of the dark, forbidden and macabre in textures that contrast directly with the crisp tones of its predecessor. As a change of direction it is a successful album. However, the often-muddy production leaves much to be desired with its rough mixes and occasional lack of definition. Nevertheless, the album stands as a complex and compelling article of modern rock. - POPmatters.com


Discography

EPs-
*The Mean Way In (2004 Undetected Plagiarism)

ALBUMS-
*Beartrap Island (2007, Eenie Meenie Records)
*Visitation (2009, Dangerbird Records)

Photos

Bio

It wasn’t all that long ago when the four guys in Division Day were sitting in a bar trying to figure out their next step as a band—or if they were going to remain a band at all. They had toured the country, played all of the right musical festivals and were even name-dropped on the new version of “90210.” But they had also split with their label Eenie Meenie Records, and after nearly a decade in the game, were lacking momentum.

Also, even though the dreamy pop of 2006’s Beartrap Island was praised for its dense harmonies and sultry simplicity, the guys felt the disc’s varied song styles didn’t represent where they were musically anymore.

“That period was disheartening. I think a lot of bands would have called it a day. But we were determined,” says guitarist Ryan Wilson, who along with Rohner Segnitz (keyboards/vocals), Kevin Lenhart (drums) and Seb Bailey (bass/vocals), make up the Los Angeles band (some members have known each other since childhood).

“On the last record we tried to appease everyone—to mixed results. For this record, we decided to find one thing we all agreed on and push in that direction as hard as we could,” adds Lenhart. “We needed to sound like us, and boldly so.”

The guys took a year to narrow their musical lens, explore new ways of recording, and hone in on a directive and focus that they could all get excited about. Or as Segnitz puts it, “do that Division Day thing
of fucking talking a bunch, equivocating and deliberating.” They came out the other side with Visitation, an album which finds the band steering confidently into darker territory, marrying synthetic and organic textures in songs about death, transformation, and the devil

Album opener “Reservoir” sets the subterranean tone with textured drums and serpentine guitars. Throughout the disc the band explores solid, skuzzy alt-rock with “Chalk Lines” and distorted shoe gaze
haze with “My Prisoner,” while the delicate beauty of “Azalean” and the austerity of “Planchette” let Segnitz’s vocals shine over any studio wizardry. Grandiose in scope, yet cohesive and definitely boldly their own, the album has the eerie allure found in the music of Gary Numan, early Peter Gabriel, Magnet, and the darker side of Radiohead and the Pixies.

To those scratching their heads to classify what it’s all about, Wilson offers this assistance: “We’re calling it
post-industrial blackened romantigaze.”

The guys self-funded the recording (signing to Dangerbird after all was said and done), so when they were looking for a producer to join them on this new musical path, they needed someone who got it.

They found Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Nine Inch Nails, Beck), also a session bassist, who was drawn to an early demo of “Malachite.” Relatively speaking, their time in the studio was a sprint. Armed with nearly-completed songs, they holed up with Meldal-Johnsen and engineer Todd Burke (Ben Harper, The Kooks) at The Bank in Burbank, where they tracked the lion’s share of the album in just 10 days.

“He made us feel that he was a believer in what we were doing, which was really important because we were making this record just because we wanted to do it,” says Wilson. “He knew all of the references we were going for.” The guys discussed musical waypoints that included Harvey Milk, David Sylvian, Cocteau Twins and Pink Floyd. “It wasn’t about genre, but it was more about sounds. And he was able to ascertain what about those elements were important to us,” says Segnitz.

Visitation is the complete opposite of Beartrap Island, which was recorded completely in analog. Sure, the guys captured initial sounds and beats with traditional instruments, but they also added a layer of technology, processing the guitars, making a single keyboard sound out many things, and essentially tweaking it all so everything’s not so readily-discernable. It all works to retain the interest of the listener upon multiple plays.

“Ryan and Seb went off the deep end. They bought a lot of gear. Everybody hit this new aesthetic and we all went with it,” says Lenhart. “It’s a more difficult direction for us for sure, but it’s more exciting too.”

Primary lyricist and avid black metal lover Segnitz also took a fresh approach to the recording, largely focusing on the kind of stuff that gives you nightmares over the dream-focused content of the past.

On Visitation, Segnitz adopts a new lyrical voice, leaving behind much of Beartrap Island’s impressionistic conjuring in favor of often unsettlingly clear depictions of the unnatural encroaching upon every day life. Listen closely and the title track is about getting a visit from Satan or something worse; “Chalk Lines” draws a story of an occult ceremony in a suburban kitchen; “Malachite” is about a horse statuette coming to life. But below the stories there is a stratum of metaphor.

“To me it boils down to breaking down experiential boundaries,” says Wilson. “Just that thing that pokes itself into your head