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Primacy Effect moves forward by looking back

by Andrew Doerfler / Beacon Staff • April 11, 2011

For some, nostalgia induces pangs of memory from happier times. But by combining upbeat, lo-fidelity dream pop with an emphasis on youthful pleasures, rising band Primacy Effect demonstrates that nostalgia doesn’t have to be such a dour experience.

Primacy Effect is comprised of writing, literature, and publishing major Tyler Taormina, media studies major Lorena Alvarado, and broadcast journalism major and former Beacon assistant photography editor Samira Winter — three Emerson sophomores who banded together last October.

Since releasing its debut EP, Am I Wearing the Godhead? online last November, the group has performed semi-frequently around the area, but struggled thus far to find a core audience. They aim to change that with an upcoming show on April 11 at one of their favorite local venues, the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge. Primacy Effect will be performing as part of the Battle of the Bands sponsored by Emersonian-run non-profit organization First to Aid, Inc.

The band takes its name, vocalist/guitarist Winter explained to the Beacon, from a psychological theory that says what a person experiences first most powerfully dictates his or her development. For them, that translates to a focus on the joy of one’s early days: optimism shines through in their glowing melodies and, as they exhibited during a recent performance at Cambridge music shop Weirdo Records, their enthusiastic onstage demeanor.

“When I say it’s real, then it’s real,” Winter and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Taormina chanted together — through constant smiles — as they performed an untitled new song. Multi-instrumentalist Alvarado serenely rides along as she plucks at her guitar, but seems no less thrilled to be performing. The song’s rollicking start-stop indie pop made it an immediately grabbing tune that plainly exhibited Primacy Effect’s carefree attitude.

Their cheerful disposition made an instant impression on the small group of people gathered in the tiny store, which usually hosts inaccessible and often abrasive experimental acts.

“It’s so nice to have pretty songs in here,” store owner and general music connoisseur Angela Sawyer remarked after Primacy Effect’s first song. “Usually people are trying to puke in a bucket — this is great.”

Even though the group’s pop hooks were a bit of a deviation from Weirdo’s usual repertoire, Primacy Effect proved to be a fit for the esoteric environment as their set progressed. They balanced their hopeful allure with a more avant-garde side in “Winter Garden,” a tune clearly reminiscent of Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective. After an easygoing, yet energetic, build-up of sporadic yelps and thumps, the number culminates in an arrhythmic breakdown of interweaving harmonies and airily cascading guitar.

The band cites shoegaze, the ethereally introspective musical style popularized in the late 80s and early 90s by bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, as a major inspiration to Primacy Effect. Its influence is prevalent not only in their hazy approach to pop music, but in Winter and Alvarado’s performing styles. Though they’re not detached like the vanguards of shoegaze, the reserved manner of the two reflects the shyness that comes with the youth they aim to portray: Winter mostly stands still as she strums her guitar — often looking down; pivoting and bobbing slightly — while Alvarado plants herself stoically in the background as she supplies the band’s arpeggiated foundation.

Taormina, conversely, convinces you he’s among the most active fellows in music as he simultaneously performs his three functions in the group: Playing the keyboard with one hand, he grounds the band by drumming with the other hand (as well as a foot) — all while singing with a vigor that’s obvious in his animated facial expressions and emphatic vocal inflection.

The style of each member is apparent in the band’s songwriting, too. They describe their practice sessions as organic, intensely collaborative experiences.

“This is more of a compromise and a conversation,” Taormina said, comparing it to his other musical projects. “It’s more of an in-the-moment kind of thing.” Most of their songs even originate at practices, rather than coming from individual members.

“The collaboration shows a side of you that you’d never expect,” Alvarado agrees. “Sometimes I don’t even know I have that musical part, but then they just bring it out.”

Primacy Effect is a trio of young people in a young band who are still learning — learning about each other and themselves through music. It’s a process that, like youth, can’t last forever. But it sure is exciting to watch while it’s going on.