Local Love: Roger Sellers
Photo: Eric Morales
I think anyone who’s ever sat down at a piano, with a drum kit, or even a guitar should certainly know how difficult it is to make that instrument sound like what you hear in your own head. The visionaries and performers behind every band in Houston, those who stand in front of a room of adoring fans, or an empty room of strangers definitely know how tasking this can be. Yet, because music is such a collaboration of efforts and ideas; so many times a band has at least one other person to lean on. However, when you have a sound in your head and there’s no one there to bounce your ideas off of; how do you move forward? In recent years, Roger Sellers has been mistaken for a DJ. Perhaps it’s the electronic way in which he chooses to perform live, or possibly the writers’ and fans’ lack of composition as to what they’ve just witnessed? Roger Sellers is not a DJ. Roger Sellers is not a band, nor does Roger Sellers have bandmates to lean on. What Sellers is however, might be as close to a mix of Frank Zappa and Brian Wilson as we might get in this lifetime. Though now a resident of Austin, Sellers attended high school here in Houston with Noah from Mke and Josiah Gabriel. On his new album, “Primitives” out on Punctum Records, Sellers takes the listener on a journey that has taken his career’s span in the making. If it’s true that Brian Wilson went insane trying to get close to the sound in his head; then one has to wonder how close to sanity Roger Sellers was before he made this album.
It should be prefaced, that this album is performed in the guise of electronica when played live. If you’ve ever caught Roger live, then you know that it’s a mix of insanity and genius. However, that shouldn’t sway the listener from realizing that the content within, was all recorded through instrumentation, and then looped or programmed. There’s so much craft on this album, that the eight songs contained are almost hard to believe that they were made pretty much by one person. The album’s opener, “Intro” greets your ears to an open organ, that gets little animal sounds and water running sounds in the background. The use of guitar riffs as the rhythm that flow in are almost as magical as the simple piano bursts that are met with a faint vocal track. When the actual vocals kick in, the serene feeling of peacefulness drapes your senses. The sounds are so lushly landscaped throughout the six and a half minutes. Thunderous drums come in where stabs of something else would go if Sellers hadn’t utilized guitar as the main rhythmic pace. The song gets finished by an open ended organ before seguing into the bells of the second track, “Appeals.” Here the bells are met with simplistic drums to then receive an quickly played piano. Sellers’ vocals have a bit of distortion on them, where now the piano mixes with hand claps and those same drums from before. Sellers’ ability to play drums on each song is mesmerizing and more than just a beat. You immediately realize that the drums may never be the rhythm section of these tracks, but they’re used in a way that’s almost opposite of every album you’ve heard before.
The third song, “Spectrolite” was my favorite on the album, and definitely feels like a single worthy of a solitary release. The fact that guitar is mixed with so many different instruments in order to create a pace for the song is pure magic. A distorted bass buzzes throughout with an almost falsetto voiced vocal from Sellers. Like many of these songs, Sellers’ choice of instruments is truly amazing. The way he uses a keyboard as a break instead of it’s traditional purpose as a primary instrument is almost too much to grasp. The mix of acoustic guitar that sways in and out of the song makes the landscape he’s painting so much more interesting for the listener. By the simple piano opening of the fifth track, “Waves,” you should have an immense respect for how Sellers’ crafts and composes a song. No song is just the sum of its parts, especially here where a piano and a drum beat make up the rhythm section; with melody provided by another piano. When the secondary drums kick in towards the songs’ end, the simple backing vocal track brings a peace to finalize what you’ve just heard.
“Steps,” the sixth song, has an interesting acoustic looped opening, that’s almost catchy enough to catch the eyes of a major label. Vocals that roll in like a thief in the night are as welcomed as the use of a second guitar that sneaks in and out of the song. You can easily lose yourself in the track, that’s also a contender for another possible single. The hooks are ever present yet not annoying. After the Chopin sounding opening of the seventh track, “Lates,” which does contain one of the most riotous endings of the album; Sellers begins to finish things off. The final track, “Omar” has a very electronic opening, almost like a modern Kraftwerk kind of sound. This is greeted by an anthemic styled vocal from Sellers, almost as if he’s inciting a generation to join him. The drums come in in a less feverish way from previous songs, while still being more than relevant to the song’s flow. The song, and the album are finished off by what sounds like the best drum circle you might hear all year.
In forty three minutes, Roger Sellers does more than some musicians do in a career. He composes each track in an almost symphonic way that’s simplistic in approach and almost impossible in execution. In the end, “Primitives” raises the bar on pretty much every 2014 release prior, and could easily be in contention for album of the year. You can catch the genius of Roger Sellers, at Rudyard’s on Sunday October 5th, with Boyfrndz, Devil Killing Moth, and Bang Bagz. He’ll have physical copies of “Primitives” on hand, while dropping a performance that even Brian Wilson would approve.