Although some bands do emerge fully realized with a debut release, most need time to find and refine the sound. The members of Long Island quartet As Tall as Lions have endured some growing pains while discovering their way, but in the course of 2006's self-titled second album and the act's latest, last month's "You Can't Take It With You," they have graduated from promising to assured.
The Lions create a sizable sound. The richly textured arrangements are swathed in enough dreamy keyboards, churning guitars and beatific harmonies to warm the iciest heart. Front man Dan Nigro's soulful croon carves big curling melodies, shadowed by his mates' soaring background vocals as the elegant atmospheres crash on a vibrant backbeat.
It's music that reveals more with each listen, while conjuring the graceful beauty of Coldplay, the arty experimentation of Radiohead and the sweeping grandeur of English indie delight Doves.
"The thing that a lot of people liked about the self-titled album was that it was really layered, so with every listen you could pick out new things," Nigro said. "But the thing it lacked was a certain passion where we were so meticulous about recording each part that we took some of the soul out of the recording."
Getting the right sound has been a sometimes frustrating proposition for the Lions. Only after releasing their 2004 debut, "Lafcadio," did the musicians realize that the album been mixed or mastered out-of-phase. Nigro knew something was wrong, but was then too inexperienced to pinpoint the problem or demand that it be resolved.
Emboldened this time, they fired two producers in the process of making "You Can't Take It With You," forcing the group to jettison plans to record the album live in the studio and establish a vibrant foundation for the heaps of overdubs. There wasn't enough time or room to accommodate a full band at the studio and only three of the disc's 11 tracks survived those early, abortive sessions.
Despite the difficulties, "You Can't Take It With You" stands as the band's most ambitious and polished effort. The Lions were happy with the recorded result, but the vast difference between their latest and the self-titled album is something the four musicians have had to grapple with live.
"This album's a lot more introverted than our last record was," Nigro said. "It's definitely something you have to be conscious of as a band when you're playing live, especially with the songs off the self-titled, which are a little more high-energy. When you play those songs, then go into a newer song where it's a lot slower and people don't know it so well, you can really shift a mood of a crowd in a bad way sometimes."
On the new disc, the band specifically omitted tracks that were too similar to ones on the self-titled album, forcing its way out of a comfort zone and spark revitalized creativity.
"We wanted to do something where we made people almost not like it at first," Nigro said. "We felt if we had put out a record similar to the last one, people might have expected it in their minds, and after two weeks they'd be, 'That record was cool, but it sounded like the last one.'"
As Tall as Lions with Berkeley to DC and Map the Sea perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford in Norman. Tickets are $8 advance, $10 door. "Chris Parker