(Post-Echo) It’s been nearly two years since math-rock duo Art Contest relocated to Athens from Greenville, SC, bringing with it an unbridled musical curiosity. The band began preparing its sophomore album, Two Songs, during summer 2015, but a burglary at drummer Garrett Burke’s home that Christmas threw the project off course when the laptop containing master recordings was stolen. After extensively re-recording and adding new material—lyrics on the album’s namesake track address the break-in—the duo has managed to capture its exuberant live show on record, replete with all its technical savvy. Additionally, Two Songs provides an opportunity for the audiophiles to flex their engineering muscles in ways limited by performance, resulting in a record that balances playfulness with polish.
The album opens with a series of instrumental tracks that lay the groundwork for Burke and guitarist Cole Monroe’s stylized precision. Songs like the sprightly “Sports” and whirling “Wall Ball” demonstrate Monroe’s near-limitless ear for melody. Live, these arrangements consist of looped guitar lines, but here they’re multi-tracked and densely layered, allowing each figure to resonate with complete clarity in the mix and reveal the true potential of this two-man band. Burke takes advantage of every aspect of his kit, foregoing bland rhythmic structures to best serve each song, like the title track, which mixes rim shots, snare rolls and hi-hat barks while Monroe shouts, “Lost before they could see/ Some never heard again.”