The Buildings know it’s been a while. “Every year since 2018, we’ve been, like, ‘OK, we’re going to release an album this year,’ but it kept getting put off,” Mariah Reodica, singer-composer-guitarist for the indie rock quartet, tells NME.
“But last year was the year we said, ‘You know, it’s now or never; let’s just get it out there’.”
The delays weren’t for lack of trying. In the intervening years between their debut – the critical and popular favourite ‘Cell-O-Phane’ from 2016 – and their brand-new record ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’, the quartet found themselves playing Singapore, collaborating with Singaporean label Middle Class Cigars to reissue their debut on limited-ed cassette, and earlier this year, getting label support from Japan’s Call and Response Records to put out their follow-up.
The flurry of activity seemed appropriate for The Buildings, whose music is rife with restless inventiveness and enviable doses of energy.
“I wish I had actual energy to be envious of,” Reodica counters self-effacingly. Speaking to NME via video call in her signature drawl, Reodica gives off the aura of someone who has triumphed – but only after taking a serious pummelling.
Made in the throes of post-college blues, first jobs, and now a global pandemic, ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’ is a crossroads chronicle: between youth and adulthood, adventure and responsibility, obfuscation and clarity. The shift didn’t come with an audible click. Often old sensibilities meld into new ones, but not in an ungainly, mismatched-socks kind of way.
The resulting material, in the end, displays more deliberate songcraft and renewed attention to detail. Since many of the songs weren’t road-tested prior to recording, scrupulous effort was put instead into texture, harmonies, and studio geekery.
Still sonically quirky but with fewer rough edges, ‘Heaven’ is a clear leap from the loud and indulgent spirit that has informed the band’s early work.
Testament to this is the title track, released in late February. A lush and driving tune with an old-timey melody, ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’ is, like the rest of the collection, proof that the band are “more comfortable with dialled-back dirt pedals, relaxed tempos, and longer running times”, as they put it in a press statement.
“Once we broke out of that idea – that it has to be two guitars, bass, and drums – we were able to settle more comfortably into playing around in the studio, which I actually enjoy equally if not more than playing gigs,” Reodica shares further.
“We learned that a record can be more than just a translation of what you do live”
The Buildings’ new tunes evoke a newfound calm and purpose. One listen and it’s obvious the band are far from their early years as staple at then-new dive Mow’s, playing their monthly ‘Salad Days’ shows, and wreaking havoc alongside like-minded outfits like The Gory Orgies. Their old songs, Reodica muses, were either “loud, fast, or happy – but not all at once. That’s like an indie Venn diagram.”
Faced with cramped bars and spirited gig-goers, The Buildings played to their audience. Distortion, gang choruses, and cymbal crashes in rapid succession served as musical signposts – markers of drunken nights and youthful abandon – that resonated with their faithful, without fail.
The lone arbiter of quality for ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’, on the other hand, was an awareness of sound, unfettered by applause or audience approval. “Maybe people would call it a sophomore slump, [because] the songs are softer. But I really enjoyed being able to play around more in the studio,” Reodica says. Approaching an album as a self-contained artefact was liberating for The Buildings, she added. “We learned [that a record can be] more than just a translation of what you do live. I find a lot of fun in that.”
Being a functional band torn apart by geography and circumstance – with budding careers and a recent wedding thrown into the mix – is no walk in the park. But creative purpose is a great motivator, and the ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’ sessions progressed almost normally, with members alternating in the studio in clusters for days at a time.
That said, The Buildings’ growth as individuals over the past half-decade spiced up the process, as if the members all came to a scuffle with newly sharpened knives. There’s guitarist Aly Cabral’s thrilling post-Ourselves the Elves work as Teenage Granny; bassist Dom Zinampan’s stellar art criticism; even Reodica’s excursions in feminist punk (with The Male Gaze) and country (alongside Grandi Oso in Good Knife).
But perhaps the growth that’s most palpable in the project is that of drummer Kean Reformado, the band’s de facto producer, whose razor-sharp improvements in studio craft (all done in his home facility Malabong Lababo) haven’t gone unappreciated. Between the two Buildings records, he’s helmed, mixed, or engineered material by Ourselves the Elves, The Mad Lilacs, and, from Singapore, Subsonic Eye.
“Our old songs were either loud, fast, or happy – but not all at once. That’s like an indie Venn diagram”
Working with Reformado isn’t just a technical exercise, Reodica says. It also entails a lot of detective work on their favourite records – like how, for instance, the Eraserheads’ ‘Sticker Happy’ managed to negotiate acoustic, electronic, and ambient elements.
“At the end of the day, we’re still making music we like, which has always been our north star, regardless of what other [artists] are doing. We’re just going to do what sounds good to us,” she qualifies.
And there is, certainly, much that sounds good on the record: healthy measures of anti-guitar-hero antics (‘Phantom Limb’, ‘Flesh And Code’); inspired bursts of showtune-worthy melody (‘Climb Over The Gate’, ‘Don’t Cry At The Movies’); and atmospherics bordering on dream pop (‘Detour’, ‘January 10’).
Early on, The Buildings wore their love for top-rung indie canon – Pavement, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo – on their sleeves. But they are now more open to trad stars with a rad streak. Reodica, for one, likes her Wilco and her Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, and wishes she could sing like Lou Reed and Tom Waits: “‘Miserable white men with emphysema’ is the term I saw in a meme.”
It’s not just these artists’ immaculate bodies of work that draw her in, but also their willingness to get awkward, despite – or maybe even actively against – their expected tack. “They’re doing a lot of things that aren’t supposed to work but they do, and [that is] what I want to push with The Buildings.”
You can hear The Buildings gunning for the unexpected on ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’, with its sheen, complexity, and breadth. It’s in the dissonant moments of ‘Caricatures’, a tangled web and a glorious mess of a beauty, especially when it gets to its ‘Baba O’Riley’-style synth break. The track is calculated but peppered with unlikely Easter eggs, like birds chirping and trikes zooming past in the vocal track. It’s in the out-of-nowhere doo-wop outro of ‘Doghouse’, a brilliant late twist to an already-engaging number.
On their sophomore outing, The Buildings are, essentially, lobbying a carefully crafted response to challenges on both artistic and personal fronts – and pulling it off in style. Speaking to Reodica, you get the sense they wouldn’t do it any other way.
“You only release an album so many times in your life, so why hold back?”
The Buildings’ ‘Heaven Is A Long Exhale’ is out now via Call and Response Records