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Published: 2005/06/02
by Mike Greenhaus

Signal Path Live – Signal Path


As its simple title suggests, Signal Path Live is a snapshot of a band in motion. Born and bred in the musical oasis of Montana, Signal Path has solidified its place as one of the most prominent fourth-generation hippie-rock outfits currently navigating the country. Offering an organic mix of the Disco Biscuits’ trademark trance fusion and Particle’s patented space porn, Signal Path fits snugly within the rapidly emerging livetronica sub-division of jam-nation — a niche notoriously difficult to document. But, to its credit, Signal Path’s latest live offering is a crisp, accessible collection of live tracks, offering a series of distinct, exciting mood pieces, if not defined songs.

A compilation of live tracks drawn from Signal Path's fall 2004 tour, Live is a bridge release of sorts, connecting the group’s early recordings and independent releases with its first full-scale studio album, recorded earlier this year with noted electronic producer James Lumb. Arriving on the heels of a handful of live downloads and BitTorrent-ready performances, Signal Path seems to take a decisively minimalist approach, packaging Live disc in a single cardboard sleeve and highlighting edited jams along with marathon segues clocking in at over 20 minutes. Yet, within the lush soundscapes of the keyboard showcase "Elephant" and the percussion playground of "Approaching Phi," Signal Path segues between a number of distinct styles, blending dub, trance, funk, rock and jazz into a single seamless sound.

In lieu of releasing a complete individual concert, Signal Path opted to compile highlights from its entire fall tour. A seemingly long-forgotten method of documentation, Signal Path's "best of" approach works well for the quintet, allowing its compositions to breath as individual entities. Inserting slow-fades between each track, Signal Path recreates the feel of a full show, yet each song is full of its own peaks and valleys. A true rock band, based around the three-part rhythm section of bassist Dion Stepanski, drummer Damon Metzger and percussionist Ben Griffin, Signal Path at times slips into more tangible fusion material, before shifting back into its trademark organic trance.

On "Genre," Sasha Butterfly adds some euphoric vocals, helping veer Signal Path deep into trance, while adjoining numbers "Bob It" and "Transit" actually approach Phishy territory before dipping into more danceable four-on-the-floor beats. But, between its live instrumentation, Signal Path uses computer effects and keyboardist Nathan Weidenhaft's mix of synthesizers to create the "living laptop effect." Maturing in an age where computers are onstage fixers, Signal Path uses its laptop effects to add an electronic edge to its overall persona, allowing the group to tweak its instruments tone in front of a live audience.

Never an overbearing force, Ryan Burnett almost fashions his instrument as a repetitive loop in the group's sampling approach, at times, contrasting beautifully with his bandmates more electric sounds. A guitar showcase, "Transit" allots several sections for Burnett to solo within into organic blend, hooking listeners in before fading into more atmospheric, dance friendly terrain. Clearly the member most rooted in fusion and jam, Burnett's sound helps guide Signal Path through its more melodic, and, at times, repetitive, sections.

In a few years, Live may very well be remembered as Signal Path’s first definitive album, a collection of songs fans can burn for friends interested in flirting with the band’s live experience. While the group’s recent studio sessions will no doubt flesh out the band’s electronic tendencies, and layer its effects in order to beef up its thinner moments, Signal Path has established a successful blueprint with Live. If the Disco Biscuits are accused of being too darkly intense and Particle too politely restrained, Signal Path is a happy medium, inserting organic bass rolls and rock-style guitar solos within electronica loops and repetitive patterns. And, as Signal Path’s live sound continues to develop, Live will no doubt be remembered as the soundtrack of the group’s pre-fame success.

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