New Roman Times – International Affairs

Orlando, Florida isn’t exactly known for an explosive indie rock scene, but New Roman Times is determined to make its mark regardless. With pulsating, danceable beats and slightly crunchy, head-bobbing melodies, the five-piece sounds like a mix of Death Cab for Cutie (who they supported on tour at one point) and Pinback with a biting edginess and maybe a dash of electronica.

Dan Owens fronts the band with longtime collaborator/wife Josie Fluri. Owens has a pleasing, albeit quavery voice, sounding vaguely similar to the recently disbanded Mcluskey (whose 2004 release The Difference Between Me and You is That You Are on Fire wins the award for best album title of 2004). But, the real treat is the back-and-forth vocals between Fluri and Owens. (Also, if you’re a fan of Brian Jonestown Massacre, check out Fluri’s guest vocals on “If Love is the Drug Than I Want to O.D.”). On “A Scene from the Disco Era,” pounding drum beats and floating, layered guitars interlock with Fluri’s ethereal, intimate voice as she responds to Owens’s dance floor requests: “Hold me in your arms / (so we can be free) / but there’s a chance I’ll take that it could be you / (your ways mean so decided).” Pixies and Sonic Youth references are sometimes made too freely when referring to male/female vocal combinations, but New Roman Times deserves the comparison.

After a thorough listening of International Affairs, the previous history of the band makes sense. Owens has a breakdancing past and keyboardist Melissa Parker DJs in her spare time, both of which explain the blend of dance beats with indie rock. Most of the tracks have a healthy mix of programmed beats and natural drum sounds. In a couple spots, though, the songs suffer from a bit too much effect, such as on “Consequences,” in which Fluri’s vocals are barely recognizable because of the heavy effect on her voice. “The Patient” could also use some more melody development and a little less programmed noise. The best songs on the disc emphasize guitars and vocals textured with subtle electronic flavors, not the other way around.

Some of the songs border on impossible to understand, but are just poetic enough to work with the music. On “Absolute Beginners,” Owens and Fluri muse: “Insects in a room / cry out for nothing else / I’ll be there, don’t you worry, I’ll come quick, I’ll be there in a hurry / Insects in a room/ cry out for nothing else / I’ll be there soon, don’t you worry, I’ll come quick to help you.” I have no idea what that means. But, it sure does sound good with the throbbing drumbeat and in-your-face guitars.

International Affairs is the first release from Social Recordings, a brand new label and offshoot of Orlando concert venue The Social (which Fluri manages). With a national distribution deal, big things could be on the way for New Roman Times and Social Recordings.

(8th Dimension Entertainment)