Rock for smart kids

If dementia had a soundtrack, it would be Landing on Land. Chaotic starts and stops, ever-changing time signatures and chord progressions, sparse, yet intense vocals, abstract lyrics, one song bleeding into another during sets. And though dizzying, the recipe yields impressive results.

Through sheer musical aptitude, Landing on Land has created a world where punk and D.C. hardcore are surrounded by unconventional and unpredictable arrangements. It's almost pretentious, if unintentionally so, in that the music smirks at anything remotely radio-friendly. Yet the group's anti-mainstream sound is due to the fact that there are few bands that could do what Landing on Land does.

Singer-guitarist Jay Friedman happily acknowledges that LOL's brand of math rock -- or perhaps more appropriately, algebra rock -- doesn't always fit in Orlando.

"There's not a lot of audience for the stuff we play around here," Friedman says. "You realize there's only so much you can do in your town. There are so many bands in Orlando, it kind of hurts. People aren't as excited to see shows."

So Landing on Land takes to the road. In its three-year history, the band has only done two brief tours -- a six-day stint in Texas and, in April, a two-week jaunt throughout the southeast. They frequently play weekend minitours.

The band formed in August 2000, when the three members met while attending Full Sail. Friedman had heard Casey Occhialini jamming on acoustic guitar and converted him to bass. David Lane, the drummer, used to set up his kit at keg parties and "play crazy shit." (The band's original second guitarist quit when the band began taking road trips.)

Because Landing on Land is as far away from the "singer-songwriter" genre as possible, it's not surprising that the band writes in a completely organic and collective fashion. All three members are accomplished guitarists, so they sit down and hash out ideas, coming up with the basic concepts behind the songs before incorporating the trademark oddness that distinguishes the songs as Landing on Land creations. There's no room for improvisation.

"It's very calculated," says Friedman. "We're not, like, jamming at all."

Indeed they're not. During their recent tour, LOL experimented with a rapid-fire, nonstop show with no breaks between songs for their entire 35-minute set. At one show, the group paused only when Friedman broke a guitar string (one broke accidentally, then in a true rock-star moment, he finished the song while ripping the rest out and switching to his backup guitar). This approach means that a Landing on Land show is simultaneously brutal and jaw-droppingly impressive. Though the audience can get disoriented in the sheer velocity of the changes, it's a sensation that quickly grows on you.

Borrowing a little from the storied Dischord Records catalog (namely Fugazi) and, somewhat contrarily, Rush -- "What they did was really the antithesis of commercial radio," Friedman says -- and then adding heavy doses of mind-rattling arrangements and even a little sprinkling of cow bell, LOL is one of the most unique acts around, and they know it. Friedman admits that the band goes over better with musicians than it does with the masses. Mass appeal, after all, isn't that easy when you have no choruses or hooks to speak of.

"We take a little while to get used to," he says.

Friedman got his start in pop-punk bands, including a "cavalcade of horrible bands in high school." After that, he played with the poppy punkers The Makeouts in Melbourne. His vocal stylings evolved from, of all places, Hot Water Music.

Landing on Land could get by just fine as an instrumental act. Friedman's vocals often seem superfluous and unnecessary, almost distracting. Lyrically, though, LOL is intriguingly abstract, weaving political subtleties and pop-culture innuendos into songs that could be about life or death or politics or whatever you want them to be.

As you might expect, the band's lyrical process is anything but straightforward. Drummer Lane begins with the vague, sometimes two-sentence song titles -- "My mom said I can only go one direction at a time," or "We are good. We are on top of the situation" -- which Friedman focuses his words around.

"A lot of times, we have backlogs of song titles written for songs that don't exist yet," Friedman says.

There's a motive to the madness, you just have to stick around long enough to figure it out.

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