By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Billy Downing, guitarist and vocalist for the Human Television, exhibits the ecstatically hushed presence of his band's full-length debut, Look at Who You're Talking To. "Sometimes I'll sit in my room and listen to records for hours or smoke weed," he says. "I love records. They're faceless. I'm a little scared about shows: You're standing there, people ogling you, and you have to perform well and look good. I don't really relate to bands or shows or anything like that." He pauses. "All I really give a shit about are songs."
Downing grew up in southern Florida and met his bandmates at UF, before relocating to Philadelphia in 2004. He fled to New York after six months and now resides in Fort Greene. With a new city and new sound, the recent material's sweetly expansive vocal hooks, fuzzed guitar splashes, and Wedding Presentstyle drumming ought to dispel the early R.E.M. comparisons garnered after 2004's All Songs Written B y EP. It's a varied dreampop palette: "I'm Moving On" pairs disembodied, four-note guitar crunches, standstill drums, shimmering bass notes, and melancholic, reverb-drenched vocals. On the other hand, first single "I Laughed" is an ebullient but lonesome Sarah/C86 jangle loaded with surrealistic images: a spider-filled mouth, a snow cone used as a kaleidoscope.
"I ate a lot of mushrooms in college," Downing deadpans. The 25-year-old says he found Talking To's swirling modern-art cover image in the trash, stumbling home to the Bed-Stuy squat where he initially resided after arriving from Philly. "I was digging through the trash and pulled this thing out," he recalls. "I dragged it home, stapled it to the wall, then passed out." He pauses. "The songs are kind of like that . . . found objects."
At a recent show, Downing mostly jabbed his guitar and sang in a shy hush, often with his eyes closed, smiling slightly. "I'm not trying to revive a genre," he'd told me earlier. "I wanted to make a pop record that I like to listen to." Onstage, it felt like he was back in his apartment absorbing that record for himself, a private act made loud and public, like a feedback-drenched prayer or shouted secret.