This week at Charlotte Concert Guide, we’re honored to present ‘Better Out Here’, the debut album from Pluto Gang. This incredible six-piece band features an intoxicating blend of funky rhythm with plenty of electric guitar and keys to make it rock. It’s hard to describe their sound although they are a jam band at heart, their music and lyrics often feel retrofuturistic for the listener. Unlike normal jam bands that seem to bounce between instruments, Pluto Gang is able to create a fusion of harmonies that captivates the audience in a different way. The group includes Brennan Beck on vocals, Dillon Crawford and Wood Britton on guitar, Joe May on the keyboard, Pat Rogers on the bass, and Wilson Smith on drums. Here’s how they described the experience of composing and recording their debut album: “During an extensive series of sessions, tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina, it became apparent to the collective that things were, in fact, better out there— together, creating music, and discovering their sound.

You can learn more on their website and make sure to follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Check them out on YouTube or SoundCloud, and stream the new album on Spotify and Apple Music. While you’re listening, make sure you read along with these beautiful descriptions, provided by Pluto Gang’s own Joe May:

  • Trouble Looks Like Honey – Dillon actually wrote this one years ago. One day Brennan, digging through Dillon’s soundcloud archives, brought this one back up, and we decided to re-interpret it into a Pluto Gang song. The piece’s quick attack, high-speed harmonies, and two improvisational guitar moments offer a jazz-tinted homage to the woes of the Mississippi Delta and carries with it a psychedelic aura deified by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower. Supplemented by percussive clavinet, organ swells, and a driving bassline, this piece is liable to send an upbeat shockwave through the listener.

  • Failure to Communicate – Written during a songwriting retreat in the mountains of Virginia, the title invokes the famous line from the 1967 film ‘Cool Hand Luke’. We set up the gear, sat down, and suddenly “C#m!” and “116BPM!” were exclaimed into the space. After no more than 15 minutes of jamming the structure was written. The chorus cry’s out, “Take a stand, cuz life ain’t planned!”. To that our titular character responds: “Calling it your job doesn’t make it right, boss”.

  • Wildfire – A primordial statement of the band’s roots, ‘Wildfire’ blends nostalgic tones derived from the monumental guitarists of the Seventies with the revolutionary soul movement of the American Southeast, reminiscent of Muscle Shoals. Narrating the story of guitarist Wood Britton’s own journey with the existential questions of mind and spirit is Brennan Beck’s driving vocal performance. Along with Beck’s lead, the group’s choral harmonies and wailing lead guitars create a powerful medium through which the soulful plea is collectively lifted to the cosmos.

  • Free Time – “You might think it would be nice to go to a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do.” -Kurt Vonnegut (1959). Kevin Eberhardt, an old friend of Joe’s and long time songwriting partner, once proffered the thought: “Woah dude, a watch is really just a handcuff if you think about it”

  • MYSS – Dillon wrote this song during his college studies in songwriting. It was for an assignment to use the “cut-up” technique where you take two pieces of writing, literally cut them apart and put the two together to form lyrics. Crawford took excerpts from a Jimi Hendrix interview and a concert review from a Phish show and pieced them together into a new mosaic narrative. It tells the story of the Mellow Yellow Sunshine Superman, a mysterious character who uses music to cure his insanity, if only for a brief moment. It wasn’t until years later that Crawford learned who Donovan was, however in that period of naivety those two titles were put together into a completely novel meaning and the MYSS character was born. When in doubt, do as he would do –  “Party Down!”.

  • High Tide – “Ikigai” is a Japanese concept that roughly translated to “a reason for being”. It refers to the intersection of what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you are good at. Similar to myself the protagonist of the song is still on the search for that intersectionality. Sure is tough when the moon seems to have control over the direction you float towards… at least for now.

  • Plasmodesmata – Inspired by the timeless classic “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” Plasmodesmata is Pluto Gang’s deep dive into a nautical world, begging questions like “who’s even rowing this boat?” and “is life really but a dream?”

  • Window to Your Soul Remains – Start to finish, this song took almost two years in total to write. The ascending riff from the song’s final section was written fall of 2018 then shelved for a year. The rest of the song took shape in the fall of 2019. All of the three sections were written in separate sittings, the opening melody popping into Crawford’s head while trying to sleep one night after rehearsal, in a McCartney-esque moment of revelation. The song was not fully pieced together until COVID quarantine when all the band members were isolating in different cities. It was then that Joe had the idea to add a northwestern Brazilian Bãiao percussion section to it, invoking his childhood influences from growing up in Brazil. Within one day 22 different percussion tracks were recorded including instruments like zabumba, shekere, two different pandieros, triangle, a few different shakers, two different agogos, snare drums, cymbals, wind whistles, and a handful of goat hooves for that rustling sound during the a capella section. Thus a 9.5 minute epic brazillian rock odyssey was born. 

*Note from Joe: If you really think about it, Failure to Communicate, Free Time, High Tide, and Plasmodesmata are all about the same thing.