Conditioner don’t have any answers for you. With their upcoming collection of bright, buoyant songs, they just want to ask better questions about this strange world we inhabit – hopefully emerging on the other side “no wiser, but a little more in awe,” as they declare at the end of their propulsive new track Dates & Names.
Riley McCluskey and Aaron Kirkbride have always asked a lot of questions – growing up in Los Angeles, their curiosity led them both to University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for college. They formed their first band there, learning how to connect with audiences by playing very loud, very fun rock & roll. A few years after graduating, they reconvened in Los Angeles with a new set of experiences and influences under their belts to create Conditioner – “we’ve always wanted a vehicle like this where we can explore the sounds and ideas that we’re obsessed with, completely on our own terms,” says McCluskey.
The duo recorded their debut 2-track EP, Introducing, in Riley’s home studio in July 2016 and quietly released the songs with little advance promotion. Quickly, they received praise from blogs like Ones To Watch, Indieshuffle, and Buzz Bands LA, who compared their “sleek, soulful pop” to the Beach Boys and lauded their songs’ appeal to “more sophisticated palettes.” Soon thereafter, single That’s Not Me began gaining popularity on Spotify, starting as the lead-off track on a Fresh Finds playlist and eventually reaching the 4th position in the Global Viral charts, racking up nearly 500,000 streams in the process. Following these initial tracks’ success, the team re-focused on creating a new set of songs in their instantly recognizable style of joyful but left-of-center pop.
“We see this album as a chance to expand on the world we started to build with Introducing –clean, jazz-inflected guitar; intricate but dance-able rhythms; and stacking Riley’s upper vocal register into huge waves of harmony,” says Aaron, who plays guitar, bass, and keyboards. From the chord-packed, serpentine bounce of Nausea to the lush 4-part harmonies in Released, it’s clear that Conditioner didn’t cook these songs up overnight – they’re carefully constructed to make you nod along on your first listen and delight in new discoveries on your tenth.
While the tracks skip along with a major-key glow, McCluskey’s lyrics revel in reminding us that it takes a lot of pollution to make those gorgeous LA sunsets. “I use songwriting to express conflicting ideas at the same time – the tension between two opposing states is what makes this whole ride so interesting.” You can hear this uncertainty in Sleeping Arrangements, where he uses the verses to describe the nervous excitement of a relationship’s beginning, while resigning himself to its doomed conclusion in the enormous choruses. “I was trying to juxtapose those two experiences that bookend most relationships by putting them together in the same song, because when it’s over you reflect on them both simultaneously and it can be totally disorienting to process both those feelings at once.” When the bridge hits with a swirl of ascending arpeggios, we feel that same confused rush – there’s no clean resolution to the heartbreak, but there’s acceptance, and that’s enough.