The New Orleans rock band found a new groove with its latest album.

rotary downs
By Marc Pagani

New Orleans indie rock outfit Rotary Downs has kept New Orleans as a home base for the decade or so it's been together. Rotary Downs isn't chasing success but enjoys a solid local and national reputation, and the band has enough chops to regularly tour the country. After half a dozen albums, one could argue the band is resting into a familiar groove.

But it's wrong to call Rotary Downs complacent.

The band is still figuring things out, and its energy and ambition only grows with the release of a new album, Traces. Rotary Downs will play a Friday night show at Gasa Gasa to celebrate the LP after a 12:40 p.m. Jazz Fest set at the Samsung Galaxy Stage.

Vocalist and guitarist James Marler says the new album is a sort of a milestone for the band. The group has retaken the reins with Traces, deciding to record the album on its own terms at bassist Jason Rhein's Marigny Recording Studio. Marler is surprised it has taken the band this long to make that move but says it was ultimately the right one, a step in a new direction that could seem unlikely for a band already so comfortable in its ways.

"We all agree it's the best sounding album we've made," Marler says. "It took longer than expected, but we're happy with the results. It's the most original stuff we've done."

He says the group originally went into the studio wanting to channel a late '70s, early '80s sound. They experimented with older mics and dated recording techniques, though Marler says the band mostly forgot about that aim halfway through. Still, some of those classic sounds survived the sessions, and Traces is often playful and experimental. Tracks that reach past the five-minute mark have stretches that more closely resemble EDM stylings but stay rooted on triumphant riffs and dynamic bass work. Some entirely give way to the electro-rock fusion recently popularized by acts like the Arctic Monkeys and the Black Keys.

Still, it's a sharp album that stays fresh and avoids falling into predictable patterns. If anything, it's exciting to see a band maintaining energy but taking it to different places when it could so easily choose complacency.

To further distance Rotary Downs from that word, Marler sums up Traces' recording as a bit of revelation for the band. "I feel like we just figured a good system to make records more efficiently," Marler says. In a way, Rotary Downs is only now coming into its own. The band is efficient with results that it's most proud of, hitting a stride it couldn't reach before according to Marler.

It's jarring to hear from an act that's had plenty time to establish itself, but Marler's honesty is reassuring. Rotary Downs may never call another place home, but it won't quit challenging itself. Discussing the possibility of a next album, Marler says he isn't worried about getting writers' block or losing inspiration. "At this point it's just a matter of us all agreeing on what kind of stuff what we want to do. We all agree that we want it to be fast."

Rotary Downs play Jazz Fest Friday at 12:40 p.m. on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, the Gasa Gasa that night at a double CD-release party with Mike Dillon that starts at 9 p.m.