When Particles Collide: Photoelectric

Double displacement

When Particles Collide release the explosive Photoelectric

It’s not hard to figure out what gets Sasha Alcott’s picture in the Boston Globe: Chemistry Teacher + Rock Chick = Great story. We storytellers are suckers for that shit. She educates the future hedge fund managers of America and owns all-leather outfits!?!

Thank christ her band, When Particles Collide, is so kickass. Their first proper full-length, Photoelectric, fulfills all the promise of last year’s excellent EP, Ego. If anything, the duo (hubby Chris Viner plays drums and helps out in the Exeter theater department) have upped their game. Alcott’s vocals have an increased polish and range, delivering yet more of her trademark immediacy, and they’ve settled into a songwriting comfort zone that doesn’t apologize for their stripped-down arrangement and focuses on the kind of straight-ahead rock that’s gone a bit out of vogue in contemporary music making.

Alcott’s use of the falsetto is particularly striking on this record, employed as though her eyes are rolling into the back of her head as she inches toward euphoria. “Constant Disaster” is a revelation, with a Pixies-style open, a line of notes on distorted and grimy guitar, that moves into more of a Black Crowes rock chorus that features “the ashes of your catastrophe.”

It’s a serious head-nodder, and the chemist even ventures into biology: Her adversary is a venus flytrap, “but your nectar’s already turned.” There’s even a delightful piano break that comes out of nowhere before a final furious flourish.

But we were talking falsettos, and the one Alcott employs at the end of the “Disaster” bridge, breathy and alluring over Viner’s high hat, is downright deadly.

Just like the teasing open to “Don’t You Wanna,” where she outlines the situation: “Yes it’s true, I’m coming over / But I won’t stay the night / That’s how this goes.” My goodness. Seems like maybe she’s channeling some of that teen lust going on down there on the Phillips Exeter campus – better make sure you don’t get caught out on the quad!

She’s a fun guitar player, too, here pulling out little three-note chunks that ramp into continuous strumming, and generally focusing on driving rhythm over cycling riffs. But there’s serious riffage in the open to “Leave Me Lonely,” almost metal, just without the down-tuning. It’s a great contrast to the delicate bridge, where Alcott makes it clear “I won’t ever forget what’s mine” while Viner rides a rolling snare.

Viner’s roll through the toms in the finish to “You Want It All” is a brilliant exclamation point on a song that is hot as fuck-all, a true tribute to the ’70s scene at Max’s Kansas City in NYC: no nonsense (well, other than the makeup and whatnot), always on, and so easy to dance to it’s impossible to stay still. In fact, “we’ll go dancing till dawn,” Alcott declares, accompanied in this close-out section by a chorus of voices who’ve got the same intentions. “It might be time to go/ But it might be time to stay.”

Just like Alcott nakedly sings in the album opener, “I know you haven’t had enough.” And how could you, really? With songs like “Enough” featuring layered melodies sitting on top of desperate guitar slashes, or “If I Asked You,” where Alcott is every bit as direct as Regina Spektor, or “Time,” with an upstroke funk to match Ego’s “Distraction,” there’s just so much to dive into. The dynamics push and pull at you, like they’ve each got one of your lapels and they’d like to get some sense shaken into you at some point.

Finally, there is “Something,” a complete change of pace in the album’s finish, with a horn-fueled, old-time ’60s vibe, like being at the drive-in with muscle cars that have flames painted on the sides. Or maybe there are some poodle skirts. It’s not like any of us was alive back then, but you get the idea.

Here, Alcott is at her most dramatic: “Don’t waste time this way/ Don’t waste my time.”

She sure ain’t wasting yours. The nine songs here form a crisp half-hour of pure elation. It’s loud without being angry, aggressive without being mean. Photoelectric is a hell of a good time.