You can't swing a boom mic nowadays without hitting someone who wants to create soundtracks for imaginary (or--gasp--real) films. Amid the charlatans stand a handful of honest-to-Godard auteurs who excel at conjuring images and triggering profound emotions with sounds. The eclectic trio 310 are among the best at this difficult art.

310 is in the vanguard of groups free from geographical restrictions: Tim Donovan (guitar, drums) lives in New York, Andrew Sigler (keys, banjo, vocals) resides in L.A., and Joseph Dierker (bass, percussion) dwells in Seattle. They've just released Recessional, their most accessible album yet, for the London-based Leaf Label, home to some of the world's finest and most unclassifiable musicians.

On Recessional, all 15 songs bleed into one another, giving the disc a dreamlike aura, while cinematic elements like dialogue, rain, windshield wipers, and footsteps lend a sense of a sonic travelogue. In this way, Recessional reminds me of the KLF classic Chill Out.

"We like to create these epic journeys that you can get lost in and create your own concept behind it," says Donovan. "It derives a lot from being big prog-rock and concept-album geeks in high school."

While Recessional is accessible within the context of 310's previous work (drifting :zoviet*france:-like ambient loops, musique concrete collages, and menacing triphop), it still won't be blasting from any parties (unless Jim Jarmusch or David Lynch get ahold of it). "Opposite Corners" could even be a radio hit, given enough payola, as Sigler's vocals recall Bryan Ferry's or Chris Isaak's sumptuous melancholy, and "Night on the Ocean" charmingly stumbles into Tom Waits' noirish balladland. But Donovan denies 310 strove to conceive a more structured, inviting album.

"It seems to be the progression of all the 310 records. Our [debut, 1997's] Aug 56 is probably the least accessible of our records; [it's] a total ambient soundscape. Then each record after that adopts more and more beats and melodic elements in combination with the ambient elements."

Geographically, 310's members view their isolation as beneficial. "The advantage of being spread out across the country is that we can each bring our influences we receive from our home cities and instill them into 310," says Donovan. "We also work much better when we can work in our own space at our own pace and then send the ideas to each other as they progress." They've also found that swapping MP3s of musical ideas and editing tracks on ProTools significantly decreases intraband drama.

I wonder if the band's diverse musical influences diffuse its identity. Is there such a thing as being too mercurial among styles? Or is genre-hopping necessary to maintain interest?

"310 is like a melting pot of influences for us, and I think that is our identity with it," says Donovan. "I... think that the eclectic nature of 310... enriches [our identity] and makes it what it is. 310 [allows us] to go down many musical paths, but somehow it always morphs into that 310 sound. I think it becomes very original-sounding in all its diversity." DAVE SEGAL


More info at www.posteverything.com/310.