Throughout the pandemic I’ve noticed an uptick in long-distance musical collaborations, and the new self-titled debut from dyed-in-the-wool indie rockers Central Heat Exchange (Sunroom/Citrus City/Birthday Cake) is among the best. Chicago provides an anchor for the four-piece group, since more of the members live here than anywhere else: brothers Jake and Paul Stolz of local indie staples Varsity, Pool Holograph, and Discus contribute their preternaturally effervescent melodicism. Jake Stolz kicked off the project in spring 2020 by sending a fragment of a song to Austin musician Santiago Dietche, who records kindhearted, folky music under the name Daphne Tunes; Paul Stolz and Adam Soloway of Winnipeg band Living Hour rounded out the track, and their collaboration snowballed into an album.
Central Heat Exchange flits between lush eloquence and low-key nonchalance, humming with a collectivist energy that encompasses more than the band’s core lineup—partly because the four initial partners roped in more than a dozen friends to complete it. That indie-rock army realizes Central Heat Exchange’s wide-screen, grandly emotional vision in a style that should remind you of Broken Social Scene, due in no small part to shared DNA—BSS contributors Julie Penner (violin) and Jason Tait (keyboards and vibraphone) brighten the edges of the forlorn “Drumless.” Central Heat Exchange also draw from a well of Chicago talent to pull off their dreamy hearthside sound: Lala Lala’s Abby Black drums on knockout singles “Tulips at My Bedside” and “Directly Down,” the latter of which features featherweight lead vocals from Varsity’s Stephanie Smith. I’ve struggled to get my head around the newest flavors of pandemic anxiety, seclusion, and sadness as the Delta variant triggers a fourth U.S. COVID-19 surge, but Central Heat Exchange has provided a salve. The music’s comforting uplift reminds me of the ways I can renew bonds with friends and family, and even forge new communities, as long as I’m willing to work as hard as these four musicians.
Central Heat Exchange’s new album is available from Birthday Cake.