Liminal space, defined as the threshold or in-between stages between rituals by Arnold van Gennep, is a state of limbo. It’s the wiping away of outside influence leading up to clarity — with a little distance, one can see clearer.

Ryan Yoo and Nick Velez are regular pursuers of this idea. As Common Souls, an electronic R&B outfit based out of Los Angeles, the 20-somethings realized the need for physical distance in order to create. Writing Pyramid Lake, their stellar 2016 debut EP, meant retreating to an isolated cabin just north of LA, away from the city’s insistent hum. Their sophomore project, a non-traditional series of summer loosies released over 10 weeks dubbed #10TUESDAYS, is an isolationist pursuit in its own right, songs free of any thematic ties to an album or acting as identifiers of the band’s sound.

Their process is far removed from anything tantric or ritualistic, however — moreso, it’s the comfort of disconnecting.

“The only people we have to impress is ourselves,” Yoo says over a phone interview. “There’s no need to make anything that instantly gratified anybody. You can make music that kind of burns slowly, and just go at our own pace.”

“It feels very insular,” Velez agrees. “There’s a kind of emptiness to the sound and it always started from being (physically) in this place that’s really quiet.”

For its initial minimalism, Pyramid Lake is chock full of big ideas and even bigger moments. On songs such as “Arizona” and “Roots//Habit,” melancholy openings tread steadily into sonic swells. “Arizona” (which was named 2015 Song of the Year by the John Lennon Songwriting Contest) starts with a single guitar line and percussion, built upon with the tiniest of one-by-one additions – a singular bassline, a finger snap, synths – before transforming into a full-blown ballad. “Roots//Habit” follows suit: Dreamy pop vocals are accompanied with a simple guitar for a majority of the time and before long, Yoo achieves a spiritual awakening, a wailing solo standing amidst a backdrop of harmonies.

Yet for all its quiet complexity, the sonics are merely a vehicle for the semantics. On “Arizona,” Yoo directs his woes to his boo; For “Roots//Habit” he sends them up to the heavens instead, crooning, “What’s a god with no garden, what’s the devil, who knows me better?”

“Emotionally, they all live in a very similar zone, they all kind of deal with separation and isolation,” Yoo says. “Since we both worked on the writing and the tracks, as opposed to the producer handing off the track to us, I think there’s a bit of a particular unity in the mood because they’re authored by the same hand on both ends of the process.”

That high-level craftsmanship suggests Yoo and Velez have been at this for years, but the two only started playing together exclusively in 2015 after meeting at UCLA. Finding common ground in “weird, electronic music” was the litmus test to their unfettered approach with experimentation and exploration: “We were terribly inexperienced in what we were doing but it almost worked in our benefit,” Velez describes. “We weren’t reserved or deterred from trying some crazy idea because we weren’t sure if it was going to work or not.”

Even after the success of Pyramid Lake, that freeform outlook remained intact. The songs featured throughout #10TUESDAYS revealed different shades and tones rooted in their shared taste and musicianship. One week would see more pep in their step (“Benz,” “Lossangeles,” “Bandaids Pt.3”), others would experience a familiar moody sentiment (“5am,” “Jasmine”); Some weeks, they paid homage (Rihanna cover “Luv on the Brain,” Frank Ocean-tinged “Tonka”).

More than anything, #10TUESDAYS was a challenge. Being perfectionists the first time around, they admit, often slowed them down creatively. In most cases, Common Souls’ best qualities together — a perfectionist’s attention to detail, experimental, freewheeling — would be counterproductive, even borderline destructive, but their vision for the bigger picture remains their saving grace.

“It was about creating without necessarily overthinking, relying more on our instincts,” Velez elaborates. “'What am I doing to serve the song?' Sometimes that means I have to do a lot, sometimes I just need to play one note. It’s about trying to understand that balance of how much or how little I need to add to make this the best I can make it to be.”

“We realized the importance of growth in the long term over perfection in the short term,” Yoo adds. “There is so much to gain from engaging in the process over and over and trying to learn from it, as opposed to trying to get it perfect the first time.”

Common Souls is, in essence, a dive into the deep end of some serious soul-baring. But it’s easy to forget that in conversation with Yoo and Velez, their self-described identity as “sad electronic songs by happy dudes” coming to fruition amid tales of songwriting, Tinder jokes, and wide-eyed gratitude. There’s no telling if the ‘sad’ part of the equation will hold up moving forward, perhaps they’ll have to withdraw into a new space to perfect their next wave.

After all, the reward is more work.

“Expect bigger and smaller sounds, but definitely, within every aspect of the music, depth,” Yoo says.

Common Souls, supporting CIFIKA
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
March 7, 2018
8pm, $20 (18+)

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