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Bon Savants have the brains, if not the breaks

The Bon Savants' first album, ''Post-Rock Defends the Nation," which is set for release later this year, is a revelation. But for the Savants, who have long enjoyed a reputation as one of the smartest bands in Boston -- frontman Thom Moran is a rocket scientist at MIT -- an intelligent, cohesive album isn't enough. There is the small matter of actually selling ''Post-Rock," which, without a label, is in limbo.

''We have never -- and I'm proud to say this -- sat around and let people enable us," Moran said recently in a Cleveland Circle apartment. ''In the meantime, there was so much inspiration in this particular moment, and it doesn't make sense to let that moment pass."

Like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, 2005's self-made sensations, the Savants, who perform tonight at Bill's Bar, recorded their album without label support and absorbed all the costs out of pocket. ''Post-Rock" was completed in September and is now being considered by a handful of record companies for distribution.

The Bon Savants are not, in the grand scheme of indie rock, a young band. Moran met guitarist Kevin Haley in the mid-'90s, in Frankfurt, where Moran was finishing up a stint in the Air Force. Haley was living on the base with his family. The two initially collaborated on a short-lived project without much success.

By 1997, Haley and Moran were back in the States recording a series of four-track sessions. A central theme emerged: Science, the field in which Moran works, was combined lyrically with the sense of trepidation he and Haley felt living in Germany after the end of the Cold War.

''Post-Rock Defends the Nation," one of the first songs they wrote, is staged ''overseas." In the first verse, Moran cagily proclaims: ''I hate the sinner but love the sin. Post-Cold War blues take their toll. Boredom is good for the soul." The hesitation and apathy are palpable. On ''Where the Moon Meets the Ocean," Moran turns flippant: ''I didn't guess the comedown might go on for the rest of my life. She said, 'Oh, you kiss like a Russian.' "

In 2003, Moran and Haley, who now had enough tracks to offer to area musicians, recruited Dave Wessel to play bass. Newly cast as the Bon Savants, the band began to play gigs in the Boston area, with a rotating cast of drummers. Andy Dole filled the position permanently in 2005.

If the band has gone through a series of growing pains, the Savants' music -- which takes vocal cues from the swagger of the Magnetic Fields and the melodic urgency of a Doves' album -- retains a young sound. It's a sound that's propelled them to local prominence.

''Post-War," begun last spring, seems like a natural extension of the Savants' progress as a band. Although there have been offers on the table from indie labels, the band wanted to work out its sound on its own.

Through September, the band members let their moods dictate the music, and they swung through dozens of tracks before settling on the 42-minute length. While it progresses through its central themes -- love, loss, science as a metaphor for both -- the breaks in the album are achieved by subtle changes in tone, not by the silence between tracks.

Once the songs were in place, Moran, who says he bumbled a bit of the self-recording process, decided to begin the search for a professional to mix the album. They settled on Bill Racine, a Brooklyn-based soundman who has worked with Rogue Wave, Sparklehorse, and the Flaming Lips. Racine, the band says, changed the entire shape of ''Post-Rock."

''We were trying to make an interesting album," Moran said. ''One that would take a curious mind to understand. We got that."

After the mixing process was finished, the band headed back to Boston to begin shopping the CD. Interest, they said, has been high, although Moran declined to mention specific labels. The requirement is simple: The Savants want a label that can best represent their sound.

''We like rock music, but we're not going to ignore who we are as people," Dole said. ''We can't write about angsty things when we're not experiencing that."

''This way we compose music, ''Moran added, ''is reflective of how we think today. And that's not going to change."

The Bon Savants play at Bill’s Bar on Lansdowne Street tonight at 9. $5 cover. 617-421-9678.

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