First, I have to apologize for the belatedness of this post. Life happens, blogs get neglected, etc.
Openers Gamble House hail from Los Angeles. Throwing self-censorship to the wayside, I’ll describe their music as your standard aesthetically inoffensive indie rock, which nowadays is another way of saying easy-listening music for 20-somethings. Still, I appreciate the fact that all band members were wearing relatively loose-fitting jeans. It’s nice to see guitar-wielding young men who don’t look like they’ve tried to squeeze into their girlfriends’ pants.
According to their bio, Gamble House seems to be a vehicle for lead singer Ben Becker, who began writing the band’s songs while he was still living in Brooklyn (a fact that also seems to explain why this California band has that all-too-common “Williamsburg sound” of sensitivity mixed with pop songs played by a four-piece). I heard a bit of a Beatles influence in their tunes, and I do have to give significant props to the smoothness of Becker’s and guitarist Ben Cassorla’s almost-falsetto harmonies. Their voices blend well, producing a less-fey-sounding Wild Beasts effect.
Shortwave Society, from Knoxville, TN, couldn’t have been more different from the opening act. Other than brass horns, there is hardly a type instrument that the five band members don’t play. Simultaneously, they employ a cello, an acoustic guitar, a synth keyboard, a violin, a laptop, drums, and an amped and distorted old telephone receiver. There’s also a xylophone, an electric guitar, and vocals. And on Friday night, the whole shebang ended with a segway into “Science Fiction Double Feature”–the closing credits version–from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, I’m all in favor of avant-garde music. It can be thrilling to hear unexpected combinations of instruments, styles, or techniques come together in a way that challenges the listener and stretches the boundaries of what we normally consider to be music. However, making the avant-garde or the experimental make sense is not an easy thing to do–not that sense is a requirement; it is, however, a means of helping the listener understand the musical ideas behind a song.
My point is that, with so much happening in their music at once, Shortwave Society have taken on the hugely complicated task of attempting to organize all of these sounds, all of these dissonant notes, all of these individual parts into a cohesive whole. And, for me, the myriad parts never quite…gel. While there is structure to each song, the motifs change so quixotically that the mind never gets to relax into a groove. Often, I couldn’t figure out why the individual players’ lines of music were happening, except that there was, for example, a cello onstage, so it might as well be made use of during the entire song. Although the band members appear to be listening to each other, the separate parts played by each musician frequently sound as though they have nothing to do with what anyone else is playing. I don’t mean that there are occasional clashing moments like those that occur in jazz improvisation; I mean that it sounds like someone determined the key of the song, outlined the structure, and handed each person a metronome set to the same tempo; then everyone went into separate, sound-proofed rooms and came up with their respective parts.
I hate to be excessively critical of a band that’s new on the scene, but I feel that the obviously high technical skill level of the members of Shortwave Society merits my respect in the form of an honest response, with my reasons for not entirely “getting” what they’re about articulated to the best of my ability. I have nothing but high praise for the band’s dexterity–especially that of violinist Sarah Hurd and cellist Alexia Pantanizopoulos, the latter performing with a gusto that is wonderful to watch. Maybe my ear lacks the sophistication required to fully understand their music. Or maybe “not understanding” is exactly their point. I have no idea. To me, that indicates that, despite the prowess, passion, and intelligence of the players, the thrust of the music remains unclear.
…Stay tuned for my recap of Adam Matta‘s performance…
Update 9/7/10: Please see Original Hipster’s interview with Adam Matta in lieu of part 2 of this blog post.