Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ismism – February 6 at O Patro Vys

What does electro-acoustic post-rock even mean? Probably nothing. That's because arguably made-up genre classifications often fall short of the sounds they try to envelop in a few short words. It can be tough to admit, but sometimes academic (and, if I may, audiophilic) catch-alls aren't the best way to describe sounds that seem a bit out of the ordinary, or even a bit out of the Top 40.

To play a little name comparison game, Ismism can at times sound like what Boards of Canada would record after listening to & Yet & Yet and OK Computer on repeat. And repetition, it so happens, plays a large role in the earnest melodic developments that make the band's debut e.p. so inviting. This is not texture for texture's sake, aimless improvisation, or self-indulgent experimentation. The Ismism e.p. covers plenty of new iterative, slow-building ground without delving into an uninteresting abyss that can sometimes make instrumental rock a turn-off.

The disc's peak-and-valley structure mimics that of individual songs, making it easy to conceptualize the self-titled output a unified package, rather than a collection of stand-alone tracks. Fitting, then, that the five-piece's release show contained two extended halves, with songs flowing into one another through appropriately-timed lulls. Band members routinely dipped down to control samples through their floor-bound mixer, swapped or teamed up on instruments (vibraphone!), and exchanged numerous smiles and head-bobs, adding to the group effort that successfully put the music and the mood above any individual attention. (One unintentional exception may be bassist Alex LeBlanc's habit of walking on the spot to the beat – but that probably just means he's really into it.)

This collective, all-for-one feeling also helps to set the band apart from acts who focus solely one member, or that one unique aspect of their sound. Another largely unimportant peculiarity is the the fact that "the drummer" (also known as multi-instrumentalist, composer, and all-round nice guy Matt Daher) writes all the music. And after watching these songs build over the past year, I'm really looking forward to new works from Daher and friends. And did I mention they lug a fucking vibraphone to every gig?

Photos courtesy of Danya Z.

Emma Frank Quartet - February 3 at Dièse Onze

"Let It Go," the standout track on Emma Frank's humble online home, starts with a few soft chords, offbeat hits against a snare's rim, and a simple kick to reminds us where the cycle starts. For the next three minutes, the local vocalist blissfully explores the nuances of notes she seems tied to only at arm's length. Blending ever-tasteful vibrato, natural scats, and soothing melodies, the song shows off the best parts of whatever neo-soul meant to be, its restraint more rewarding with each listen.

When I first complimented Emma on her ability to add depth to sometimes straightforward vocal lines, she wrote it off as being "just Jazz," effectively downplaying her talent and the fact that she applies similar techniques to her multiple pop forays. Online, this is evident in the first single from her newest project, She's Got a Habit, in which spacey synths and rolling beats provide the backbone for the adaptable songstress's musings. And in real life, the jazz-pop amalgamation came to the fore during the Emma Frank Quartet's second set at Dièse Onze earlier this month. Highlights included a prodding cover of Bjork's "Unison", and of course busy-stickman Phil Melanson's facial expressions. ("Feeling" doesn't even approach an accurate description of the experience that is watching Phil coax his drums.)

During that set, the band balanced experiments beyond jazz's realm while staying true to the purpose of the dimly lit Saint-Denis lounge. Following the stirring build-up around said cover's "I never thought I would compromise", the Frank-penned "Go Running" led the band into a disco-jazz territory before a remarkable dose of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright". While the original relies upon a subtly simple yet powerful chord pattern, the Quartet brought the changes to an undefined but oft-cited 'next level'. But what's really exciting about this band is there ability to play off each other, each musician serving an equal (and between the vocals and saxophone, sometimes indistinguishable) role in the sound. See them when you can.