by Josh Gross
There was a time when indie bands were the minority, the "alternative," if you will. But that professional status became a sound that became an aesthetic that became a zeitgeist until even the remote wilds of Garden City became rife with them. And as the aesthetic and philosophy that grew from that professional status is one that places alternative values on low-fi audio, questionable musicianship and performance value, choosing to look inwards rather than the emotional explosion philosophy that rock was built upon, it's both a frustrating and rewarding time to be a music theoretician. When the band is good, they're often endlessly innovative and dazzlingly original. But when they're bad, well ... that's just an expression of those alternative sonic values. Many would posit that rock isn't much different. But with rock there is always the crash-and-burn performance value to fall back upon, something that indie rock generally rejects.
When Nampa quartet In the Pause first walked onto the VAC stage with matching oversized bellies and plaid shirts, it didn't bode well. Hopelessly generic looked to be on the menu. But in the same manner the chubby kid ends up being the one with personality, this goofy looking quartet brought some talent and class to the joint. It wasn't anything new, but it was executed more deftly than the average minus the bear.
The band managed to embrace an indie-sound but maintain a strong rock foundation with quality pop chops that, while doing little to break new ground, easily kept a listener's attention. There was a good clean echo tone on the guitars and interesting use of walking two-handed tap techniques, as well as song structures that stayed in motion rather than listlessly shuffling back and forth from A to B sections. The overall effect fell somewhere between Interpol and Matthew Sweet, with a dash of Jimmy Eat World, managing to sound both pop and anti-pop at the same time, yet avoiding much of the perceived whininess of their genre.
What made In The Pause more effective than similar bands of their genre was being somewhat more song than sound based. The songs gave shape to the sound, driving it forward without boxing it in. And while not instant smash hits, they were decent songs.
That said, are they ready to break? To hit it big? Not at all. The singer got into it a bit here and there, but the rest of the band's performance value was somewhat lackluster and while the songs flowed, they also flowed right out of my head. A pleasant, but not particularly moving experience. Though with strong fundamentals like those demonstrated at the VAC, I leave myself open to the hope of being moved at a future performance.
Despite the contributions of Walter/Wendy Carlos, there was a time when electronic music meant one thing: dance music. Blame it on Bjork if you like, but electronica being synonymous with dance is no longer the case, as is further evidenced by Portland's Housefire who offer a buffet of electronic tones and trancey textures delivered at an intensely glacial pace. Wanna dance? Wrong effin' band. Wanna contemplate the complexities of your ceiling tiles while reflecting on humanity's place in the universe? Game on. Think Radiohead meets "Dark Side of the Moon," add a splash of Sigur Ros and you'll have the lucid dreaming naptime of Housefire.
Their show at VAC managed to capture much of the ol' blessing/curse of the sound, in that it was moody and atmospheric, with roving percussion extras beating on cymbals and guitarists hunched over effects pedals, pushing them towards new and unintended tones: loud, soft, loud, soft, loud. It was admirable. But lacking a multimedia show, or a joint beforehand, Housefire's music doesn't feel right in a live setting. It's more about the sound than the performance. It hypnotizes rather than explodes. And that's well and good for laying on the floor wondering what dark matter is, but when going out on the town, papa wants some f@#$ing pyrotechnics.