Play Aan's modest official discography--three singles, the EP I Could Be Girl for You (2010) and the new album Amor Ad Nauseum (2014)--and you'll hear quite a few references to water and the sea. Bud Wilson, the band's lead singer and songwriter, recognizes how often this motif pops up, but he doesn't plan for it to happen.
"I don't really know how to explain it," Wilson said. "It's just the vastness of the unknown. A lot of the songs on this album [Amor] are kind of escapist. And to me, the greatest escape would just be out in the middle of the ocean, completely isolated from everybody. It's sort of lonely, but it's also magical."
Aan's music has worked its share of magic on listeners for the past few years. The Portland, Ore.-based band has toured with Built to Spill and Smashing Pumpkins and seen its music and videos featured on Stereogum, Impose and ifc.com. A frequent visitor to Boise, Aan has played every Treefort Music Fest to date and will play a show hosted by Duck Club Presents at The Crux on Thursday, July 24, with Portland-based (formerly Moscow, Idaho-based) electro-pop trio Psychic Rites and local indie-rock group Junior Rocket Scientist.
Combining disorienting tempos and eerie electronic textures with wistful tunes and aching vocals, Aan calls its music "experimental pop." It's a fitting description and a style that, like the watery imagery of the lyrics, comes easily to Wilson.
"I can't not implement pop in any of my songwriting; it's just there," he said. "I've got to have a hook in there, but I really love avant-garde music and just things that maybe don't have hooks but have really great textures. The blend of texture with pop songcraft--for me, that's everything. That's what I love."
Wilson was interested in music from an early age--he played in his first band in the eighth grade--but his imagination and tastes didn't truly start to develop until he attended the University of Idaho in the early 2000s. Academically, he wasn't always the best student: He remembered getting a D in a music appreciation class taught by future Finn Riggins singer-guitarist Lisa Simpson.
"And I know she still remembers that," Wilson said, laughing, "because I'll see her and I'll be like, 'Remember when you pretty much failed me from that class?' And she's like, 'Well, you were a shitty student.'"
Wilson drew more inspiration from Moscow's DIY music scene and especially the vast music collection of KUOI, the university's radio station.
"They [KUOI] just had kind of more than they could handle," he said. "Over the years, working there, DJ-ing there--that was the biggest thing."
After graduating, Wilson moved to Portland in 2005 and formed Aan a couple of years later. The band underwent numerous personnel changes--Wilson called the turnover "kind of like a Spinal Tap situation"--before settling into the current lineup of Wilson, bassist Reese Lawhon, drummer Jon Lewis and guitarist Patrick Phillips.
Although Wilson considers Portland his home, he misses the experimentalism that he found in the city's music scene when he first moved there.
"There are miniature scenes of people that are doing either very thoughtful, instrumental music or truly experimental music," he said. "And there are lots of pop bands in Portland that are cool--they're great bands, and I wouldn't slight them in the least for their endeavors--but it's not nearly as interesting to me."
But Wilson quickly added, "As long as people are doing what they actually want to do and not doing what they think can sell stuff or get them on Pitchfork, then I don't really care."
Whatever feelings Wilson may have about the Portland scene, Portland has embraced Aan. The Deli Magazine named the band one of the "Best Portland Emerging Artists of 2012," along with Lost Lander and Radiation City. Willamette Week's Matthew Singer called Amor "a confident, muscular record that never quite does what you expect." Portland Mercury's Ned Lannamann praised the album as "one of the best sounding [italics his] albums to come out of Portland in a long time."
The spacious, meticulous sound noted by Lannamann is the result of two years of work between Aan and producer Jeff Bond, who used to play guitar in the band.
"It was ... just that monolithic first album where you pin everything on it [and] it's do or die," Wilson said. "So let's make sure it sounds incredible."
Fans of Aan shouldn't need to wait long for another full-length release. The band hopes to record an album's worth of new material this year. Wilson has another musical project in the works, too. It's not experimental, exactly, but it's different.
"I've got a little country side project," he said. "I'm trying to write all these silly country songs, ship them out to Nashville and buy my first mansion."