”I like the way it sounds/ Like aliens are playing in the band/ Playing dive bars deep in outer space/ And pushed out of the clubs by common droids/ Playing with noise.”
When folks talk about chemistry in music they mean something less scientific and more palpably intangible – feel, connective lines of unspoken communication, and more simply, a collective vibe that makes folks tingle. Musical chemistry is what lets us know we’re encountering something new, the faint whiff that makes our sonic nostrils flare. It’s what tells us that for all the elements we recognize and can explicate with references to bands past there’s still something new to be said, some new presence we haven’t met yet holding out a hand, ready to shake us with all its might. Portland’s Lesser Bangs has enough chemistry working to get a whole lot of folks buzzed and smiling.
Their boffo debut release, Alamo Basement (released August 27), launches with a Tom Petty-esque rocker that begins, “All my friends are addicts & lovers. None of them get it for free.” Things continue to thicken quickly with “Droids,” offering the first inkling of the group’s subtle, weird humor, which is reminiscent of early Steely Dan. That sophisticated touchstone is one of several that stroll around Alamo Basement, which feels resolutely modern but totally aware of Pink Floyd, Phish and other archetypal ancestors that don’t start with “P” like The Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips.
The hiss ‘n’ spark of this machine age is ever-present but balanced by warming classic rock elements – the pure tone of the wicked and tender piano work, the yearning raggedness of some vocal passages, well sculpted choruses, a facility with non-boring jamming, a knack for knowing when a simple repeated line is more effective and emotionally impactful than a stew of words. Blasted loudly from midget tall speakers, the album sounds fantastic, a callback to a bigness and boldness that marked earlier eras in rock.
Float around in Lesser Bangs’ ocean for a spell and one begins to see they’re special, the sort of band that becomes “the” band for a dedicated core flock. They remind us of some of DI’s most beloved cult greats – God Street Wine, Citizens’ Utilities, Perpetual Groove and Soul Coughing – sharing those bands peculiar swirl of strong musicianship, undisguised weirdo tendencies, and a put-their-shoulder-into-it gusto for songwriting, production and performances that’s goddamn winning as hell.