Trying to figure what Modality will do next is as impossible as figuring out what it's doing right now. Fortunately, its electro-instrumental sound on Particle City isn't so obstinate that you need a guidebook to Rigel 7 to enjoy the music. Not to mention this record provides clues to the songs' purposes with track names like "Wall," "Plaza," "Library" and the like. Particle City seems to be a soundscape of a city. Whether the city is real or imagined is of no consequence, what matters is the trip.
For those familiar with the local band's live tapes recorded during its April 2012 VFW residency, Particle City is a bit of a departure. The VFW tapes are often bombastic and feel improvised (duh, cuz they are), and sound more rooted in rock and roll to my ears than the tunes on this album. Particle City's tracks quietly weave a transcendental dream state without being sleepy yawn-inducers. The sounds include a combination of squelched electronical space laser chirps mixed with layers of keyboards and organic guitar licks that would be just as at home on a quiet Alison Krauss tune. But there are instrumental screams and wails, too, like on "Outskirts," and they sound vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Meddle. Particle City is a trip, literally and figuratively. Anyone seeking escape should seek it out. (Jason McMackin)
Modality's vinyl release party for Particle City takes place at the VFW, 139 E. Main St., Fri., Oct. 19, at 10 PM, with Abe Coley and Better Tennis. $3.
Grave Babies, Gothdammit
I suspected I'd like Grave Babies when I saw the title of this new EP was Gothdammit, because I'm a sucker for Gothy things and wordplay. Also in its favor, the four-piece Seattle band nicely fits in with the Hardly Art roster, a label that features such notables as Hunx and His Punx, the Beets and Unnatural Helpers.
Gothdammit's first track, "Fuck Off," counters its name by inviting the listener in with an extended eerie introduction, leading to a scant 15 minutes of synthy, sad toe-tappers that sound like the lovechild of pop punk and '80s goth. It's similar in mood to the catchy darkwave of Mind Spiders, but with production so scuzzy I checked to see if my earbuds were crapping out. Fuzzier isn't always better, and it's the band's only drawback.
Like Tim Burton movies, the good ones anyway, Grave Babies' sound is dark without losing an accessible appeal. (Though I'm sure the band members consider themselves far too indie to be associated with such an influence.) The arty melancholy perfectly suits spending a night indoors making your Halloween costume, or a night out skulking in a dim bar wearing a heavy coat, trying to bum cigarettes. (Kate Whittle)
Grave Babies, Better Tennis and Ollbreds play the VFW, 245 W. Main St., Mon., Oct. 22, at 10 PM. $5.
Rabbits, Lower Forms
Wanting to love Rabbits and loving Rabbits are two different things. Obviously "loving" rabbits is gross and illegal and not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the PDX sludge-punk, dirt-rock trio whose low-end gurgle is balanced by hardcore-style vocals that sound like the screams of a primordial ogre rising from the muck, or maybe a smidge like Police Academy alumnus Bobcat Goldthwait.
Much of Lower Forms reminds us that music is not always a race to the chorus. Riffs are slowly ridden, hard and long. Waves of sound rarely crescendo, instead only coming close to the crest. This keeps catharsis at bay and creates a knotted-up mood, the same kind of anxious mood created by too much coffee and a drive through Washington's scablands.
Some of this emotion has to do with the album's production. The overall sound is flat and thin, almost as if it were recorded in a bedroom. Not that that is a bad thing. The most successful track, "Invisibugs," has more texture than the others–man-choir, time changes and something like a barking vocal hook–yet it doesn't quite crush. Perhaps, Rabbits wants us to remain in pre-catharsis limbo begging to be released. (Jason McMackin)
Rabbits performs at Zoo City Apparel, 139 E. Main St., Fri., Oct. 19, at 8 PM, with Drunk Dad, Shramana and Darshan Pulse. $5.
Greensky Bluegrass, Handguns
Long before I knew that bluegrass didn't mean yards the color of the sky, my uncle Steve was playing it in Colorado. We took a family trip to see him when I was a wee fourth grader and my dad matched him on guitar, playing "Dueling Banjos," in a heartwarming rendition. I've had the same high expectation of bluegrass ever since.
Handguns comes pretty close to that standard. Greensky's new album is a refined version of Americana. The sound is subdued and overwhelmingly focused on the treble end of the banjo and mandolin, which give it a studio, not stage, sound. The stand-up bass and dobro don't penetrate through the melody in the way you expect from a rowdy bar band and the vocals tend to blend or get left behind. Which all means the Michigan band isn't playing party music the way you might find bluegrass at the Union Club.
It's a smart approach to a common sound. Sure, it's no Yonder Mountain String Band improv or Avett Brothers yell-fest, but the quintet has its own wistful and slow feel. It's their own brand. They take risks with some jazzy brass on "I'd Probably Kill You," finally speed it up on "Better Off" and leave you with an instrumental jam the length of a Gondola ride to the top of Telluride, beautiful views included. (Brooks Johnson)
Greensky Bluegrass plays the Top Hat Wed., Oct., 25 at 9 PM. $12.