I don’t know what it is about bands from Portland, Oregon, but they always sound a little bit different than what I expect. Maybe it’s because, unlike in the east, they are not as subject to the tide of hype that comes from across the Atlantic. Maybe it’s because Portland is a small city that nobody expects much from, so the musicians feel like they have less to prove. Whatever it is, some distinctive music comes out of Portland, and if one thing’s for certain, pop and Portland are rarely on the same page. If any band exemplifies this, it’s Talkdemonic — which, incidentally, was named best new band last year by the Willamette Week, Portland’s weekly alternative paper.
The duo of Lisa Molinaro (on viola and synths) and Kevin O’Connor (on every instrument you might hope to find in your grandfather’s attic, as well as some futuristic beat-making devices) makes music that seems to be based in a pop structure — short, rhythm-based tracks — but the similarities end there. Without singing, hooks or samples, the two still manage to generate great energy and an accessible sound. Their second album, Beat Romantic, blends traditional forms of instrumental music with what they call hip-hop beats — although I can’t think of many hip-hop artists who would try to flow over this. And the romance definitely wins out over the rhythms: the layers of instruments carry a transportive, cinematic quality that can be exhilarating at first and then disappointing in the end.
The songs seem to build from nowhere, starting as simple electronic beats and growing into full-on symphonies of synthesizers, organs, strings, banjo, guitar and stick drumming that would sound at home on any dramatic soundtrack. It’s intriguing, but it seems like every time the cacophony begins to come together, they abruptly finish the song — six of the album’s sixteen tracks are just under two minutes long. Many of the songs are most sharp and stunning in their poignancy, but when the nature of the music is to slowly build, it seems a disservice to keep the songs on such short leashes. Beat Romantic seems to be more of a collection of ideas for songs that might some day be.
Listening to Beat Romantic is like living inside the head of a mad scientist with A.D.D.: As soon as one of their pretty little monsters starts to twitch on the table, they pull the plug without really seeing what it can do. Even trying to classify the music (some people are calling it “folktronic-hop,” others “electrofolk-hop”) seems like an act against nature. But when they let the tortured strings of “Bering” leak into the opening beat of “Human Till Born,” Molinaro and O’Connor show they know how to create smoother and more subtle transitions. It’s a mystery to me why they don’t do it more often.
Talk Demonic Web site
Arena Rock Web site (streaming audio)