Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Skinny Jean, Mr Maps @ Ric's (8.6.08)

Starting with a minimal setup of mandolin and vocals before gradually building up to a five-piece band during their first song, Skinny Jean began their set with a sea-shanty-esque folk number that could quite easily have come from The Gin Club. I'd never gone out of my way to check out the band before, since their name had always made me think that they would sound like any number of bands aping the fashionable NME-electro-rock sound. However, I'd recently been told that they didn't really sound much like that at all, so I figured I should go see them.

Having successfully defied my expectations with their first song, they then thoroughly confused me by playing... an NME-electro-rock song, complete with prominent synth lines and dancing hi-hat beats. While I was still trying to reconcile the two disparate genres displayed so far, the third song came out sounding like some cross between Pavement (slightly discordant interlocking guitar parts) and Jeff Buckley (overly dramatic male vocals). And so it went; quiet folk against stadium rock against big band jazz against indie pop. I couldn't figure out whether what I was seeing was one of the worst or one of the most awesome sets I've seen... ever. What can't be denied is that the band can put on a pretty entertaining show.

While Skinny Jean may be able to put on a pretty decent imitation of a whole slew of genres, Mr Maps (lead by one Chris Perren) seem to have hammered their musical chops into shape in order to perform a supremely impressive display of the post/math-rock sound. If I were to compare them to other bands (and I'm about to), I'd say that they're like the flawlessly technical Battles attempting to incorporate the wide-eyed sound of Sigur Ros' 'Takk' album, or if the expansive Do Make Say Think combined their lengthy jazz-inspired workouts with the disco-rock of Of Montreal (or any number of psych-pop bands from the Elephant 6 collective). Occasionally they descend into sounding like a somewhat derivative version of Explosions In The Sky, but I was only reminded of that band for a minute or two in the final song of the set, before Mr Maps threw in yet another time change and headed off in a completely different direction.

Special mention must be made of their drummer, Sangdae Yang. While each member of the band has a pretty good grasp of their respective instrument, Yang is one of the most accomplished drummers I've seen in Brisbane (especially now that Leigh Fischer is overseas with Scul Hazzards). He sits at his kit, barely moving except for the flurry of his arms playing more complex rhythms than I've seen in a long time, throwing in interesting fills, providing ambiance when a strong rhythm isn't required, handling time changes with ease, and all the while keeping locked together with Perren's sampled rhythms. Meanwhile, the guitarists shred away with fretboard-tapped melodies and arpeggios, the keyboardist provides melodic hooks, and the bassist keeps everything locked together and understandable.

Those who like their music simple and unpretentious will most likely hate this band, which I'm not sure is really warranted as their music is not complex for complexity's sake - in fact, there's a large part of Mr Maps music that is totally accessible, even 'pop'. It may be instrumental, it may require great skill (and hours upon hours of rehearsals, I imagine) to play, it may be difficult to dance to at times, and it may well play to the audience's head as much as it plays to their heart or their loins. All of that aside, I don't think that this is music solely for the chin-scratching intelligentsia - at its root there is still something very communal to it, even populist.


Shane said...

I love both these bands! Brisbane is having a good 2008. Skinny Jean were brilliant at YKB and John Steel Singers friday night.

Anonymous said...

It's not hard to look brilliant beside those two bands

Gav said...

anonymous strikes again!