Blending dreamy, occasionally ambient textures with brainy lyrics, vibrant hooks and a percussive crunch, Antlerand offer a diverse, inventive and accessible range of sounds. There's an LP floating around -- a really good one -- that showcases these things nicely, but doesn't even hint at the band's stunning video elements, which are absolutely integral to Antlerand, the project. "We made it a rule early on that if we were going to do this, [video] would be very much a part of it, and would always be a part," says Larson, who is also the band's videographer. And indeed, the videos match the songs beat-for-beat, creating something linked to, but wholly different from the experience of the album alone. That creates artistic tension.
Antlerand drummer Delaney Kelley explains the tension best, though perhaps inadvertently so. When asked if the band consider what they do pop music, performance art or installation, he initially said Antlerand were all of the above, but then demurred. "Though, I wouldn't say it's an art installation, so I'd lean more towards performance art." He again thought better of it, saying "but then, when you say that it's a whole other thing. Like interpretive dance." Which of course brings up images of 40-year-old men in leotards pirouetting in a nest of their own hair -- an association they clearly want to avoid. Eventually Kelley settled on the least audacious (and least descriptive) claim he could make. "I think of it as a rock show."
That's not a reluctance to be classified and it's not false modesty, but neither is it a lack of direction or definition. Antlerand is all of those things. The performance elements are obvious without an official stamp, but they played Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time-Based Arts festival in 2005, placing them with the region's performance art throngs.
Which compounds the problem of merging pop with performance. Anyone working in the pop music idiom, even tangentially, has to have a stripped down, refined, melodic and satisfying product people can throw on their iPod. That's as true of the Hold Steady's bar rock riffage as it is of Tracy + the Plastics' scripted, post-punk-driven queer politico videography. No matter how high the concept, how multi the media, at the base level there's a record that knocks you out. Lacking that, you may have art, but you certainly don't have rock.
Thankfully, Branches (the debut LP Antlerand self-released last year under the name Invisible then re-released on Sound Family records) is a great pop record that has a rare combination of the assuredness of veteran musicians and the novelty of a new collaboration. Layers and layers of sound -- keys, beats, guitar, vibes, accordion and even banjo -- build and fade while Kelly's drums signal punctuated shifts of mood and tempo. Larson's lyrics, which are great and would take center stage in most other bands, are just another element. It's gorgeous, melding pop, rock and certain (unpretentious) ambient elements into the kind of thing you can spend hours puzzling over. It's such an assured release, it's hard to believe the work is, as Kelly calls it, the band's "first experiment."
The visual elements only add to that. Larson's clever design creates worlds block by block, in time with the guitar, the glock and the snare hits, implying a visual correlate of Antlerand's music. A strong time-based connection, then, that doesn't pantomime, making Antlerand live and Antlerand through headphones similar experiences without being the same. To best understand each, it's essential to experience both. Hit up iTunes for the album, and the Big Dipper on Friday.
The Inlander presents Antlerand with Zavala Lopez, Pat O'Neill and Adam David at the Big Dipper on Friday, Nov 17 at 7 pm. $7. Call 747-8036