Tuesday, December 4, 2007

#114 - Brindle (Eulogy for a band)

Brindle (Eulogy for a band)

12/4/07 (#114)

Every day in America, somebody's favorite band breaks up. On November 18th, it was my turn.

The dissolution of a band is a common tale, the rate of successful longevity so pathetically low that it makes even the most volatile marriage seem like a sure thing. As musicians often say, being in a band is like being married, except your married to two or three or four other people, and for "date night", you attend drunken bar scenes, display yourselves on a cramped stage and hope nobody boos your romantic bliss.

A band is susceptible to myriad intrusions upon its creativity: The quiet or clamorous clash of egos as members jockey for navigational control, the constant allure of new and potentially more satisfying projects that form on the periphery of one's circle of friends, and/or the tedium of playing songs you no longer wish to play, to name just a few. Even simple logistics outside of the musical realm can inflict a fatal blow: The bass player gets a job working nights, or the drummer gets an opportunity to move back to his home state and rediscover family, friends and familiarity.

It is the latter that brought down Brindle, a modest little duo that played sporadically in the Portland area over the last half decade, always to appreciative crowds that understood they were witness to something precious. Watching them play, you just knew Brindle wasn't going to "make it big", because "big" would have been cosmically (and comically) incongruous: They were intimate, and the rooms where they sounded best were ramshackle little places that scoffers would dismissively refer to as dives and regulars would proudly refer to as dives. When Brindle played, these rooms became a sonic geode: A gritty, unimpressive exterior disguising the gorgeous, colorful, multi-faceted beauty that existed within.

Their audience was heavy with friends and fellow musicians, most wearing a smile like they were getting away with something, privy to a secret spoken in a language that couldn't be understand beyond the walls of the room. When the band began its set, the crowd inevitably encroached Tim McMurrin (and his uniquely detuned guitar) and Josh Gambrell (and his uniquely arranged left-handed drum kit) because the music had irresistible gravity---all fleshy excess and muscular poses had been been boiled off, leaving a sonic skeleton that revealed the genuine grace and power of rock and roll. As my friend Paul Bryant noted on a web site upon hearing the news of their demise, "Brindle is some of the most satisfying live music I've ever heard. Their music is somehow secretly formulated in its simplicity to move me and choke me up while totally rocking me out."

Corralling their sound into a small collection of adjectives is a pointless procedure, as the contradictory modifiers "simple" and "complex" were immediately appropriate and simultaneously accurate. Their music bounced as if it was navigating a hopscotch game that stopped at 5 ½, often beginning with an irregular gait before revealing a strange yet lissome cadence. Such revelations had to be quick: Most Brindle songs clocked in around 120-seconds, with a rare few stretching toward the 3-minute mark and others stopping half-way to that point. Where most bands find a catchy riff and try to maximize the utility of the hook by repeatedly returning to it in the same song (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus), Brindle allowed the hook to shine brightly then disappear, a formula written as "verse/chorus/next song". This could be heartbreaking, as it was disappointing if they never went back to a particular cool part, but that ache was soothed by the next song, which was always just as good as the one that preceded it. Two minutes later, fresh heartbreak ensued, a cycle that repeated throughout their set. The most accurate description of the band's sound involves no adjectives at all: "Rock smarter, not harder" was their unofficial motto (everything about Brindle seemed unofficial), and a more apt summation could not be written.

There are some bands that flash with stunning brilliance, but whose passing is accepted with little more than a shrug of regret. This is not a commentary on quality, but is instead essential to the natural order: Music is constantly evolving, and a particular bloom can be thoroughly enjoyed and then allowed to fall from the vine, to be replaced by a new bud. But there are some bands that urge us to break this order, that possess something inexplicable in their biology that makes us want to pluck the flower and press it, preserve it, prevent time from taking it from us.

Brindle was one of the latter bands. They will be dearly missed by many.

©2007 wpreagan