Post-punk complexity for its own sake
Portland’s At Dusk works hard at one of post-punk’s fundamental problems—how to incorporate melodies and structural complexity into songs without sacrificing forward motion. It’s a conundrum that’s been tackled by lots of bands—Mission of Burma, Husker Du, Sonic Youth and others, but At Dusk’s approach is maybe most similar to Chavez. Like that trio, they pierce vocal lines of surprising beauty with dissonant, corrosive guitar lines, working the disconnect between math-rocky chops and emotional openness. Opener “In the Background” starts with a hot rain of interlocking guitar and bass notes, splatter-painted in bursts over scattershot drums; the vocals are overlaid and counterpointed and punctuated by the occasional, exuberant “woo!”, and the whole thing moves at rapid speed, as if slowing even for a second would be a sign of weakness. It’s an impressive display, but somehow lacks the resonance of similarly paced “Top Pocket Man” from Chavez. There’s a core in the song, somewhere, but it keeps getting lost in the headlong rush. Later, “Oh, It’s Way Too Late,” finds a better pivot between syncopation and sincerity, its multiple tempos and interleavened vocals, coalescing around a kernel of human vulnerability.