Here in Portland, Oregon, home of both Talkdemonic and yours truly, the weekly culture rag, Willamette Week, named the duo of Kevin O’Connor and Lisa Molinaro the best new band of 2005. Initially, I was disappointed that my own indie-rockin’ quintet didn’t receive said honor. (Despite our lack of merchandise, shifting line-up, absence from the press, and patchy live schedule, I thought we’d totally killed in ‘05!) But it takes only one listen to the quietly beguiling sounds of Talkdemonic to realize that they are well deserving of that accolade.
Originally conceived by O’Connor, Talkdemonic began as a solo project in which he played live drums along with laptopped ambient synth patterns, piano melodies, and guitar plinkings. This solo phase of the act’s existence culminated in Talkdemonic’s 2004 debut, Mutiny Sunshine. It’s a pretty record and quite accomplished, but it never manages to crawl out from under the shadow of, well, DJ Shadow. With a downtempo mood, post-hip-hop beats, and a collagey shifting of ideas, Mutiny Sunshine seems beholden to the recent past. Still, the promise of future rewards was great.
In the summer of 2004, occasional contributor and graceful violist Lisa Molinaro officially joined the ranks of Talkdemonic, stretching the band’s sound and carrying it to its own unique realm. In fact, the first track on Beat Romantic, their sophomore release and first with wide distribution, features only the aching-yet-bucolic legato lines of Molinaro’s viola. Double-tracked, she introduces a low drone before her lovely lead melody ascends to carry the piece. Do you see that dusky, aspen-lined path on the album’s cover? The becalmed loneliness of this opening song is the soundtrack to a place exactly like that. The band’s sound broadens slowly on the following track, “Mountaintops in Caves”, as stuttering IDM beats are joined by a plucked, vaguely Asian melody line worthy of the Books. Here, Molinaro keeps to the backdrop until, for the song’s final forty seconds, her sympathetic and mournful playing slowly rises up into the mix, just as O’Connor’s live drumming begins. He is a very tasteful drummer, indeed, his cymbal crashes rolling like waves and his accents swinging like a jazzman’s. This beat aesthetic is similar to Keiran Hebden’s, a blissful reminder of Four Tet’s phenomenal 2003 album, Rounds. Beat Romantic feels aloft, in much the same way. There are pauses and moments of spacious restraint, but there is always a warm updraft, a steady current flowing through the music. Even when Talkdemonic offer us little surprises, these are as gifts. We are challenged just enough to remain stimulated, but mostly we are taken care of. By the album’s end, we are returned safely to earth, back to the wooded grove. We have, perhaps, walked here, or somewhere like here, before. Rachel’s, Opiate, the Books, and Four Tet have taken us to places like this, but Talkdemonic has brought it all together for us.
The remainder of the disc is not very different from anything offered on the first two tracks. This, however, doesn’t at all detract from the album’s quality. It’s a wonderfully consistent listen and never dull, with many fine moments to explore. Although not a startlingly original record, Talkdemonic’s Beat Romantic is in very good and fairly exclusive company, wherein elements of classical composition fuse with IDM, jazz beats, and thoughtfully placed organic filigree, making for a very lovely and engaging album of hypnotic melancholy and meditative bliss.