[21 January 2003]
For music fans there is no activity, no moment, and no memory that does not have its own soundtrack. Cleaning the apartment, going on a road trip, last day of college, getting drunk with friends, having your heart broken, falling in love, getting your swerve on—all activities that require a different type of musical accompaniment. Some moments are so intrinsically tied to a song that you cannot listen to that song without reliving the memory. While it is the moment that makes the music, eventually the music evokes the moment, and you can’t listen to certain records unless you are embarking on certain tasks. Take the entire Thrill Jockey roster, whenever I’m listening to Tortoise, Sea and Cake or Mouse on Mars I feel both incredibly relaxed and somewhat intellectual. Those bands play warm, but interesting music that forces the listener to stop any activity they are engaged in and pay attention to what the artist is doing. Their output is relaxed, but not neutered like many coffee shop troubadours, avoiding the audio wall paper tag. The result is the perfect soundtrack for afternoons spent in quiet conversation over a cup of coffee. Up until now, those bands have held a monopoly on that smart but relaxed genre for me, now I gladly welcome Pele into their ranks.
More than a couple of reviews have dismissed Pele as an instrumental emo band, an absurd claim that is refuted by the band’s work. Emo is boring, with or without the strained pre-pubescent vocals, so an instrumental variation holds little appeal. Pele imbibes their jazz-pop/Tortoise-rock with an energy that is instantly infectious. Drummer Jon Mueller, computer programmer Jon Minor, guitarist and pianist Chris Rosenau and bassist Matt Tennessen are all fantastic musicians, intent on flawless execution, as well as a penchant for experimentation. The backbone of the band’s output revolves around the freestyle approach of the rhythm section. Instead of dueling instruments commonly found in jammier bands, however, the quintet compliment each other, highlighting each other’s strengths. Pele has managed to harness their rambling natures into melodies and harmonies that are flat out pretty. Bassist Tennessen adds a bounce to their sound, that while not quite funky, adds pluckiness to their overall sound.
Despite Enemies instant accessibility, it is in the details that the true skill of this band is revealed. Minor and Rosenau are constantly throwing in wonderfully conceived sonic doodlings that dance over the music like pixies run amuck. The experimentation is subtle, an odd time signature or burst of computer generated squiggles suddenly highlighting the intracies of the song. Even better, Pele seem to know their limitations and avoid the misguided forays into the black hole of space jazz exploration that seems to sink so many bands playing a similar style. The production of Enemies is remarkable, providing a bright, clean sound over which the band lays down broad strokes of sonic delight. It’s still early to tell what memories this album will eventually be tied to, however, if the amount of time it has spent in my stereo is any indication, there will be many.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/pele-enemies/