Portland spazz-pop innovators slice genres, moods and soundscapes in a fractious beauty of an EP.
A little friendly advice: don't get too comfortable with this EP. Portland's 31 Knots may start with almost too pretty wordless vocals (that's Hush Records diva Corrina Rep on "Sounding Out Uncertainty"), but gorgeous textures soon give way to stuttery, abrasive distortion. The sound is lapidary, beautiful, carefully considered until it spontaneously combusts, and that, in a nutshell, is Polemics. Its five tracks take polished, precisely plotted song elements and whirr them on high in a sonic blender with the top off -- chunks flying everywhere in splatter glory. The EP's best song is "Vanish", its guitars almost a jangle, but a bit too dry and anxious for pop. Lyrics come in blurted monotones, occasionally bursting into harmonized falsetto for emphasis ("And birds of a feather / Make suspicion together"). The main body of the song is held back so tightly that it's almost a shock when the chorus comes, unbounded and anthemic and soaring, as Joe Haege sings, "Oh... sweet surrender... take my hand and learn to fly". Jay Pellici, the band's drummer and a well-known Bay Area producer, keeps things skittery with syncopated percussion that sounds math-complicated even in 4/4, and bass player Jay Winebrenner lays down the discipline in buzzing low-end riffs. Haege tweaks and twists mayhem from a variety of keyboards. He's also a presence on the guitar, coaxing a mass of oscillating distortion and drop D metallic riffs out for "Black Ships Auction". Sharp, fractured, and sort of brilliant, but absolutely not easy listening.