After being voted third in Willamette Week’s Best New Band poll last year and picked up by beloved local label Tender Loving Empire, Portland’s Brainstorm is riding a current of buzz that has finally come ashore with Heat Waves, a sophomore record of sophisticated art pop that swirls with potential. Like the band’s infectious live shows, Waves unfurls a stuttering mix of math rock, west African guitar, cumbia rhythms, and AM-influenced soul—its combination of rhythmically cheerful guitars, chanting gang-vocals, and hand claps most closely resembling a stoned Vampire Weekend who chucked their cardigans for a basement studio in North Portland.
Drummer-keyboardist-vocalist Adam Baz is a self-diagnosed “bird nerd,” and his avian obsessions seem to have rubbed off on guitarist-singer Patrick Phillips and new bassist Tamara Barnes. An opening guitar lick flutters out of the surrounding ambient noise like a songbird ushering in the morning, and it’s not too difficult to visualize a feathery fellow chirping the lines of “Maybe a Memory.” The bird influence buoys the bestial, voodoo vibe of the album, an aura also expressed lyrically in songs like “Beast in the Sky,” which includes the lines, “this great cosmic rift / proof that we all exist / somewhere in between / being and nothing.”
SING, DEAR SONGBIRD YOUR SONG IS TRUE SING, DEAR SONGBIRD YOUR WORD IS GOOD — TRACK 10, “SPLIT THE LARK”
Produced by Robby Moncrieff—the experimental engineer behind the Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca and the Ganglians’ Still Living—Heat Waves is lusher and more ambitious than the band’s debut, Battling Giants. Yet the increased production at times seems to cloak the album in a sonic haze that blurs the various instruments and vocal lines together, obscuring the crisp delivery present on Battling Giants, particularly on “Split the Lark” and “Lonely Ghost,” songs that appear on both albums. The drums and vocals suffer the most, occasionally creating a case of listener déjà vu, as their polyrhythmic layers sound increasingly alike. It’s a shame the bird influence didn’t make its way to the mixing board: rather than letting the music fly free in raw, art-rock glory, Brainstorm seems to have clipped its own wings at points.
Nonetheless, several songs, such as “Forms Without a Frame” and “Beast in the Sky,” dance their way out of the haze, creating moments of world-pop math-rock fabulousness that reveal the talent and vision that are still there—and still dangerously catchy.
Brainstorm will play a record release concert at the Doug Fir Lounge on December 1. dougfirlounge.com