These Are Powers
[Record Release Party]
Great Scott
Allston, MA
Saturday, February 16th

Variation is a wonderful thing. Even though Saturday night’s show is (on paper at least) power trio night, it’s amazing how much leeway there is within that structure. None of these bands would everbe mistaken for one another.

These Are Powers start things off with a bang. High-kicking banshee priestess Anna Barie is aided and abetted by equally energized co-conspirators Pat Noecker (ex-Liars) on bass and vocals and diminutive powerhouse percussionist Bill Salas on squiggle box/drum kit/vocals.

There’s a kernel of truth to the group’s Myspace genre designation “breakbeat/healing & easy listening.” On the one hand, their music is crazily danceable and weirdly hi-NRG; on the other, it’s tribal and contemplative, a beguiling mix of the high and low, the sacred and the profane.

Noecker’s intoned, vaguely ominous vocals contrast effectively with Barie’s wide-ranging, often startling ululations. You never get the sense that these two having a conversation, per se. Lyrically, their intentions clearly have nothing to do with your typical pop scenario of lovelorn grievances; rather, the effect is cumulative and largely textural —using repetition and variation to gradually build meanings and associations.

Musically speaking, though one can hear echoes of angular, vaguely No Waveish skronk, TAP’s overall sound melds psychically exhausted, apocalyptic end-times music with something altogether more optimistic, even Dionysian. The group is as much about pure revelry as it is about painterly textures.

Most importantly, though, their collective, headlong engagement with the music is joyously infectious. Not that a Boston crowd is going to dance without a fight, but the head-bobbing gets noticeably more frenzied. By the time the too-short set culminates in their as-yet-unreleased new single “Chipping Ice” (complete with whacked-out coughing solos), the group’s endearingly manic energy seems to have won over the blasé, packed-in-like-sardines crowd.

I’m prepared to like Helms, really I am. They have a kind of well-balanced grace, standing there, instruments at the ready. So far, so good, until… they…start…playing.

Their energy is so consistently tamped-down and, well, consistent —with so little tonal variation from moment to moment— that they leave little in the way of expectation. Their format —rock-solid rhythm section propping up noodly-muso guitarist (with nary a rhythm guitarist in sight, alas)— is texturally numbing and borderline dullsville. Throughout their set I keep hoping for the rhythm section to mutiny (they’re so obviously better than Mr. Muso and his mumbled vocalizing), but, seeing as how the bassist and drummer are respectively wife and brother to said muso guitarist, that hardly seems a likely scenario. Alas.

To their credit, their final song finally breaks out of the gray-wash torpor and deigns to ROCK. I wish they’d done it sooner. They really, truly need to be thrown off-balance, to get out of their comfort zone, and rough up their dynamics a bit.

Helms drag my energy level down to nothing, then Neptune sweep in and build it back up —and then some. And I’m not just saying that because they ply the audience with sheet cake (inscribed with the name of their new album, Gong Lake).

Neptune is a gimmick band that long ago transcended the gimmick. This decade-old Boston-based trio make their own instruments, literally sculpting sound with their own bare hands using scrap metal, found objects and their own twisted Rube Goldberg-ian imaginations.

None of this three-dimensional ingenuity would mean much if the music didn’t match it with equal fervor, but it does.

To fall back on the dreaded “Listen if you like…” cliché, Neptune ably build on the urban dread of Rocket from the Tombs and the whimsical (albeit sadistic) genre-tweaking surrealism of Diskomo-era Residents (although Neptune lack that group’s more explicitly theatrical elements).

At times the music sounds like robot dub —all mutant polyrhythms and processed, echo-chambered vocals. It can also be hushed and cinematic, playing with drones and slow-building tension.
Whispery and barbed, Neptune’s music full of coiled-up energy that gets released in short, sharp bursts by three expert players who instinctively know one another’s strengths and play to them with breathtaking efficiency.

Here’s to another ten years.

These Are Powers | Helms | Neptune

MP3These Are Powers, “You Come With Nothing” (from TERRIFIC SEASONS [Hoss Records, 2006])

MP3Helms, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team But There Is One In Tina” [from SECRET DOORS | Plants & Brains, 2006])

MP3Neptune, “Purple Sleep” [from GONG LAKE | Table of the Elements, 2008])