One listen to BRAINSTORM’s full-length debut and the inspirations become clear. The Portland-born project of Adam Baz and Patrick Phillips has spent the past four years carefully honing their sound, culling bits and pieces from African guitar techniques, cumbia percussion styles, AM radio classics, and new(er)-school experimental pop acts to create something that is truly their own.
That’s not to say that the formula is altogether new — American musicians have been mining non-Western playing styles for decades now. But BRAINSTORM’s approach is an undeniably refreshing take on the contemporary indie rock–meets–world music shtick. When I caught the band in concert earlier this year, they put on a show that was downright engrossing; Baz juggled drums and keyboard while Phillips jockeyed between guitar and tuba, each contributing lead vocals and harmonies throughout it all. And though the pair has since added bassist Dasha Shleyeva to the mix, their upcoming stop at Muddy Waters Café still promises to be one of the best small shows of the season.
“Having that third person frees us up a lot,” said Baz recently, phoning in between gigs at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. “Patrick in particular — he was handling the tuba and the guitar, but he also has a really unconditional guitar style. He was playing single-noted stuff and essentially doing both bass and guitar parts, so now he’s got a little bit more room to breathe.”
Evidence of that room: BRAINSTORM’s debut full-length, the just-released Heat Waves. Recorded in November 2011 with producer Robby Moncrieff (Dirty Projectors, Youth Lagoon), Heat Waves finds the band negotiating the space between explosive live show and fine-tuned pop act. “Robby was able to produce what is essentially a pop record, but it’s not the slick and polished thing we tend to associate with that,” said Baz. “It’s got more textures, a more dynamic range; it’s fuzzier and raw.”
Still, in many ways Heat Waves is a tempered version of BRAINSTORM’s power. On record, the songs sizzle and shake, happily building and retreating around Phillips’s twisted guitar chords and Baz’s forceful and bouncing drum work. Live, those songs nearly explode, with layers zigging and zagging around infectious beats and bass lines. “We’re first and foremost a live band,” said Baz. “We don’t record as we go. We write songs that feel good to play in a room.” As for Heat Waves, Baz explained that the title goes a long way to describe the mood. “For the record, we just wanted something that captured a certain energy and explosiveness. There are elements that are vaguely tropical. But I also like that the live show has more to offer. It’s not just a regurgitation of what’s on the album.”
While Baz admitted that he hasn’t received a whole lot of fan feedback from Heat Waves just yet, Phillips said that the shows have been going well. Just days prior to our talk, they received a glowing review from NPR music guru Bob Boilen, who called the band “easily the best music of [his first] night” at CMJ. And back at home, the reaction is equally glowing. “We have a really good musical home in Portland. Someone up there said that we kind of encapsulate the entirety of the Portland music scene — the folk, the garage-y punk, the experimental stuff — but if you put it all together in a blender,” Baz laughed. “They meant it in a good way.”
BRAINSTORM plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Tuesday, October 30, at 8 p.m. with openers The Wools and Little Owl. Call 966-9328.