For UCSB alums Cristof Hendrickson and Brandon Laws, the grass is definitely greener on the other side of graduation. Since finishing school in ’06, the one-time masterminds of I.V. electroclash outfit With the Strength of 10,000 Monsters, have split town, moved to Portland, and, in our humble opinion, started making some of the best avant-garde indie rock the Left Coast has to offer. The new band, un-Google-ably dubbed Church, also includes of Laws’ brother and longtime musical partner Richard, and The Ocean Floor‘s frontman Lane Barington. Together, the foursome have concocted a sound and stage presence that’s part Beach Boys-style harmonics, part Animal Collective-style experimentation, and part in-your-face synth-driven genius.
“We started out pretty small, playing folk-inspired tunes with synthesizers and banjos,” explained Brandon recently via email. “We didn’t know the music would evolve as it has. Two bands that had a big initial influence on us were probably the Beach Boys and Kraftwerk. We have always had a love of vocal harmony, interesting sound textures, and complex rhythms.”
Complicated as they may be, Church’s chord progressions and rock out moments remain not only listenable, but toe-tappingly catchy. On the band’s recent release, the swirling and diverse Song Force Crystal, tracks like “Paloma” start off as slow building and minimalist, then explode into progressive synth hooks complete with aggressive drum and cymbal work. Mere tracks later “Golden Girls” highlights Church’s softer side with hushed harmonizing, eerie effects, and meticulously placed guitar colorings.
Live, the foursome further dazzles with their atypical setup – two drummers, two lead singers, lots of gadgetry – and infectious energy. “We have four synthesizers: two of which we made ourselves,” explained Brandon. “One is controlled by means of a stylus and the other with a silver braided wire. We also have two vintage Moog synths from the ’70s. They really help bring that whole ‘switched on Bach’ element to our sound.”
They also add an air of electronic mystery to Church’s stage show. Not that long ago, the band swung by the Biko Co-Op Garage in Isla Vista to play a short but sweet Sunday night set for a room full of friends and fans as part of a self-booked West Coast tour. Tonight, the Portland-ites move things downtown to Muddy Waters Cafe for a show with fellow S.B.-to-Portland transplant (and former Coral Sea frontman) Rey Villalobos, which begs the question, ‘What’s so great about the Portland music scene?’
“I heard recently that there are 2,700 bands in Portland,” said Brandon. “Somebody told me that we play the kind of music that musicians like. In that regard we are very well received in Portland. Another great thing about living there is that almost every night of the week there will be a show happening that we will actually want to go to; lots of inspiration for sure. I don’t realize how blessed we are until we go on tour. The average band in Portland is quite good.” For all we know, they may be right. Still, we somehow doubt that anyone who sees Church live would dare to call them “average.”
Church plays an all-ages show at Muddy Waters Cafe this Wednesday, October 7 at 8 p.m. with Rey Villalobos and Gardens and Villa. Call or visit myspace.com/muddycafesb for details.