At Dusk
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At Dusk

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From the mildewed rain forest and heroin-dripping cities of the Northwest comes the slightly mathy artcore of this musical unit. “My body makes the same mistakes again,” they holler on “In the Background,” throwing down tuneage that would sit comfortably alongside Q and Not U, Les Savy Fav, and the Futureheads. I like the more post-punk, early XTC pop-spasms of “Wish I Was Younger,” with its dizzying array of small guitar lines tossed here and there in the mix, each a fragment of some song being disassembled as it is being laid down. “Forever Ago” is an even more frenetic song, rapidly whirling, swollen with an analysis of “psychotronic desires” that “chip away.” The vocals are high pitched, harmonized appeals trying to calm the storm as the song slips away into a hectic polyrhythmic plunge. In a way, this reminds me of the heyday of the label Polyvinyl (Joan of Arc, Rainer Maria) style, circa late 1990s, all experimental, sly, forceful, deconstructed pop explosions combined with scientific curiosity of music potentials. Don’t expect any brief forays either, cause these songs revisit themselves in incantations and themes, trying to force the listener to confront the waves of thought and intention. Even “Time is Near,” which you think might be a tad standard, utters cogent phrases like “Let’s lose regrets” as the vocals bounce back and forth, asking us to clear the weeds where the willows grow. Meaning, there needs to be a commitment to overturning the ’same old same old,’ cause “we’re making something great,” in which even the mistakes are better than the status quo.

There’s alchemy in the music, and a voracious spirit, idealized by lines like “come drink the oceans dry.” So, at their most “accessible,” they are entertaining the idea of not being mere entertainment. Perhaps that is why they offer two versions of “Say That You’ll Do It,” which is not unlike a jazz-throttled Yo La Tengo at first, mood music that opens to new terrain in Part II, exploring “the best of days” as the voices and beats dance into a hectic lyrical exploration: “the patchwork is working itself through.” Every song seems like it is trying to rewire the process of what it means to be a pop form, where instead of stasis and boxes there is flux and finesse. “I’ve come to know you/from the impression in your chair,” they note, seeming to understand our absence as much as our presence. “Don’t open your mouth,” they warn, and I clamp down, not knowing whether they’ll let loose another tongue twister. The conceptual cloisters of “One Last Thing” don’t seem quite as far flung or hi-wired, a bit tamed by “crumbling hearts” and gone girls. The sentimentality is chewy here. “Oh, It’s Way to Late” sorta follow this same path, telling us it’s too late for being wrong, doing wrong, etc., and despite the fact it kicks into a speedy central nervous system, the dance and hand claps just rub me as Krishna songs with post-modern poetry systems surrounding it. It might be too late to undo what we have done wrong, but that sentiment just doesn’t hold as much inchoate charm or tenacity of the first ¾ of the disc, which seems to burn brighter, harder, and with more hunger. - Left of the Dial Magazine


At Dusk’s vaguely disappointing The Summer Of Promises Kept luckily still had enough promise to make the band worth watching. So when Heights popped up in my mailbox I was torn between excitement and trepidation: Would the moments of wince-inducing tweeness be excised or embraced? Would they have more quasi-novelty songs like “I Am The Starman”? Would there be anything as haunting as “The Image”? The answers are: excised, no and yes (in spades). The group toured between albums and the experience has audibly toughened them up. Everything from their compositional skills to lead singer Cary Clarke’s voice (reminiscent of Ed Robertson from the Barenaked Ladies, but in a good way) have matured and progressed; Heights gets more done in nine songs than the old record did in fourteen. The first half of the album is more mellow and closer to At Dusk’s past work, consisting of clean-limbed indie rock that, if the classic critical formula was used, would work out roughly to (Mission Of Burma + The Byrds) x Terror Twilight. But the crucial difference in the band’s approach is already obvious; older songs strove so hard to be pretty that they wound up artlessly affected, whereas now the tunes are content to just be good, pretty or not. Opener “Come Too Far” sounds much more natural, and the better touches of their earlier style (like drummer Will Hattman’s excellent backing vocals) have been retained. It never lapses either lyrically or sonically into the self-conscious quirkiness that hung over At Dusk’s older songs; their lyrical approach still balances a sense of optimism and nostalgia with occasional heavy doses of foreboding, but the disparate elements mesh better now. But as enjoyable as the first side is, the four songs of the second side are the real highlights. “The Face Is That Of An Angel” is an effectively constrained burst of menace but the other three tracks stretch out past the six minute mark to great effect. “Act Of Violence” and “Tired Eyes” approach the epic through skillful application of some truly great choruses and focused instrumental parts that never lapse into formless jamming. It’s hard to structure longer songs like this without getting boring, but both succeed; “Act Of Violence” fakes you out with an almost stereotypically At Dusk-sounding guitar intro before abruptly shifting into a heavier and grimmer sound to kick off into the grimmest and clearest relationship song At Dusk have yet penned. The chorus manages to approximate a firestorm with just some extra percussion and strong bass work. It’s not perfect–the twenty second fade out into a false ending needs to be about a fourth as long–but it’s an utterly stunning piece of work and “Tired Eyes” does it one better. This entire disc is available for download from At Dusk’s website (linked above), but “Tired Eyes” is the one to check out. Reminiscent of Raising The Fawn’s similarly superb The North Sea LP, just when you think the song is done with you it sucks you in again and tosses you around for a while. If I’d first heard the second half of Heights blind I don’t know if I would have tagged it as At Dusk; the vocals (always a strong point) are still distinctive, but the sound has improved by leaps and bounds. By the time At Dusk cheekily wave goodbye with “Welcome Home” (“we still have not changed the locks”), they’ve proved that “Tired Eyes” was no fluke. Given that one of the most frustrating parts of The Summer Of Promises Kept was its inconsistency, the level of quality control here is impressive. At Dusk have done what every band should do after a spotty record; focused, regrouped and hit the next one clean out of the park. - Stylus


My first thought was something to do with the Olivia Tremor Control -- but nope -- I was wrong. This is more like Mission of Burma (mentioned in the bio). "The Summer" is upbeat and downbeat slightly math-touched pop rock, but with more depth than most bands. When the mood hits deep, you can feel the ground rolling underneath you, and when the songs shift into more prog pop lilting brightness, you think maybe you can fly. There are some elements of conceptual/psychedelic, but also some very strong and solid songwriting moments that make me feel like listening to June of 44, perhaps. - The Big Take-Over


This Portland band insist they're not being facetious when they say they're influenced by Philip Glass and Romanian Gypsy music as much as by their more obvious indie- and post-rock antecedents. Despite their fluency in sounds that reflect the dour reserve typical of the latter, At Dusk distinguish themselves with a sunnier outlook, which they maintain even when their lyrics are nakedly revealing. Without overplaying their offhand sense of humor, songs with suggestive titles like "You Make Me Worry" and "Act of Violence" stay afloat instead of sinking under the weight of the band's attitude. A trio with one former music student and the two others with some formal training, At Dusk sound very much like students—they poke, pluck and prod at horns, xylophones, cymbals, guitar strings and the like such that the craft in their writing recedes behind a veil of wonder but ultimately isn't lost. - Nashville Scene


At last it's here. The reconciliation of aggression and beauty, the wedlock-borne child of punk and pop, the perfect illustration of the whole gentle as doves/wise as serpents concept -- and it sounds great. I saw something special brewing in the At Dusk camp when I reviewed their self-titled EP for Splendid awhile back, and now, with this full-length, I have a full understanding of what I was at first only slightly cognizant of. In addition to the six songs that were on that EP, these three gentlemen have penned eight more better songs that marry an array of influences in a way that I'm willing to say hasn't quite been done before. It's daring, in an age where there are 578 bands in every city and only about 30 that anyone ever hears about, to assume that I've got any sort of finger on the pulse of rock and roll, but I feel there's truly some substance to my belief in At Dusk's supreme creativity.

First, however, a note -- this is not the Greatest Band Alive or anything of that sort. This isn't even the best album of the year. The songs are excellent and diligently constructed, but I can think of many more derivative tunes by other acts that carry more emotional resonance. At Dusk has their share of kinks to work out, but with their ever-developing fresh approach, things will only improve in due time.

Indeed, as is the case when humans do anything, At Dusk makes flawed music, and I'm going to assume that you, the reader, listen to lots of music made by humans and are willing to forgive the band for their mortal imperfection. I'm also willing to bet that you've grown weary of hearing Fugazi or The Beatles or Pavement or My Bloody Valentine rehashed for the thousandth time, and there's a good chance that many of your favorite bands that currently exist in 2003 are doing just that. Doing it well, perhaps, but still doing it. And At Dusk isn't. Instead, they've found a way to blend angular '80s post-punk with sunny, orchestral pop. Battering ram drums do battle with Beach Boys harmonies, jagged guitar strumming is leveled off with an organ and a glockenspiel, and propulsive bass lines meet their match in joyous melodies. It's the emotional yet minimalist approach of Joy Divison, the rhythmic playfulness of The Talking Heads, and the childlike whimsy of A Charlie Brown Christmas rolled into songs that play like cohesive essays. It looks ludicrous on paper, and sounds even sillier on your stereo, and yet it all comes together logically in the end. Contrasting elements are rarely welded into coherent, transcendent songs, but At Dusk pulls it off with flying colors. - Deep Fry Bonanza


On their first national tour, Portland's At Dusk are having the time of their lives traveling to new places, visiting old friends and playing their challenging brand of rock to largely receptive audiences. They're having enough fun that they're not even going to let a little street crime spoil things.

"It was an incident that was totally unrelated to our musical ventures," jokes At Dusk's Will, "but we were mugged at gunpoint in Washington D.C., and we lost our earnings from that city. It was kind of unfortunate."

At Dusk recently released their second self-produced LP, "Heights," which was largely recorded in a middle school band room in their hometown. By combining minimalist playing with intricate song structures, At Dusk could best be described as "indie prog." From their hypnotic, off-kilter beats to their poetic lyrics, everything about this band seems very intellectual. (One guy went to Yale, the other two went to highly regarded Reed College in Portland). But given the melodic nature of the songs and the intriguing interplay of the musicians, you still don't have to be a brain surgeon or a philosopher to enjoy this music. (Although an SAT score of at least 1,000 is recommended).

If these guys don’t make it as a band, they stand a good chance of making their mark as writers. Their tour log at their website (www.atduskmusic.com) is a fascinating and entertaining read about the adventures of three guys out on the road. But for now, they're going to concentrate on writing songs and making music and are looking forward to their next recording project.

"We’re very eager to start writing new material," says Will. "As new as the record is, nothing makes songs older quicker than gigging them many nights a week for weeks on end." - Pointblank Des Moines


At Dusk hail from Portland, Oregon and play an amazingly detailed, luxuriantly catchy brand of post-punk pop — with flecks of folky ambience — that will remind you of all your favourite bands of all time. All three members responded to Jonny Dovercourt’s questions via email:

At Dusk: college rock or high school rock?


Cary Clarke: It seems to me that responding “high school rock” would intimate something that could lead to my arrest. But, damn it all, I choose it anyway! I think there’s just less competition in the high school rock field. The three of us all grew up together, and began playing music together around the beginning of high school. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I think there is a certain sense of possibility that I associate with high school, and I’d like to believe that the positive, fun aspects of that come through in our music. “College rock” sounds too laboured, too studious. Though perhaps there’s still some territory to be explored in “post-grad rock.” Will Hattman: We try to bring to our music the kind of vitality that was so palpable and inspiring in the music to which we responded when we were impressionable teens. On these grounds, I’d call it high school rock. Greg Borenstein: I like the youthful energy and playfulness that implies: those qualities are definitely part of how we see ourselves. Not to mention the underage girls.

The power trio format holds the most possibilities for sonic exploration. True or false? Discuss.


CC: Obviously three musicians can make fewer sounds at one time than four or five, or 15, as you Torontonians are used to these days. But there’s just as much potential in sparseness as there is in density. I believe the semi-arbitrary setting of limitations is a prerequisite to making anything. You have to choose to do one thing and not another an infinite number of times in any creative act.. GB: I think we definitely have a little bit of an attitude about bands with more members. We will often remark, “What are all those guys doing?” and imagine how easy it would be to be the guy who, every couple minutes, goes “vreeeowwwwwwwerrrrrginginging” on the guitar.

We live in Toronto, City of Neighbourhoods. You live in Portland, City of _______________? Enlighten us a bit about that blank.


CC: Portland, City of Neighbourhoods Not In Toronto. I thought that would be an amusingly obnoxious response. The experience I’ve had that most clearly represents to me the best aspects of Portland is the organization of the first annual PDXPOP Now! (www.pdxpopnow.com) music festival, which just took place a few weeks back. An online forum gave rise to a discussion about what we could do to create a stronger sense of community amongst all of the musicians in Portland. A group of about 14 of us met weekly for 7 months and put together a free, all-ages festival of 43 Portland bands. In addition, we put out a double-disc compilation of Portland music. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The CDs sold out before the event and we had amazing, supportive crowds for the festival. The whole thing was paid for by local business sponsorships. Portland is small enough to make organizing something like this possible, but is culturally active and diverse enough to make doing so worthwhile. It’s worth noting that Portland is actually “The City of Roses.” Even the cop cars have effeminate little roses on them. It’s pretty cute. To compensate for this frilly image, they have to be extra aggressive.

How did you find out about Wavelength? What are you looking forward to most about your visit to Toronto?


CC: All of the incredible music coming out of Toronto these days has lead us to not infrequently joke about moving there. Wavelength seems tremendously cool, with a similar ethic to PDXPOP Now! As if the music weren’t enough, we’re of course thrilled by the adventures promised by Toronto’s reputation for world-class call girls and meth, which is really what we’re all about. That and listening to dorky audio books in the tour van. WH: The Constantines, Toronto’s own, had enthusiastically congratulated us on getting the show, describing it as a sort of bastion for all things indie, where people come for the music and pay attention. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that virtually all of what I know about Toronto I learned from The Conan O’Brien Show. So… I’m looking forward to back bacon on a bun, the CN Tower… I guess I can’t go to a Leafs game… fraternizing with fellow Rush fans… Oh! Do you guys do that boiling-maple-syrup-packed-in-snow roadside dessert in the summertime as well? Maybe with artificial snow? GB: Also, using our incredibly rusty and broken school French. - Wavelength Toronto


18. At Dusk, Heights
There a few bands that I've corresponded with as a result of my work in Stylus, and I always feel oddly protective towards them. The few that have then put out more records and sent them to me even more so, of course, but also a little more conflicted. So far, both of the bands in this category (the other one is Hinterlandt, whose great third album will probably be my first review in the new year) have made me feel better by continuing to improve, but I assure you had Heights sucked I would have done my unpleasant duty and pointed out that fact on Stylus.

I don't feel quite as strongly about it now as I did in September, which proves at least some of my fervor then was as a result of delighted surprise at how much better the band has gotten, but when I actually get the urge to listen to some indie rock, Heights is never far from the top of the list. The first half is good (and I don't mean to downplay it - "Come Too Far" and "We Could Do Anything" are like previous-album highlight "The Image" with added muscle and fire), but I still maintain "Act Of Violence" and "Tired Eyes" are the nicest musical surprises of the year. You can go here and download the entire album. That's how nice those guys are. And unlike a lot of cases where this happens, you should go do that, then buy the album and throw them some cash. - Stylus


It's hard to come across music these days that does not follow some sort of musical standard.  You've got the many denominations of punk, pop, rock, metal, but do we have enough non-conformist genres?  Why do bands tend to follow a specific route?  Is it for marketing purposes (so your local record shop knows where to put your CD so that the trendy consumer can find your record properly labeled?)?  I joined this mp3 blog world because I wanted to present music that was not mainstream or unconventionally conventional.  Today I give you At Dusk out of Portland, Oregon.  Their influences range from Philip Glass to Mission of Burma.  What stands out is an approach to song crafting that is sincere and from the gut.  They remind me a bit of local SF favorites, The Moore Brothers. - 4F.com


Discography

TBA (LP) 2008
You Can Know Danger (LP) 2006
Heights (LP) 2004
The Summer of Promises Kept (LP) 2003

"Heights" included on "Best of 2004" list by Stylus contributor Ian Mathers.

"PS", "Tired Eyes", and "Welcome Home" in medium rotation on University of Georgia at Athens college radio along with a number of other college radio stations and internet radio stations

"We Could Do Anything" and "Farewell Joel Dean" posted on sixeyes, 3hive, Spoilt Victorian Child, and many other mp3 blogs

Photos

Bio

In 2007, with 3 self-released albums and 5 years of making increasingly polyrhythmic, exuberant, trebly, group-vocal-driven, strangely sweet post-punk under their belts, the three gentlemen of Portland, Oregon’s At Dusk decided that it was time for a change. Resisting the temptation to comfortably continue along the raucous, amplified aesthetic trail they had been blazing, the trio of lifelong friends resolved to leave the electricity and drumkit behind in favor of acoustic instruments and percussion. Though At Dusk would still bring to the table the same energy and disjointed, idiosyncratic compositional sensibilities they always had– filtering their love for non-rock traditions like Brazilian Tropicalia, Ethiopian funk, Gypsy folk, and American contemporary classical minimalism through their deep knowledge of the 80s and 90s punk and indie canons – they would be applying them in a new, tantalizingly unfamiliar context where it would be impossible to rely on old tics and tricks, nuance and texture would take precedence over sheer volume, instrument switching would be the rule, and concision would trump all.

As they had hoped, this new set of instruments and constraints has led to a creative surge, and the reformatted At Dusk has written 20 wildly heterogenous minimalist-prog-folk songs in under a year. They have taken up acoustic arms, reclaiming maracas, bongos and footstomps from their hippie-dippy graves, and using them to forge a new form of kinetic folk music that reflects the dynamism of the band’s post-punk heritage, and the joyous sense of creative camaraderie that pervades the band, their shows, and the city they call home. They have been recording this new material piecemeal in the comfort of their home, and plan to release these songs gradually in 2008, as they are completed, in a series of online and hand-packaged CD-R EPs before collecting them all together for release in the form of the fourth full-length At Dusk album, with which they will then tour the country.