Ten years is a long time.
In 2011, we were dead in the middle of the Obama boom, several people were running in the first Portland mayoral election, and we were just coming up on that Black Keys show at the Civic Center that everyone will tell you they were at.
Times were a little bit simpler.
Heck, the Big Easy was still open and one of the best things going on their stages was Grand Hotel, what seemed like the final evolution of Kyle Gervais’ efforts to really put a rock band together.
They’d put out a self-titled EP in 2009, then a self-titled full-length (because why not) in 2010 that featured “Kerosene,” among the best rock songs ever released in this little city. The follow-up in 2011, “in color.,” was artsy and interesting in all the right ways.
And then, of course, they broke up.
Not, however, before they wrote another album.
Now, 10 years later, they’ve reformed, released those songs as the brand-new “Heaven Tonight,” and it seems a little bit like no time has passed at all.
Certainly, the original lineup is intact. Glen Capen supplies surly extended guitar solos. Jason Elvin’s bass is strutting and full-bodied. Aaron LaChance plays drums with what can seem like a crashing abandon. And Gervais remains out front, though his vocals have deepened and gained body.
But what’s new here is notable. Producer Andrew Mead has been enlisted to add what is becoming a trademark brightness and vibrancy – seen most recently on the new Renée Coolbrith record – and Patia Maule’s keyboard work provides an alternately droning organ bottom and sprightly ’80s influence. They fit wonderfully with Gervais’ strengths: an ability to make the dark danceable and ironic turns of phrase that marry a swaggering bravado with deep-seated insecurity.
This last was on full display with the inspired “Phalanges,” a concept album released under his KGFREEZE moniker and blunted by the onset of the pandemic, and we see it on the first single here, “Places and Faces,” where Maule introduces things with a rapid and bright riff over grinding electric guitars as Gervais contemplates personal growth: “I used to think there was this competition between everyone/ I kept believing that I wasn’t allowed to have any fun.”
But then the chorus turns dark and Gervais moans: “I need a different place/ I need a different face.”
Ultimately, though, “I wanna keep going on and on and on …” and Capen’s solo underscores the sentiment, hopeful and forward-leaning.
“Every Summer” is a similar rollercoaster, with a sunny organ part and Gervais bringing the clouds: “Met your parents and they didn’t like me/ Probably cause I acted like a fool.” To drive the point, his vocals distort as though we’re meant to read his subconscious, “and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
But then the bridge ramps up the energy with a straight rock piece: “I don’t want to lose you/ Especially since I never really had you.” It’s upbeat like what’s purveyed by the likes of Kurt Baker, but there’s a sour bit right before the guitar solo enters and the keyboards glitter and we’re not sure whether his closing plea to “forget your parents/ Who cares if they don’t like me?” is successful.
It all comes together especially well in the closing “Dinosaur,” where Gervais apes the rock misogyny of the past – “wanna make you take off your clothes” – while Elvin supplies funk bottom end and keyboards vamp. Suddenly, the refrain from the album’s opening title track comes back in: “Gonna keep on going, gonna keep on going all night.”
But instead of a classic love song, it’s an absurdity, where the object of his affections is wearing 16 layers of clothing and her friends are idiots and the hot sex is maybe just a way to avoid turning the heat on.
Gervais himself is the dinosaur.
Like the album as a whole, the song questions the foundations of rock, what music is for, all while honoring the art form that is album rock. The best of its creators make timeless work that remains relevant even as cultural mores move forward.
Ten years? That’s nothing.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
The release schedule has really ramped up, with more new music this fall than we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. Keep your ears open.
• Love by Numb3rs, “Colours” — A languid New Orleans-style number, full of swelling Rhodes organ parts, Anna Lombard goes big begging for forgiveness and a plea to love her for who she is. Check out the video – it’s pretty psychedelic.
• Weakened Friends, “Quitter” — Currently back on the road touring after what seemed like an interminable time at home, the indie-rock trio are back with new music for the first time since the pandemic started, a chunking and sneering piece that goes huge in the chorus. The video, filmed at an empty Funtown Splashtown, has them bouncing around like they’ve got plenty of energy to burn.
• Rhyme Inc., “Luxurious Funk” — A new collaboration between ARMZ and Dynamo-P, with production from Micodin, this lays in bass sax and big piano chords in the style of late Golden Era groups like Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious: “We been hip-hop since MC Hammer and Tone Loc.” Look for a full-length mid-month.
• Joel Thetford, “Walk Through the Dark” — Did you think Thetford only did Americana/country? Think again. This is something straight off the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack, high production and full of keyboards: “Sometimes we need to stop and breathe.”
• Bensbeendead., “French Exit” — A somber affair, the live version features Dave Gutter on a chorused-out electric guitar and Jody Bagley on organ, no beats anywhere. Ben’s vocals are delicate and inviting.
— Sam Pfeifle