For a band on the precipice of breaking up, the amount of trust and respect the four musicians of Portland rock band Leverett demonstrate is palpable. Evolved years ago from a solo project by bandleader Jesse Gertz, the cohort’s first official full-length as a foursome, Wires & Tubes, is both a ravenously complex modern record and a lesson in how to share and delegate responsibilities.
A chirpy opener shows the group in full gallop, strutting their shit like Room On Fire-era Strokes. The ponderous, melancholy verse of the title track, in which Gertz waxes like in a Barney Sumner-esque nursery rhyme, is later spun by guitarist Cormac Brown into an unexpectedly ecstatic thrall. The stoneserious “Prewar Comforts” catapults drummer Harry Gingrich to one-time-only vocal duties, where he shines. It’s enough to make the listener wonder just how many bands are contained in this single group.
In a less damaged world, “Signs” would be the sort of entrée single that catapults Leverett into public consciousness. Teased last winter with a terrific video (featuring Portland art-punk wunderkind Sigrid Harmon of The Asthmatic), it’s an anthemic, yearning indie-rock song, the sort only a young band on a mission could write without ending up sounding like they’re trying to sell their music for Gap ads.
Yet for all its highs, Wires & Tubes does fit the part of the parting work of a band about to break up. Its eight proper songs (a noisy Gertz composition makes up the untitled ninth and final track) can sound like a band trying on eight different party suits, if not eight separate experiences entirely. Even Gertz himself, whose vocals lead six of the eight songs, can sound like a different singer track to track.
This “musical chameleon” effect extends beyond him as well. Gingrich’s “Prewar Comforts” pulls off tricks Interpol were stealing from groups like the Comsat Angels and, er, The Chameleons. Track two imagines Blur as fronted by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, leveraging the niche timbre of a steel drum into an eerie stereo melody, while “Everytime,” driven by Brown, vacillates nicely between a Pink Floyd confessional and a wellearned post-punk catharsis-by-guitar, propelled by drummer Gingrich's sputtering rhythms and flourishes.
But pedantic “spot the influence” games aside, this genre-hopping attests to Leverett’s depth of musical knowledge and sophistication. One might assume that a band that can tear off genres and eras like a second skin is hiding beneath some veneer, but this doesn’t seem so. Wires & Tubes holds its emotional weight like a fist wrapped around a diamond. It’s not overwhelming, but Leverett’s album is one of the few examples of a rare and sometimes radical honesty and vulnerability in Maine music — hardly core components those look to when trying to make it today.
Leverett’s split doesn’t seem to be the volatile sort; it just needed to happen. As with every type of hindsight, there’s enough wayward energy on this album to see how things might have unraveled. Without in any way diminishing the efforts of Brown, Gingrich and bass player Harry Gilman, it marks, at this point, a final chapter in the Maine era of Portland musician Jesse Gertz, who’s made some really wonderful documentation of his approach to composition and production, and on Wires & Tubes especially, shows an emotional depth that’s rarely shown (or prized) in local music.
While some may lament that we’ll never know what the “true” Leverett sounds like, I’d offer that a myth. When styles are worn through, the friendships and feelings that informed them are the important things. Plus, let’s recall that some of the most complex and admirable personalities in American life have the same chameleonic traits as this young band, and are no less passionate and genuine for it. Among the many strengths of Leverett’s short life is a willingness to let the listener witness how delicate the connections are that holds projects together at all.
Leverett | Wires & Tubes album release | with Jeff Beam + Midwestern Medicine + The Asthmatic | Aug 24 | Thu, 8 pm | at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland | $10 | www.space538.org
This article has been modified to reflect more proper instrumentation credit for the band members.
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