They say good design makes everyday items seem invisible, transparent. Whether it’s an umpire or a refrigerator, when something is doing its job, you don’t notice.
This may just be the ethos to which Nick Perry’s Brass Tax ascribes. Trafficking in indie-ock, bar-rock, desert-slicked faux jazz, blooze-daddio big riffage, and timelessly utilitarian garage-rock, the Portland quartet makes music that could as ably be listened to as absorbed into the throb of daily events. These songs carry the aspirations and emotional weight of cycling to the grocery store, walking the dog, relocating a stack of books from one spot in the house to another — y’know, real shit. Everybody does things like this.
In fact, you can learn much about the band’s second album, Champions of the Mundane, from its opening track. What presents as an everyday rock song, the track “Champion of the Mundane” conceals a tapestry of specific choices, honest mistakes, and solid ideas into its four-and-a-half minutes. Fully, irreversibly brought into being, the song remarkably sounds like it’s always been part of the world.
The Frank Black-y complexity of track one reverts to a blues-faded bar-rock vibe for “Highway Mind,” a pouncer replete with guitar solos and snaking bass runs and maybe a bit too much lingering on the solos. Track three applies a sort of lounge lizard jazz template, and this seems a comfier fit. Perry’s vocals sound less strained, as the slow-footed, desert-fried “Glass House” leaves ample room for the group’s experiments with Cummins’ impressive guitar work. “I’m fine living a life of the mind,” Perry sings in a bounding chorus before the guitar snarls up again.
Mid-album tracks like “The Gauntlet,” with its wiggly, reverb-heavy guitars, and the psych-rock ponderer “I Suppose It Was Never My World” expand on the band’s possible futures. As they cohere, strengthen, make bolder choices, either of these directions could be worth pursuing (though likely not both). The purposely tossed-off “Phantom Fascist Group” attempts social critique, a distraction from the group’s otherwise stolid equilibrium — the album’s shortest track, it’s too long. Champions’ back half is a little less strong than its front, but the group rebound with the album closer, when vocalist Erin Westhoven joins Perry for folk ballad “Closing Ranks.” Swapping their bluesy affectations for a campfire sing-along, the band sound more like a cult favorite of They Might Be Giants or Barenaked Ladies. It’s like they’re slipping on another identity, another exercise in the beauty of simple design.
Daily life is full of such quotidian tasks, and people routinely absorb the styles, tones, affects and vocabularies of those they keep close. Nick Perry’s Brass Tax’s second album shows that these musicians can execute the work of a variety of possible bands, engineering a variety of possible experiences, out of which a variety of possible outcomes might potentially emerge. As such, you might not always notice them right away, but give it time.
Champions of the Mundane | by Nick Perry's Brass Tax | Album release Aug 25 | Sat 8 pm | with Bumbling Woohas + Ian Stuart | Sun Tiki Studios, 275 Forest Ave., Portland | by donation | www.npbrasstax.com