Most rock bands don't even understand themselves until everyone breaks at least a few strings and some wind together. With a new lineup and self-titled debut album, local rock brigade Allies is back to breaking strings, but not friendships, and finally living up to its name.
That name became a constant reminder of what really mattered to singers/guitarists Joel Grimes and Joey Vesely, following the break-up of their legendary local band, Pikadori. The two wanted to forge a more benevolent constellation to completely illuminate their noisy frustrations, resulting in Allies. But about four years ago, the anger spilled over and things started falling apart. "To stay true to the name of our band, we had to stop," Vesely says, "because that was the smartest thing for everybody as friends."
Yet the two of them realized it'd be a disgrace to the name if they couldn't sustain Allies with a little help from their friends. Chief among their chums was Greg Cislon, whose easygoing nature and splendid tenure behind the drums for Vale and Year, Boxstep, and All the Quiet made him the perfect candidate to help Allies fully syncopate once again. As Grimes puts it, "When Greg came in, things started getting a little more kooky and fun." (Go figure for a drummer whose first concert was seeing the Monkees in 1986.)
The band began tightening the screws on its music while loosening up the approach, and soon the power trio headed out on tour where, with Cislon on board, road life was nothing but miles and miles of good vibrations. But the sound was still missing something. Enter Jo Ma.
Although Ma's neck-shredding abilities preceded his modest demeanor as guitarist for The Sea, Like Lead (and now for Brain Handle), he was no bassist. "I was thinking, 'I have a bass. I've never played bass. I want to learn how to play bass. They need a bass player. Might as well just, like, jam,'" says Ma.
Months of relentless practice later, this third incarnation of Allies was ready to put its energies to tape, the old-fashioned way.
"Maybe we're dumb about it, but instead of recording on Garage Band or any other program where you can put it up right away, we'd rather do it this super-long way," Cislon says. "I don't know if it's stubbornness or work ethic or if we're just old idiots."
But who needs a reason for such a terrifically constructed, self-titled debut? Supercharged riffs chase down the hushed tones while rhythms stack on top of each other, bolstering both singers' verbal geometry. With verses and choruses merging into the same line of thought, the lyrics keep lapping each other in a head-spinning relay race against guitars twice trembling.
Too punk to be peaceful, yet too PC to be punk, Allies treads somewhere between Slint and Mission of Burma, or maybe Gray Matter and Archers of Loaf. No matter the name-check: Allies' captivating synthesis of forms manages to obscure the elements behind its own creation.
Allies CD Release with Sun Tornado, Soft Sickle and Onodrim. 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 9. ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. $5. All ages. 412-362-0274 or www.modernformations.com
- Heather Mull
- Check yourself: Allies