Eugene Weekly : Music : 3.5.09

Pretty Restraint

The dreamy ambience of Massachusetts electronica duo Arms and Sleepers isn’t my usual cup of tea, but there’s something irresistible about the sparely textured songs on their new EP The Motorist. A followup to their debut EP, 2007’s Bliss Was It In that Dawn to Be Alive, and a teaser of sorts for their upcoming full-length, The Motorist comes across like five snippets of a quiet, introspective rainy-day soundtrack. Delicate piano melodies drift among synth tones and twitchy percussion; if the childlike vocals on the title track seem a bit too electronics-tinged, it’s easy enough to forgive when you’ve got two minutes of the gorgeous intro before they kick in.

One song from the band’s upcoming album, “The Architekt,” is a little darker than the Motorist songs, shifting into a lower register that gives it an ominous overlay; breathy, indecipherable vocals and a grumbling piano are faintly Radiohead-esque (Portishead, however, is a much more frequent comparison among reviewers). As a taste of what might be yet to come from the band, it’s perfect: curiosity-piquing, but too restrained to give anything away. Arms and Sleepers and Elder Mason play at 9 pm Thursday, March 12, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5. — Molly Templeton

Trio No Menace

“Impressions of a Lurking Menace,” apart from being the coolest name for a song this side of The Return’s “This Panda Has Claws,” is one of the catchiest songs I have heard in years. It was the lead track on pianist/composer wunderkind Ben Darwish’s debut CD Industrial Hero, and it has been a mainstay in my stereo ever since its release over two years ago. That was only the beginning of an album that oozed jazz sensibilities, but fused jazz with rock and hip hop to create an eclectic and wildly inventive album that was truly original. 

Now Darwish’s trio has returned with their followup, Ode to Consumerism, which was recorded live at Jimmy Mak’s this past August. The title track puts Darwish and company’s considerable talent on full display, with Darwish creating another catchy piano loop to center the tune and drummer Jason Palmer going ballistic with creative, off-kilter beats that still manage to keep time with the song, while Eric Gruber rounds out this and other tracks with his molasses-thick, velvety smooth bass lines. A lively rendition of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” appears on the album, as does a version of Green Day’s “Longview” that will leave you wondering how on earth punk could go lounge and still end up sounding this good. But that’s what makes Ben Darwish such a good musician: He makes jazz sound beautiful, daring, timeless and modern all at once. The Ben Darwish Trio CD release show takes place at 9 pm Saturday, March 7, at Jo Federigo’s. 21+. $5. — Brian Palmer

Sounds Familiar

Let’s just get this out of the way: Two-person guitar/vox/drums outfit The Pack A.D. sounds more or less like The Black Keys, only Canadian and female. Which is basically all you need to know about this band to figure out whether or not you’re gonna like ‘em. Vocalist and guitarist Becky Black’s throaty wail is blues incarnate. Problem is, she also sounds like Dan Auerbach’s sister. And the similarities don’t stop there. There are at least a half dozen occasions on their latest album, Funeral Mixtape, in which Black’s riffs sound nearly identical to various Black Keys numbers reproduced by someone who’s still learning how to play the instrument. Which is what makes The Pack A.D. more of a garage band than a blues band. The timing is just a little off; the transitions are a little messy. And maybe the band should start playing up that rough, garage-y aspect of their sound, because catchy as their music might be, they still sound an awful lot like The Black Keys redux. It’s the grit and grime that might just be the ticket to saving The Pack A.D. from the endless Black Keys comparisons their derivative sound will surely invite. The Pack A.D. and the Infamous Stonerollers play at 9 pm Sunday, March 8, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5 — Sara Brickner

Spank Us Again

Two years ago, the Asylum Street Spankers were playing Sam Bond’s in support of their kid-friendly album Mommy Says NO! Their most recent release, What? And Give Up Show Biz?, is a two-disc live abum which documents the two-week New York run of the band’s stage show of the same name. No resting on their laurels for these folks. As described by The New York Times, the stage show was a revue “linking 20 or so songs with skits and anecdotes about 14 grueling years on the road.” From the beginning, Biz is droll and cheerily resigned, bouncing gamely from genre to genre, original to cover, as the band members share near-death experiences, their thoughts on breakfast burritos and plenty more. The songs come from across the band’s career and beyond; highlights include the one-two punch of the singalong-friendly “Medley of Burned-Out Songs” (“These are the songs we don’t want to play, so please listen to them now / It’s not that we hate them; they just got old”) and the jaunty “Beer,” in praise the bandmembers’ drug of choice.

For this tour, cofounder Christina Marrs is off the road, but “Spanker emeritus” Stanley Smith, who hasn’t toured with the band for six years, joins back up for what promo materials dub the Sausage Fest 2009 tour: “Rowdier and raunchier than ever.” The Asylum Street Spankers and Bad Mitten Orchestre play at 8 pm Thursday, March 12, at the WOW Hall. $13 adv., $15 door. — Molly Templeton