“Those kids are magical,” said Pete Banjaro, KPSU programming director.
Banjaro smiled as he waited for a freshly recorded in-studio performance by Portland lo-fi rockers Mr. Bones to mix down. As we waited for the session to save, Banjaro showed me pictures he had taken during the session.
These included a snapshot he had taken during the band’s interview. The image had captured the crowd that had formed to watch the band perform. Peering through the glass of the interview room, members of the crowd seemed unaware of the eight second delay between what they were hearing piped through the KPSU studios and what was being said behind the doors of the broadcast booth.
The session itself was everything rock should be: under rehearsed, fraught with technical issues (frontman Leland Brehl’s guitar failed him less than a minute into their first song) and most importantly, absolutely electric.
Like all great rock bands, Mr. Bones are more than just the sum of their parts. It’s hard not to notice the kinetic drumming of Asher McKenzie, or the versatility of guitarist Jackson Machado,
or the pure punk bass tones of Benjamin Burwell. It was Leland Brehl’s vision that struck me most that evening in the KPSU studios, though.
“I don’t want any reverb on the vocals,” Brehl said.
“Like, none?” Banjaro said.
As one of the most experienced technicians capable of recording a KPSU in-studio session, Banjaro knows his stuff.
“Yeah, none at all,” Brehl said. “It has to sound raw.”
Mr. Bones took to the airways after releasing their self-titled debut on cassette. Their eponymous release is the best Portland album of 2014 that you haven’t heard yet. There are a lot of bands that spring to mind when you listen to the self-titled Mr. Bones.
You might think of lo-fi gods Guided by Voices, The Pixies (particularly on the bass-driven “You Don’t Have a Skull of Your Own”) or even Portland legends The Exploding Hearts, but much of Brehl’s songwriting has been influenced by J-Rock.
J-Rock is the Japanese answer to American punk and indie rock. It’s those under- the -radar influences that make Mr. Bones such an instant classic. From tracks like “Tony” that breeze by in the same blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion as Guided by Voices, to fully realized rockers like “You Don’t Have A Skull Of Your Own,” Mr. Bones sounds familiar enough.
It would be easy for armchair music critics to cast Mr. Bones aside as just another lo-fi ‘90s revival release, but the start and haunting quality of “Starfingers” and the borderline ZZ Top douchiness of “Glaring at U” sets it apart. Lyrically there are so many references to the Internet (particularly on “Another Fucking Summer”) that place Mr. Bones in a distinctly millennial orientation.
That orientation was also present in a new song that Mr. Bones premiered during that session.
“It’s your Internet presence that makes me sad,” Brehl sang, his wistful lyric discordantly meeting waves of heavy guitar riffs. The lyric, like so much of Mr. Bones manages to be sophisticated and provincial at the same time.
Listening to the lyric now, it’s hard for me to not think of the Internet presence of so many young music fans. Those that lack the talent or discipline to create art of their own flocking to Twitter and tweeting the most flattering things possible at their favorite artists, hoping for a favorite or a retweet.
I recently spoke with someone that works for McMenamin’s and the subject of their Instagram account came up. He mentioned that, from a marketing standpoint, it’s been a great thing for them. But in terms of the presentation, it’s hard to not notice the photos taken from the band’s point of view, of a sea of music fans viewing their performances through the screen of a smartphone. A quick glance at the #crystalballroom tag yields dozens of blurry concert photos that are interchangeable.
Those blurry concert photos are in great contrast to that snapshot Banjaro showed me. That night as Mr. Bones played, as unpolished as it was, we were all watching them in real time. Our phones were in our pockets.
Blake Hickman is the promotions director at KPSU, Portland State’s campus radio station. Student hosted shows can be found on KPSU, at www.kpsu.org. Listen to Mr. Bones play live on KPSU at http://www66.zippyshare.com/v/40791477/file.html