Rough and ready

There is a type of musical fandom, found most frequently in (male) college dorm rooms, that prizes technical complexity beyond all other qualifiers in determining whether or not a band is worthy of attention.

There is a type of musical fandom, found most frequently in (male) college dorm rooms, that prizes technical complexity beyond all other qualifiers in determining whether or not a band is worthy of attention.

It is by virtue of this viewpoint that artists such as Joe Satriani and The Mars Volta have risen to their considerable heights, in the process splitting audiophiles like the waters of the Red Sea, sending listeners either into spasmodic ecstasy or vitriolic rants. However, as with any artistic medium, music is apt to produce opposites, and the other end of rock’s spectrum is populated by acts whose stripped-down songwriting has proven just as divisive. This stylistic niche has in the past been occupied by the likes of Daniel Johnston, Pavement and most recently, Portland dance-punks the New Bloods.

“We got together one afternoon in the spring of 2006 and played music in the basement of the house [drummer/singer] Adee Roberson lived at the time,” said violinist and vocalist Osa Atoe. “We didn’t know we were starting a band. We were just playing together and we liked it and kept doing it, and when we had five songs we played our first show.”

The songs that emerged from the New Bloods’ early practices were impressive artifacts of raw instrumentalism. Consisting only of violin, drums, bass and vocals, the tunes were remarkable if for no other reason than the profound emotional response they managed to invoke within such a condensed sonic palette.

Jagged emotion has proven to be New Bloods’ strong suit through all of their recordings. Their sound is something akin to the Pixies, but with even less sonic trickery. The fact that most of the New Bloods’ songs are built around the violin, with a notable absence of guitar, gives them a discordant edge–immediately carving a distinct niche for a group still in its early stages.

“[Our songwriting] is a combination of the way we play together naturally,” Atoe said, “and the fact that it’s nice to be able to hear everything that’s going on in a song instead of steamrollering over it with your own part … we like simplicity in music.”

Simplicity has become the New Bloods’ trademark, and they have turned it from a potential handicap into an unlikely strength with their dedication to energetic engagement with their audience. Already, news of the New Bloods’ live performances has begun to foment in the Northwest’s musical unconscious to become the stuff of minor legend. As the ladies move their show from basements to rock clubs, these reports are likely to be reinforced by their growing stable of admirers.

“We still play a bunch of house shows and backyards and galleries and warehouses and bike shops,” Atoe said. “That’s still our preference versus being on a stage with drums mic-ed and monitors and all. Playing more ‘real’ venues definitely feels different than those other shows, but I don’t think it’s changed our performance in general.”

Much in the spirit of their elemental performance techniques, the New Bloods’ recorded output has followed a pattern of bare minimum necessity, foregoing polish in favor of capturing the immediate feel of the band’s songs.

“I guess we just think of it as a recording of our songs, and we don’t really think about the production thing,” Atoe said.

This focus on songcraft has proven to be a wise artistic distinction for the band, as they have managed to find a berth on Olympia’s indie label Kill Rock Stars based solely on the virtue of their demo recordings. It is a testament to the New Bloods’ confidence in their aesthetic that their recent KRS debut, The Secret Life, bears much the same rough-around-the-edges intensity as their earliest demos. While such a production style might denote a lack of professionalism in some bands, the New Bloods communicate a startling absence of pretension in their approachably artsy recordings.

What the New Bloods lack in gloss they more than make up for in likeability, providing a substantive argument for the “craft trumps complexity” school of music fandom. While the group is sure to split some along preferential lines, they will also no doubt bring many into the fold with the unadulterated energy of their musical idiom. Such is the communal nature of the New Bloods’ music that it possesses the ability to induce, if not mass hysteria, then at least mass displays of excitement. And whether or not you put much stock in technicality, that is something remarkably fun to be part of.

New Bloods

Record release party9 p.m., Friday, April 18 Work/Sound, 820 S.E. Alder St.$5