Transmography, Standby Red 5, The OttersseyPlush, Friday, Feb. 20
Transmography are substantially more ragged than virtuoso jazz-tanglers Chicago Underground Duo. They are also much more "street" than Tortoise, but less rigidly deconstructive than Jandek, and not nearly as misanthropic as The Flying Luttenbachers, who would do anything to clear the room with hateful noise.
Transmography's scale is tiny compared to any of those artists, making their ambition all the more remarkable. The Austin duo shares much common ground with them in their determination to locate and stand on end any understanding about the distinction between music and noise, and to illustrate how the latter can be at least as evocative as the former.
The duo played their most experimental composition, "Bhopal," early in their set while the crowd comprised merely a handful. The tune features extended passages by James Evans on what appears to be a 4-foot length of two-by-two steel angle, stood on end on an electric guitar laid on the stage. In counterpoint, Michael Frazier played a systematic, mechanical-sounding dance riff on keyboard while playing drums at the same time. The glue of consistent tempos is what keeps Transmography's sound adventures grounded in accessibility.
Both musicians switch around on guitar, percussion and keyboard, and both "sing" mostly simplistic, conversational lyrics that owe a debt to punk, but seem primarily intended to add texture to the sound. Lyrics to the frenzied "Pupa," for instance, consist entirely of the chant: "Break out / of / your cocoon."
As the Plush crowd began to swell to a couple of dozen, Transmography seemed to almost turn on the charm. "Ice Cream Man From Japan" was positively pretty, as was the melodic, newly named "Deity Parade."
The smallish crowd apparently was attracted mainly to Tucsonans Standby Red 5 and their progressive instrumental cinematics. Fans dissipated again for the new band in town, The Otterssey, and that's a shame. Gritty and aggressive with a pop-nougat center, The Otterssey has the makings of a homegrown version of the kind of stop-action, key-changing, tenor-harmony power pop usually heard only via imports to Tucson clubs. Their almost encyclopedic pop jam on "Wrapped and Raveled" was a set highlight.