Click to hear: “Pill-Oh”
When I first saw a picture of Dead End Armory, I thought, “Hey, it’s those guys from Acoustic Coffee.” The band is, at least partly, the staff that’s helped me survive many mornings by supplying my caffeine fix. Acoustic Coffee owner Mike O’Connor plays guitar. Drummer Chris Dibiasio is the manager of the café. Raspy voiced lead singer/songwriter John Wesley Hartley, though not employed there, is a fixture at the establishment, and bassist Leslie Deane is also a regular.
But Dead End Armory isn’t some thrown-together coffeehouse act. I asked O’Connor why the band doesn’t play there more often, and his answer shows he knows the group belongs in bigger venues. “It’s too easy,” he said. “We don’t want to take the easy way out.”
The band’s debut EP, released earlier this year, is a collection of five mostly longish songs that are well ordered, well orchestrated, and well representative of a young group steadily building its credibility and musical chops.
From the first listen, I was struck by how cohesive the EP is, as though it could be five distinct but complimentary movements in one 27-minute-long song. Their sound is often reminiscent of math-rock wizards Built To Spill, but Dead End Armory is not quite so proggy.
The energy peaks and swoops dramatically throughout the recording, dragging the listener happily behind, with nary an obstacle along the way. The lead-off track, “Pill-Oh,” begins in a lethargic hush, but by its end the band has picked you from the crowd, where you were listening from a safe distance, and thrown you into the ring with them.
The third track, “Pirate,” sounds like early Modest Mouse, before “Float On” and radio play, but it’s no rip off. Dead End Armory has arrived at its sound naturally. Other times you can hear late ’60s Neil Young, or The Pixies’ melodic riffs, but the songs all sound original, genuine, real.
This is emotional music. It’s earnest, pensive, even sway-inducing. Hartley’s vocals, with occasional help from Deane, are a perfect match for the sonic scenes behind them, whether it’s driving, straight-ahead rock or a field of sparse cymbal tings and snare cracks with ghostly guitar whines in the distance.
This is the kind of EP that leaves you wanting more, and thankfully, there’s more on the way. I recently heard a sneak preview of a second recording in the works that displays a further matured sound and style, and intensified energy. This new material is slated for release in February as another EP, but the band is rumored to have a full album of songs already written. Two-thousand-and-seven will be a big year for this band.
– Sean Wilkinson
Dead End Armory plays Sat., Dec. 30, at Acoustic Coffee, 32 Danforth St., Portland, at 9 p.m. (Final show before the venue is reborn as Goats Head Soup on Jan. 2). 774-0404. For more info about the band, see deadendarmory.com.