Click to hear: “Decay”
One could easily stop too short of giving proper recognition to the first release by Portland newcomers Hiss & Chambers, simply by saying, “Oh, this sounds just like [insert popular or obscure band from the ’80s here].”
But Hiss & Chambers is no ’80s cover band. The four founders – guitarist Shawn Saindon, drummer Ryan Dolan, bassist Jasper Rice and guitarist Mike Hamlin – are all veterans of the local music scene. Their talents and sensibilities combine well in this new group, and the product is decidedly unique around here. (Also unique: they’re giving a copy of the new EP, Making Eyes, to everyone who pays the $5 cover at the release show June 15th).
With influences like Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode, H&C’s sound is reminiscent of some ’80s artists’. But like contemporaries Franz Ferdinand and stellastarr*, they incorporate a guitar army, driving bass, and a syncopated, hi-hatted 16th note sound into modern-sounding dance rock.
Making Eyes starts with “Decay,” a fitting introduction to the rest of the EP. “Decay” is an excellent example of the band’s use of dynamics to keep the listener listening. Starting quietly, building quickly, adding layers and then cutting everything, only to jump back in full force, the song teases a crowd, keeps them on their feet.
Saindon’s vocals have the trademark range and timbre of The Cure’s Robert Smith or Bernard Sumner of New Order. He can belt out low baritone as well as he can scream, whine and whisper in the higher registers.
The combination of smart lyrics and Saindon’s emotive, well enunciated singing keep the material well above any jokey, retro sensibility. You can dance toMaking Eyes, but no one will fault you for just listening at home and thinking about the songs.
Saindon and Hamlin have a powerful back-and-forth guitar sound that can quietly drone in from the edges or jump into full-frontal, dual attack. “Bad Teeth on a Battered Boy” showcases their sparse, iconic guitar lines. A high-toned riff emerges from a deep bass thrum and lingers at the forefront. You know as soon as you hear it: This is going to be stuck in my head. And you want to hear it over and over again.
“Halo,” the last track, is destined for mainstream radio. I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is polished, ready for consumption dance rock. I’d be disappointed if this proved to be the high-water mark for Hiss & Chambers. Some of the less radio-friendly tracks are more compelling. But I think this band will continue to evolve and create even more interesting music.
Making Eyes begs to be danced to. It’s infectious. Even listening at home, it’s impossible not to at least nod your head to the beat. But the proof is seeing Hiss & Chambers live. At the two shows I’ve witnessed, there’ve been more people dancing than I’ve seen anywhere of late. Is Portland nearing the end of its “stand and stare at the music” phase?
— Sean Wilkinson
Hiss & Chambers’ CD release party takes place Fri., June 15, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $5 (EP included; 18+). Cult Maze, and The Information, open. hissandchambers.com.