Sensory Overload: Forest & the Evergreens

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From the March 22, 2012 edition

The soul band is such an established form that even a “post-punk” soul combo like Chicago’s JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound doesn’t really deviate from the classic style so much as subvert from within. Of course, there’s a wide gap between James Brown’s huffing catharsis and D’Angelo’s smoky, psychedelic meandering, but if you go to see a soul band, you have some idea of what to expect.

Then you see Forest & the Evergreens.

Parker Muntz and friends don’t strictly adhere to the genre, but they don’t exactly fit in anywhere else either. They sprang from the close community of bands orbiting upstart label Boomhouse Records, so in a social sense they’re deeply plugged in. Musically, though, they are a band alone, and for all the right reasons.

My first encounter came last Friday at Kobo. Muntz was the center of attention, grabbing his microphone with a manic fury that recalled The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn minus the nerdiness. Unlike Finn, Muntz contributed significantly with his guitar, too, weaving hypnotic groove patterns with his bandmates and dropping in the occasional major seventh chord just because.

His fellow players flexed skills that suggested they made it out of music school without being poisoned by academia. They grafted chunky low-end riffs cut from the same mold as Radiohead’s “Optimistic” to melancholy old-school pop from the Jens Lekman playbook.

Despite the reference points, this was not sad-sack stuff; joyous horn blasts rained down liberally. Nor was it alien music. Quoth Mr. Vedder, “It’s evolution, baby!”

Some soul bands embark on interminable jams, passing it off as exploration when they’re really treading paths so well-traveled they’ve long since been paved into superhighways. The real adventure is in creating new forms and pumping them full of enough humanity to convince people to come along for the ride. And when you don’t even have to convince people because they just know — when we stumble into music that answers a hunger we didn’t realize was there — that’s the magic of meaningful innovation.