Sensory Overload: Deadwood Floats

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From the July 12, 2012 edition

Ever since Super Desserts quietly ceased to be a going concern last year, this city has wanted for a sprawling twee brigade worthy of adoration. Turns out that band already existed — it just hadn’t ventured very far out of the shadows.

Deadwood Floats began three summers ago, but only recently have they become a burgeoning presence in Columbus bars. The ever-expanding ensemble cut their teeth at Campus house shows, which is where I saw them last Saturday. Experiencing this band in its native environment was a good call; wow, do they know how to work a (living) room.

I cite Super Desserts because of the obvious aesthetic similarities — the tendency to play unplugged, the expansive roster of members, the wide range of instruments (for Deadwood Floats, this included accordion, bongos, xylophone, violin, acoustic guitars, ukulele and a drum set).

But where Super Desserts were proper and buttoned-down in their approach, Deadwood Floats fling their emotions around fearlessly and recklessly. Though their default is a gorgeously ornate strand of indie-folk akin to Horse Feathers or Blind Pilot, there’s more than a hint of early Modest Mouse’s raucous, uncouth spirit in there, too. They stomped and shouted almost as much as they daintily strummed and coyly crooned.

Many of them contribute songwriting, and all six of them sing. As any Beatles fan can tell you, this arrangement can work out wonderfully when all parties have something special to contribute, and this crew seems uniformly talented. It’s like they opened up the display case at the ice cream shop and let you have all the flavors.

They can play, too, and they know just how to deploy their wide range of sounds. Harmonies raged from the start; one time they even pulled off a gospel choir feel. Just like the voices, none of the instruments dominated. They just shared space and shined when they needed to, from snappy drum fills to tear duct-loosening violin lines.

They have a huge selection of covers stored up on Bandcamp, but Deadwood Floats were at their worst Saturday when performing other people’s songs, particularly a closing rendition of Arcade Fire’s “Crown of Love” that substituted volume for grace. That’s OK — I’m not sure anything could have ruined this set.