Sensory Overload: In Silent Movies

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From the August 30, 2012 edition

Urban Scrawl was a lovely experience for the art, the atmosphere and the audio alike, but I couldn’t help feeling like In Silent Movies was working uphill when they kicked off the live music portion of the festival Saturday afternoon.

First there was Cat Power’s morbid “Maybe Not” blaring from the P.A. in advance of their set — not exactly a jock jam in terms of its pump-you-up potential. The drummer was stuck sweating in direct sunlight. Then there was some technical difficulty that initially left the bass amp intermittently emitting jarring blasts like a rhinoceros with agitated bowels. And when your breed of rock is dark and dreamy, the 1:45 p.m. sunlight doesn’t do it any favors.

In Silent Movies navigated those obstacles like pros, though, and ended up on my good side. Genuine talent usually manages to shine through adversity.

They practice a noise-damaged but melodic take on indie rock. It’s something nerdy, pop-culture-obsessed white boys have tended toward since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of Sonic Youth. In this band’s hands, the music didn’t feel revolutionary, but it was still a reminder of how satisfying the collision of noise and melody can be.

At the core were rock songs culled from the alternative era, imbued with some jazzy touches that reminded me of Aloha. Sometimes they cranked up the noise to an aggressive level, trading in the same artsy cacophony of A Place to Bury Strangers. Other times it was shoegaze of a brighter, bolder variety, like Silversun Pickups without the intense androgynous wailing.

Actually, they could have used a little more wailing. The vocals were a sore spot for In Silent Movies. They weren’t bad, they were just the least interesting part of the music.

Except when they were the most interesting parts, at which points In Silent Movies ascended to new heights. Singer-guitarist Josh Landis was unremarkable in midrange, but when his voice shot into the higher registers, the music instantly felt more gripping. Even better, he sometimes got outright weird, like when he unfurled a chorus in rapid-fire staccato, “Tellmeyouwantmetogooooooooo, and I’ll go right now!”

It all came together in the closing number, “Stone Cold,” which laid the intensity on thick for a big finish. This was the sound of a band gradually discovering its powers and letting loose.