Concert preview: Cliffs try and make sense of the noise with Saturation

By Columbus Alive
From the November 14, 2013 edition
  • Photo by Ryan M.L. Young

Cliffs’ debut album Saturation, as its title suggests, deals with coming of age in a society where you’re constantly bombarded with information.

“Modern living isn’t easy,” howl Aaron Cottrell (guitar/vocals) and Adam Hardy (drums/vocals), both 26, on the title track — one of a handful of songs that attempts to find some order in the chaos.

So the musicians cope by drinking too much and hitting on girls (“Love at First Sight”), writing bitter breakup tunes disguised as historical narratives (“To Bonnie from Clyde”) and theorizing about what happens when death finally comes calling (“When We Die”). Of course, even at its heaviest, the music sounds damned near weightless, and the two bash through the album’s assortment of scuzzy garage-punk tunes with the carefree attitude of a bar patron knocking back shots at his or her favorite watering hole.

Though only a duo, Cliffs, which opens for Sebadoh at the Basement on Thursday, Nov. 14, sounds nearly as huge and intimidating as its namesake. It’s a love of volume the two developed early on opening for metal bands at Carabar.

“You don’t have the advantage of a bass player or some other member,” Cottrell said over coffee during a recent interview. “It makes you work harder as a musician and, yeah, maybe play louder.”

The two started performing as Cliffs a little over two years ago, though they’ve been making music together in a variety of full-band guises (Gender Bending Fender Benders, General Sherman & The Fried Peaches and so on) for more than six years now. It’s a chemistry that reveals itself both on record (the two split songwriting duties 50-50) and off, and there were times at the coffee shop the conversation ricocheted so effortlessly between the two it sounded as though it could have been scripted.

Such was the case when the pair recounted being held up at gunpoint before a concert at Kobo — a winding, hilarious tale than included Hardy’s demand that the robber return everyone’s identification so they could avoid the hassle of going to the DMV (the robber obliged) and a mid-set break to pause and fill out a police report once the authorities arrived.

This idea — taking a miserable experience and transforming it into something joyous — is at the heart of Cliffs’ music, which Cottrell hinted at while discussing “When We Die.”

“[The song] is such a relief because we’re talking about death and the world coming to an end,” he said. “But none of that matters because we need to be living for right now. It should be about finding what you love in this world and doing it right now.”