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River of surreality

Portland quartet Stereo No Aware endeavor to confound

Stereo No Aware keep things weird while also bringing eccentric hooks. Photo credit: Facebook

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There's a malleability to music that continues to transfix listeners and creators alike. This implicit call to use every extent of sound at your disposal, hampered by limitations of equipment, money, proficiency, the human's ability to hear, and every sonic trick known to musicians, creates a culture of artists who are compelled to make music that stretches their every limb and artistic inclination. Sometimes, these documents embrace the minimalism and need for outside thinking to make music in the vice grip of necessity, while other artists fling themselves into the unknown to see just how far road of invention goes.

Those that bend music to the brink of listenability are valued by a certain group of music-lovers. Mostly, these fans are driven by a boredom that arises in the face of uniformity, and they crave some band to come along and rub their faces in the unexpected. My father would be one of these people, who loves to be challenged and thrown off-balance. Another group of people drawn to difficult music is critics, who are even more beset on all sides by mediocrity, and only want the privilege of seeing something new. Myself, I tend to be drawn to bands that approach the yawning chasm of unrepentant experimentation, before rubber-banding back to something that modestly resembles pop sensibilities.

In this way, Portland quartet Stereo No Aware taps right into the part of my brain that's equally intrigued by subversion and comfort. Theirs is a swirling stew of styles and sounds, drawing from the harmony-rich music of ‘60s pop; meandering, dusty folk-rock; bubblegum psychedelia; Syd Barrett-esque progressive rock; lo-fi ‘90s freakouts; and loungey odes to space travel. At times, Stereo No Aware is reminiscent of early ‘90s Flaming Lips, finding energy in lapping on the river of surreality, while simultaneously accessing humanity on the river's edge. There's also a similar balance between tactile delights and synthetic interludes.

Stereo No Aware (frequently stylized in capital letters) presumably find their name as a play on mono no aware, a Japanese phrase regarding the wistful sadness that comes with the passing of people and things. On their debut LP, titled the sound of STEREO NO AWARE, there's not much of a sense of loss, so much as there is a fascination with the present and a keen eye toward the future. Every song plays like an opportunity for the band to play around with expectations and to follow flights of fancy into lands unknown. There are many tunes where this playfulness is felt, but it comes across most potently in "Oaks Park," which feels like it's a piece made up of a million movements, each section marked by languidness and anxiety. That the song starts out with a smattering of drums and the sound of crunching bones gives you a sense of what the band expects from the audience.

Made up of Charlie Copeland, Nik Yull, Lumin Egress, and Isaac AshLind, Stereo No Aware is a band that, more than most, feels inclined to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the wall. Most of it sticks, even as a large portion of the songs on the sound of come across like a series of medleys. With each song shifting and evolving, sometimes incorporating little-heard sound snippets and spoken-word interludes, there's a very real sense of an eccentric heart beating behind the music, though that heart's powering a musculature that's persistently spasming. With every abrupt twist and turn, though, Stereo No Aware prove themselves capable of finding the potent hook and message that can cut straight through their clear endeavor to confound.

Stereo No Aware, w/ Sinkholes, Heat Shimmer, 9 p.m., Friday, May 26, Obsidian, 414 4th Ave. E., $5, Olympia, 360.890.4425,

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