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Aan makes a big impression

Turning music inside out

Aan is a fearless experimental pop band from Portland, mixing heavily textured guitars with rich vocal harmonies. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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I've listened to all sorts of music over the years, both for the purposes of writing for the Weekly Volcano, and on my own time. What I've discovered about myself, through years of dipping my toes into all sorts of genres, is that my ears can tune themselves to any old kind of music, but that I will always return to that utterly indelible three-minute pop song. While I can just write that off as some sort of human proclivity to be drawn into the pattern of verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus - and it is a totally satisfying pattern - I think it ultimately boils down to a slightly different explanation.

What is ultimately appealing about the classic pop song is that - by necessity - it puts the artist in a position where they need to make the biggest impression in the shortest amount of time. Bands need to bottle and deliver the thing that makes them the best at being themselves, and the sooner they can do that, the sooner they can win my heart.

Perhaps Aan's best quality is that they hit you with big impressions right off the bat. My first exposure to them, "Mystery Life," bursts out of the gates with such impact that it's hard not to take notice. That the song never, ever lets up, is positively intoxicating. Pounding drums and churning guitars explode from the word "go," but what is most affecting is the lead vocal from Bud Wilson. Though his voice initially sounds like a straining yelp, what eventually becomes clear is that you haven't yet heard the boundary-pushing energy that he has to offer. Their press kit compares Wilson's voice to Jeff Buckley's and, while it lacks the pure beauty of Buckley's, it does possess that rough elasticity.

"Aan started as a solo project of mine for a few months," says Wilson. "It was pretty organic, a lot of bedroom pop-style songs and freak folk things. ... When I was doing solo stuff, I was doing a lot of ambient stuff, and I would be looping things, and then it got to where I didn't want to be looping any more. I got Reese Lawhon to play some of the parts, and it just grew from there."

As it is now, Portland's Aan is an experimental pop band that puts a premium on melody while never being afraid to mess with the traditional structure of that three-minute format. Featuring Wilson and Lawhon, as well as Jon Lewis and Jeff Bond, Aan is now a full-bodied band that piles on layers and textures in such a tight and subtle way that it never edges into overblown territory.

"When I was really getting into music, as a freshman in college, I started exploring genres," says Wilson. "I got really into tropicalia - stuff like Os Mutantes and Tom Ze. ... And, I mean, it's not really worth mentioning The Beatles, but I love the way they can take a song and turn it inside out, and it still feels good."

Recently, despite having never released a full-fledged LP - only singles and EPs here and there, plus some homemade CD-Rs handed out at shows - Aan had the opportunity to play several shows as opening act for another band that subverts the pop formula: The Smashing Pumpkins.

"It was pretty magical," says Wilson. "When we embarked on that tour, I think the biggest venue we'd ever played was maybe 300 capacity, and the first show with the Pumpkins was in Melbourne, Florida, in front of almost 3,000. There is no learning curve, there. It's just a brick wall. But we climbed the wall."

In the beginning of next year, Aan will finally release their debut LP after eight years as one of Portland's brightest bands. Here's hoping that, having then climbed that wall, Aan's output will rise and flood. Music as dynamic as theirs has no other way.

AAN, w/ Gothic Tropic and guests, 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16, Northern, 414 ½ Legion Way, Olympia, $5,

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