Push and pull

Ellis Pink strikes a balance of uncompromisingly melodic bliss

By Rev. Adam McKinney on September 7, 2017

The whole notion of indie or alternative music being vastly different -- in some way, from mainstream music -- has always been a little bit flawed. Yes, the further you dive into indie rock, the likelier you are to encounter music that will never find itself on the radio, through sheer inscrutability or experimental edge, or because it in no way reflects the whims of mainstream music's fickle embracing or shunning of classic genres. There are always exceptions, like how Ween and the Flaming Lips found a modicum of mainstream play via quasi-novelty songs, but the fact remains the same: indie rock and mainstream rock exist in a constant, frankly confusing interplay of push and pull.

To use an example that is already passé, let's look at Taylor Swift's new single, "Look What You Made Me Do." Speaking for myself, I think it's a terrible song, but there's something more interesting underlying its bad decisions: first, it eschews a triumphant chorus, despite the moody build-up that seems yearning for some explosive payoff; second, it reflects the overproduced, misguidedly "mature" first single of a band coming up on their sophomore album, even though Swift has made a million albums; and third, it rips off Right Said Fred. For me, these are all hallmarks of something an indie band on the rise might do.

Which brings us to Ellis Pink. This two-piece from Portland has such a richly enveloping sound, aided in no small part by Simon Muir-Filene's soulful vocals, that it's easier to imagine hearing them on the radio than it is to see them in some small club. They will be in a small club, though, on Saturday, as they head to Le Voyeur.

Made up of Muir-Filene on keys and vocals and Connor Acott on drums, Ellis Pink creates a huge sound through looping of vocal and instrumental parts, arriving at a dynamic feel that is predominantly poppy and propulsive, with a little bit of energy used to explore their jazzier elements. At times, the songs on Ellis Pink's recent album, First Day Around the Globe, sound like a dancier take on Traffic's mix of R&B and lightly progressive rock. Muir-Filene's bold, yet vibrant, tenor stands front and center, finding the same dynamic balance that so profoundly compelled Future Islands out of the underground. Artistically uncompromising music, it seems, pairs well with a solid sense of hooks and a desire to include every last member of the audience in the party.

While a mainstream act reaching back to tap into the sounds of the indie scene -- as U2 did with Arcade Fire on "California (There Is No End to Love)," for instance -- may come off as poserism, an indie band affecting a more mainstream sound can also be accused of selling out, whatever that means. Ellis Pink seems to have no interest in posing or selling out, with their sound coming incredibly naturally to them. The first two songs on First Day Around the Globe are saturated with big hooks and naturally engaging melodies, and then the third song breaks the cycle. Being that this is a two-man band, it comes across as necessary fight between the percussion and vocals that comes to a head in "The Vines," pitting Muir-Filene's silky voice against Acott's fidgety drums. The effect is like listening to a crooner shoulder his way through a drumline.

Increasingly, the separation of indie rock and mainstream music grows narrower, and what we tend to gravitate toward is something that strikes a neat middleground -- even if that middle is more daring by the year. Ellis Pink rides that line in an imminently satisfying way.

Ellis Pink, w/ Dirty Dirty, 10 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 9, cover TBA, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.5710