Done right, the two-piece rock band can be pretty attractive. Just ask the Black Keys (who get help all over the place when performing, but that's another matter) and the White Stripes. Locally, we've had something of a two-piece trend of late, with the likes of Lord Earth, the Watchers, Class Machine, Hobgoblin, and now Arcane Lore — though the latter separate themselves by being devoid of a Y chromosome.
Otherwise, they fit right in with the rest, with drummer Brandye Devine necessarily doing a ton of work behind the kit to keep the energy up and close the gaps, and Katie Gilchrest putting together a compelling riff on a guitar that's usually in a Hendrix kind of tone. Truly, her bluesy (well, Zeppelin-style blues), strongarm playing is dirty and fun. Despite 14 tracks that all follow the same basic arrangement on the duo's debut disc, Change of Mind, they never run together because Gilchrest makes sure not to fall into any sort of comfort zone with the fretboard.
Unfortunately, Gilchrest doesn't seem to be able to find a comfort zone at all with her vocals. Especially when she's using dramatic delivery and higher in the register, as with the opening "Wind, Sea and Sky" or "Gravity," she can sound flat or just simply overmatched by her own guitar tone. Best is when she stays lower down and gets mean and heated, as with the innuendo-filled "V-Day" ("You don't mind driving me crazy, it what's you gotta do/I rode the M train all weekend, thinking how the cowgirls do") or the heavily reverbed title track.
There's a dreamy, psych-rock thing going on (a tune called "Necromancer" might give you a hint to the vibe here at times) that Gilchrest is supporting with her vocals, but she doesn't seem fully invested.
Possibly, it's a recording/mixing/mastering thing, as this was done all in their practice space and the vocals sometimes just don't have enough definition, but I don't want to sell the production short. The guitar tone is just the right kind of nasty for these songs and the drums sit well in the mix. Really, the fact that their instrumentals, tunes with bite like "Shut up and Dance" and "Backwoods," succeed so well as head-nodding, raise-your-beer burners is all the testament you need that Arcane Lore are on to something.
CHANGE OF MIND | Released by Arcane Lore | with Lord Earth + Whale Oil | at Geno's, in Portland | Jan 19 | facebook.com/arcanelore