VIDEO: Barry Thompson visits with StreightAngular
People never like to label themselves. Or, at least they shouldn't.
A musician who's comfortable summarizing what he does with a phrase or two probably isn't a very good musician. When asked to describe one's band, the right tack is to sidestep the question, or else offer a bewildering response. For their part, StreightAngular have a knack for making correct choices — and taking them to extremes.
"I had a vision of making music that wasn't just love songs. It would incorporate love, but would be more of a commentary on things around us, things that humanity is going through at this moment," says Al Polk, as he sips coffee with his wife and drummer, Theresa Polk, at the South Street Diner. After doing the White Stripes duo thing for a while, they filled out with Andrew Mello on bass, Adam Strock on guitar, and Michell Barys (also of Brunt of It infamy) on trumpet. "So, StreightAngular spawned from seeing garbage on the streets, buildings, skyscrapers, homeless people, models, magazines, and things like that. If a love song one day were to be written, it might be love for a robot. Or a person. StreightAngular is more about freedom, actually."
Hold on . . . "Girl with a Tambourine" isn't a love song?
"Sounds pretty lovey-dovey," Al admits, after reciting a snippet of its lyrics, which pertain to spandex and escalators. "I think all our songs are love songs, actually."
Once you cut through the abstracts and the contradictions, StreightAngular make their own kind of sense. Curious listeners are encouraged to indulge in this logic this Friday at the Whitehaus DIY collective in Jamaica Plain, and next Friday at P.A.'s Lounge.
Being a nascent, amorphous band, StreightAngular can roll untethered toward anyone's expectations, and they gleefully indulge this freedom on their first outing, After and Before. There's a dancy protest anthem, "Mission Has Failed," a chunk of updated proto-punk, "Empathetic Environmentalist," down-tempo synth-rock on "Open Your Eyes/Take a Picture," surfy fare on "HOTTIES," and two songs that remind me of the Pixies, "Are You Ever Satisfied" and "On the Washing Machine." (Then again, for some reason, every song ever reminds me of the Pixies.)
"Nowadays, with technology at our hand, we can listen to any kind of music from any region, any time period," Al observes. "Maybe that's an overload of things in the brain. On the album, I bet we ripped off everyone. We probably ripped off Paula Abdul and Kiss and anything that was floating around. Like if, when I was a baby, the window was down and Phil Collins was playing somewhere."
Being the multi-tasking sort, Al Polk is also head honcho of Polk Records, a well-regarded local stable since 2007 that's dedicated to throwing eclectic, round-robin-style showcase shindigs.
"I was inspired by the late '60s, when people knew each other and would play on each other's albums," he explains. "I saw this scene in Festival Express? it was Janis Joplin and the bass player from the Band. They were sitting on a couch, singing a song together. They're legends in our time, period, but back then they were just friends. They were just like us, trying to make music, and that's basically why I started the label. I wanted that community."