Adebisi Shank: Spasmodic, Electronic, Riotous Rock

Adebisi Shank: This is the Second Album From a Band Called Adebisi ShankAdebisi Shank: This Is The Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank (Sargent House, 3/15/11)

Adebisi Shank: “Micromachines”

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Fusing the distinguished guitar harmonies of Fang Island with the electronic whimsy of Battles, Adebisi Shank is producing a compelling new brand of electronic rock. The cover of its new album, the whimsically titled This is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank, is an apt analog to its music: a geometric, computer-generated landscape trod upon by galloping zebras.

Musically, the band is a quasi-epiphany, with moments of freak-out abandon and tightly wound melodic passages — yet the dynamic Irish trio’s modesty belies its bombastic style.

“Irish people are very self-deprecating,” drummer Mick Roe explains. “We sometimes don’t really understand why people would like something you create, especially since it’s kind of weird music.”

Here, the weird music that Roe references expands the traditional rock setup of guitar, bass, and drums to include synthesizers, horns, vocoders, and ensemble percussion into its multi-layered albums. The band’s most recent record, Second Album for short, is a wild synthesis of those sounds, with melodies, hooks, and rampaging riffs aplenty.

Twice as long as its predecessor, Adebisi Shank’s self-described “double album” was first released to European audiences in 2010 through DIY Irish label Richter Collective (co-founded/owned by Roe). It received a North American release in March of 2011 via independent label / management company Sargent House, enabling the band to expand its vision stateside. But more importantly, Second Album showcases the band’s maturation from nervous, wide-eyed fans to seasoned studio vets.

“Irish people are very self-deprecating. We sometimes don’t really understand why people would like something you create, especially since it’s kind of weird music.”

The trio recorded its debut album in nine days alongside J. Robbins, a producing dynamo, post-punk dignitary, and one of the band’s childhood idols. Thus the pressure to perform in the studio was exacerbated.

“If you can imagine playing your instrument in front of your musical hero…it’s so daunting,” Roe says. Although the entire process seemed fraught with unnecessary stress, working with Robbins also yielded a renewed sense of confidence in the band’s ability to experiment with different sounds. The resultant debut album, This is the Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank, was released in 2008 via Richter Collective.

In its recorded collections, Adebisi Shank demonstrates an emphasis on technical instrumentation and a tasteful layering of unconventional sounds. The band isn’t bound by feasibility of live reproduction. If it sounds good in the studio, it goes on the record.

“It frees up your mind a bit,” Roe says, “if you don’t say while you’re recording, ‘Oh, we’ll never be able to do this live; let’s not do this idea.’ We don’t want to have a carbon copy of what we do in the studio to what we do live. We like them both to be separate.”

On stage, guitarist Lar Kaye and bassist Vin McCreith use whammies on certain harmonies, giving them a vibrato quality. McCreith also uses an Eventide Pitchfactor for harmonies in “International Dreambeat” and “Genki Shank” and uses an unusual arpeggiated delay and other synth sounds for tracks like “Europa” (all from Second Album). Additionally, Roe wires a laptop to his kick drum that enables him to control other instruments during live performances. The benefit of this trigger-based setup can be heard in the arpeggiated phoneme sequence in “International Dreambeat.”

Given the overlapping sounds of Adebisi Shank’s material, a closer look at the members’ individual styles is worthwhile. Behind the drums, Roe’s inclination to faster playing, punk-type music is closely related to Kaye’s preference for effect-driven sounds. “We were asked a few times if [Kaye] could play those tunes without the effects,” Roe says, “and I think the whole thing is just…we wouldn’t. There’s no point. It’s part of his band, it’s part of how he plays, [and] it’s part of his style.”

Upon meeting McCreith, who, at the time, was involved in an electronic project called The Vinny Club, Adebisi Shank had its crucial third component. The bassist, frequently hidden behind a red fabric mask on stage and in press photos, provides a background in production and computer-based sounds that gives Adebisi Shank an extra boost when it comes to technological experimentation.

For Adebisi Shank, creating music isn’t an insular process that ends when the trio puts down its instruments. Particularly on Second Album, a close-knit community of talented musicians and friends helped to develop and flesh out new ideas. Peter Fraser, a regular in the London jazz scene, supplied horns on “International Dreambeat,” and Villagers front man Conor O’Brien supplemented the robotic vocals on “Europa.” The bulk of the sounds, however — particularly the abstract — are the result of the trio’s playful approach to the album. The three bashed marimbas together for “Longdrum” and toyed with loads of multi-tracked drums for “Bones” and “Frunk.”

With serious musical chops and a lighthearted sense of humor in tow, Adebisi Shank is poised to cause a stir in the USA with its explosive stateside debut. Yet for as much as it has grown since those first recording sessions, the band still speaks with an undeniably underdog humility. “I’d be happy if just one person likes it,” Roe says. “It’s really nice that more than one person likes it.”

Photography by Rich Gilligan

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