By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Listening to Black Habit, you do mentally picture a circle: three young women facing each other, their instruments co-existing amiably rather than being tightly locked to form a single-minded rock machine. The guitar, usually but not always played by Nina Mehta, is all spidery flickers and crabwise sidling; the keyboards, usually but not always played by Rosko, trill delicately or loop into gently propulsive patterns; the drums, usually but not always played by Abby Portner, don't lay down a backbeat, but lope alongside the other instruments or erupt in bursts of vivid expressiveness. The vocals, sung by all three, also have a bursting quality, a piercing sweetness shading into dissonance that comes to the fore on lovely songs like "You Remind Me" and "Teepee." This group can get fairly deranged: "Is He Handsome" is daubed with electronic noise, while "Scape Aside" devolves through cacophonous guitar and cawing strings into a bestial chorale of babble and gibber. But generally, Rings offer a free music that doesn't banish prettiness, intimacy, or tenderness.
Evidently the product of diligent craft and conceptual forethought, Black Habit nonetheless manages to seem "artless," that old avant-garde dream of "making music like it's being made for the first time." It's a tall order in this data-saturated, knowingness-afflicted age, and some would argue a suspect fantasy in the first place. (I'd half-forgotten why it was ever considered a good idea, but Rings reminded me.) Shedding all those ingrained preconceptions opens up at least the possibility of creating the proverbial "something new" under the sun. If the band doesn't completely disable the reference-point-spotting sector of my brain (my problem far more than theirs), they come real close on this wondrous album.
Rings play Glasslands January 20 with Avey Tare and Kria Brekkan, myspace.com/theglasslands.