On Portrait Of, the sophomore offering from Los Angeles-based experimental quartet Similar Fashion, the group presents an intricate yet viscerally compelling musical object, full of inventive layering and development of musical material that remains very accessible, likely in part due to the tangibly joyful ensemble dynamic that you can’t help but smile at.
The band self-identifies as “Avant-Rollercoaster-Jazz-n-Roll”, and — in an era of bands trying to differentiate themselves through convoluted genre-identifiers — it would appear that Similar Fashion’s concept of self is right on the money. Portrait Of deals in absurdity and organic juxtaposition. From the somehow very melodic repeated single-note introduction to “Myra’s Fortune”, to the rollicking rhythmic oscillations of “Words Aren’t Things”, Similar Fashion intersperses covertly virtuosic instrumental ability, melodies that feel like folk songs thrown in a blender, frenetic noise, and some very deep grooves within Logan Hone’s joyfully labyrinthine compositions.
Drawing as much from various traditions of American Minimalism, songwriting, and art-rock as from their backgrounds as jazz musicians, saxophonist/vocalist Logan Hone, violist Lauren Baba, guitarist Greg Uhlmann, and drummer/vocalist Jesse Quebbeman-Turley have covered so much ground as an ensemble that in some ways they hardly bear resemblance to the band that appears on their 2015 debut. This is in part due to Quebbeman-Turley’s assumption of the drum chair from Similar Fashion’s original drummer Mike Lockwood. From behind the kit, Quebbeman-Turley channels Bonham-like bombast alongside sensitive musical awareness and a keen ear for melody — both in his role as drummer as well as in his contributions as a vocalist. The band also enlisted the producing talents of Deerhoof’s John Dietrich, whose direction is palpable less so in the moment-to-moment sequence of material, but rather in the overall sound of the record, harkening unsurprisingly to the larger-than-life art-punk of Dietrich’s own output.
Hone and Baba form something akin to a “front-line”, at least in that they deal with most of the instrumental melodic responsibility, but their interaction is deeply varied and thoughtful. When the two move in unison, they are an uncommon example of exceptionally well-matched articulation and phrasing between horn and string. When their voices separate, an unmistakable gravity between them outlines their individual orbits — signalling the inevitable cycle of departure and return that captures the richness of their dynamic.
The pole about which the ensemble revolves seems to be the unflinching foundation of Uhlmann’s guitar. Whether articulating a tangled lattice of 12/8 polyrhythms, joining a full-band unison, or laying down a bed of noise reminiscent of Fred Frith, Uhlmann is clearly always very conscious of the whole to which he is contributing, and does so with his characteristically rich and personal sound.
Full of captivating sonic subtleties, like the brilliantly deployed and unfamiliar sound of viola recorded direct on “One Moment Here” and the subtle warbling delay/tremolo in “My Heart & Lungs”, Portrait Of fits a wealth of highly varied information into a rather brief record, the nine tracks coming in at just over 30 minutes total. They seem to subscribe to the “leave them wanting more” model, and it worked. I definitely want more.