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Ravishers - Ravishers

When Portland quintet Ravishers played their midnight set at MusicfestNW, singer Dominic Castillo cracked dry, self-deprecating jokes about his appearance, thanking Don Johnson for the loan of his white blazer and Zack Galifianakis for his unkempt beard. In highlighting these two aspects of his look, Castillo perfectly captured his band's sound: scraggly sophisti-pop. On the one hand, the dozen cuts on their debut album, Ravishers, fit right into the contemporary indie rock niche, where electric guitars grunt and chime over chugging rhythms, while the lead singer's lips drip out disaffected lines. Just below this shrugged-off surface, however, lie tight arrangements, restrained playing, and smart songwriting.

An early highlight on the album, "The Chase" opens with the same kind of skeletal, staccato boogie as Spoon (see: "Don't Make Me a Target" or "Is Love Forever"). However, whereas a typical Spoon song will continue to mine a minimalist groove, the Ravishers tune blooms into a full-on catchy chorus, before deliquescing into a graceful piano-centered break. The following track - another of the album's best - is "Cruel Love," a song that seems to have found the perfect middle ground between the brainy pop of Elvis Costello and the garage-y indie rock of The Strokes. It's a bit scruffy, but also smart as a whip. Another immediately pleasing track is "Keep You Around," an indie pop ditty through and through, complete with handclaps, crisp drumming, and plucky guitar picking. The spare and languid "Pinhole" showcases Ravishers' deft touch and good ear for arranging - a delicate drum fill here, a two-note guitar lead there. Everything is in its proper place, but the band bring a loose charm to the tune, as well.

Castillo, it turns out, is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, which is basically the jazz 'n' pop version of Juilliard. So, it's no surprise that Ravishers's material is built of more intricate stuff than three chords and a snappy beat. I won't pretend to have transcribed any of these tunes, but it's clear that these guys know how to wield minor sevenths and key changes with the kind of sly dexterity that makes it all sound easy. In other words, the songs feel more simple than they are. Frankly, unless you're into prog rock or jazz, you don't actually want to pay attention to a good songwriter's tricks; like when watching a skilled magician, you just want to revel in the prestige.

On Ravishers, the band's chops are all but invisible. You could listen to this record a dozen times without consciously realizing just how damn good it is. Although I knew instantly that I dug the album, it took me a while to realize that it had insinuated itself into my life. A few months later, listening to Ravishers is as habitual and enjoyable as sipping an afternoon latté, or walking your dog, or whatever it is that consistently brings you a measure of joy. Check out Ravishers, and add another daily pleasure to your life.

Recommended Tracks: "The Chase," "Cruel Love," "Keep You Around"

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