Like all things that fall outside the lines of convention, emancipation from the norm has a tendency to stir the pot. And the response to the nonconformist, hook-free, noise-infused sound of Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death (TOLSATD) is no exception.
Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death With Flaccidero, White, and Kid Congo Powers & the Pink Monkey Birds. Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., 206- 784-4880, www.sunsettavern.com. $10. 9 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 16.
"It was the most divided audience I've ever seen at any kind of event ever—it was like we were at a European soccer match or something," says TOLSATD's bespectacled and bearded frontman, Spencer Moody, recalling the crowd's response to a performance the band gave at Portland's Crystal Ballroom while on tour with indie giants Modest Mouse in 2004. At any given performance, showgoers—prepared or not—can expect anything from Moody leaping into someone's arms to extended bouts of screaming, practically dislocating his jaw while encasing the mike in his mouth.
"We really bummed some people out on that tour," he says, "but we also got some e-mails from kids who were excited about us saying that they'd never seen anything like it before and didn't know that [making music like that] was possible." After leaving his five-year post as frontman for raucous Seattle outfit Murder City Devils (who disbanded Halloween night 2001 and reunited for a weekend this summer), Moody was feeling saturated with the structured punk-rock style of music MCD was known for. He wanted to see what else was possible.
"[MCD] were all about, like, being a rock and roll band," he says. "I guess I wasn't as interested in doing that anymore. I was more interested in doing something that didn't have a framework attached to it. I didn't want to be chained to a specific set of rules or a certain kind of songwriting."
Driven to strike out in an entirely different direction, Moody—along with longtime friend and former MCD merch slinger Corey Brewer (Bright Shiny Objects)—formed a band that would allow them greater freedom to challenge the limitations of traditional rock.
"Triumph of Lethargy was a way to completely start over from absolutely zero," he says of the project that resulted.
Moody and Brewer have since welcomed MCD and Modest Mouse alum Dann Gallucci into the fold, and, following 2005's Helpless and a split 7-inch of Leonard Cohen covers with A Gun Called Tension, the three-piece released Dead Rhythm, a 13-song collaborative effort on Go Midnight Records, on Nov. 14. Written in pieces while Moody was living in New York, the record is a collage. The songs were crafted by way of the Postal Service with each member writing parts, then mailing them to the others for input and development.
The outcome, while still far from mainstream material, however, is a slight departure from the anti-structure. You could almost slow dance to songs like "Bad Captain," which is softly adorned with plucky, catchy guitar riffs repeating throughout that could appeal to those who like their experimental music with more controlled variables. "The Scissors," a gentle and melodic lullaby with uplifting Stevie Wonder–channeling keyboards, follows suit save for the contrastingly morbid lyrics like, "This is the scalpel/That I'll use/To remove the tears from my eyes" and "These are the scissors/That I will use/To cleave the fingers/From my hands."
For the bulk of the record, however, TOLSATD keep within the confines of having no confines. Midalbum track "Down and Out" is a two-minute interlude of good old-fashioned pulsating, lyric-free static noise, while "Gone" is all buzzing drone and frantic violin.
There is no denying the addition of more palatable elements may make their music easier to digest for the undiscerning ear. But there's also no mistaking that TOLSATD will continue to have audiences divided as they stay their course, giving convention the finger with free-form fundamentals.