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Aural Report

The Formless at North Portland's Million
Approaching sublime through a side door
by Kurt Dahlke

ow often is austerity on anyone's mind? Perhaps never, maybe once or twice if you're thinking something ill about a distant relation.

The Formless: exactingly handcrafted bricks of the uncanny, punk style.

But austerity's not all bad, and while I've long been a proponent of its more esoteric applications, I think Brenden Clenaghen may just be Portland's austerity king.

In addition to being a hyper-formalist conceptual painter (his obsessively crafted works have a humor and sensuality in stark contrast with their exacting production methods), he's half of the duo The Formless. The band pummeled a hot August Thursday night into abject submission at Million in North Portland.

As a super-indie all ages club, Million is in itself quite austere – your basic black box with a bench against the wall. No smoking, no drinking, not even water for sale, as far as I could tell.

But you definitely don't need any of that to bring sincerely elsewhere music like this to the kids (and geezers like me), and it needs to be done. Now if the kids will just break the 15-ft. horseshoe of empty territory in front of the stage that forms at many shows …

Brenden Clenaghen: working-class black and an iconoclast's measured gaze.

This might not have been a bad idea in this case, however. Ears might bleed if found too close to the stentorian aggro-Goth punk coolly stamped out like so many sheets of molten metal by The Formless, more like godheadSilo than The White Stripes.

Those contradictions are functional though, and nice. The extreme focus with which guitarist Clenaghen and drummer Chelsea Mosher mete out their cubist garage rock makes the music appear all the more wild. Even while Clenaghen, in working-class casual black, stands stolidly in 3/4 view facing back toward Mosher, only occasionally casting an iconoclast's measured gaze into the recesses of the room

Clenaghen plays a severely overdriven Gibson at 'cuda-speed through dark melodies and cyclic anti-surf riffs while barking things into the microphone that sound at best discontented. And when he wants to show his cards a bit, his guitar makes sounds like a laser through metal.

Very cool.

Chelsea Mosher: a math-Neanderthal with drumsticks and more gallop than groove.

Meanwhile, Mosher's drums are literally pounded across the floor by her punishing attack. Her lines are a bit more gallop than groove, with lots of nice tom-thrashing in concordance with the heavy atmosphere.

She's a math-Neanderthal with those sticks, while also doing most of the singing; evil, cryptic, howling vocals.

The Formless should be the house band for Land of the Lost; they could play for the Sleestaks, that monkey, the secretly wild dad and one of the dinosaurs, if you catch my drift.

I can't sum them up any better than that, really; exactingly handcrafted bricks of the uncanny, punk style, delivered with a slight wink and hardly another word.

Both things apply tight focus and rigid control to approach the sublime through a side door.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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