Sensory Overload: Funerals, Ex-Whites and New World Vultures

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The dawn of a new year seemed like a good time to see some new bands, so I spent last Friday and Saturday taking in Columbus musical acts of recent vintage.

In the afterglow of the Rose Bowl I headed to Circus, where the Nite Noise goth/darkwave/industrial dance party promised the debut of Funerals, a musical partnership between two prominent local rock figures of the early '00s who had fallen rather silent in the half-decade since I started paying attention.

The band pairs Mollie Wells, former singer of post-punk trio The Cinema Eye, with husband Casey Immel-Brown, best known for playing Euro- and Kiwi-influenced indie pop in Dub Noir.

A third conspirator, early Cinema Eye member Conrad Vollmer (also of The Fugue), is part of the official lineup but was absent from Circus on New Year's night - something about having to unexpectedly move to Portland. Very Bohemian.

That left Wells and Immel-Brown to perform Funerals' music, synth-heavy goth electro-bangers that I assume would go over great at Outland dance parties or in Tim Burton movie trailers.

This music is much glossier than anything its creators have released before, but its programmed beats and subterranean synth bass hit nearly as hard as the players' punk pedigree would suggest. It's just delivered with more subtlety and a pleasing minimalism. Even as layers of delay slapback and keyboard echo begin coagulating atop "Instead of Us," it's never more than absolutely necessary.

Delicate touch notwithstanding, listening to the few tracks they've leaked to MySpace had me thinking this would sound humongous. But Friday's biggest problem was how shy and unassuming the whole thing felt.

If your entire stage setup consists of one person huddled over a massive electronics rig and one standing front and center at the microphone, you've got to crank the levels and sell the drama. Losing Vollmer hurt; having more live instrumentation would have added heft to the sound and given the audience a little more to look at.

As it stood, Wells seemed tentative, as if still feeling her way around this music, and her hubby added little in the way of stage presence. I'm looking forward to hearing these excellent songs performed again - especially the gorgeous slow ascent of "Chains" - once the talented couple gets a few more appearances under their belt.

Saturday I stopped by Oldfield's on High, where they've been doing more punk and indie shows recently thanks to manager Drew Sherrick's taste for the abrasive and experimental. That yielded a double bill with two burgeoning Cafe Bourbon Street staples, Ex-Whites and New World Vultures.

Like Funerals, Ex-Whites combines members of previous notable Columbus acts, though these ones were active more recently. Feelers guitarists Aleks Shaulov and Jon Gray join Slide Machine singer-bassist Jeff Kleinman and drummer Colin Oden, whose credentials I'm not sure about.

I have no doubts about his talents, though, as dude was beastly behind the kit, helping Ex-Whites to far exceed my expectations. They played punk of several strains, from loose, melodic jams in an old-school vein to the barbarically intense number that opened the set.

Between tunes, Kleinman babbled incoherently, but during the songs he showed that the voice he used so hauntingly in The Slide Machine could be deployed successfully in a much more vicious fashion.

Listening to this band was like being clobbered by a pile of bricks, but thanks to a sly sense of melody and Kleinman's slightly sloshed antics, it felt like a fun bludgeoning. Always good to see a punk band that cares enough to sound tight as hell but not so much that they can't joke around a bit.

I wasn't as thrilled with New World Vultures. Bassist "Fred Hindu" and keyboard player "Disco D'arts" hail from Outer Spacist, and the overpowering influence of D'arts' trademark gaudy laser keyboard melodies made it tough not to compare the Vultures with his other band. One difference was singer-guitarist "Pat Vulture," who despite a slight off-his-rocker look couldn't match the charisma D'arts brings as frontman in Outer Spacist.

Lots of bands playing some boisterous blend of garage and punk end up sounding sloppy. It comes with the territory. But after the blistering set from Ex-Whites - and knowing how bombastic some of the Vultures can be in their other band - this act's inferior songwriting and stage presence seemed second-rate.

For more local music news and reviews, click to the Sensory Overload blog