Locals: The Pleasant Tense moves from the studio to the stage
The Pleasant Tense initially launched as a studio project in 2012, with former Mount Carmel drummer Kevin Skubak writing and recording all the musical parts, and Marnee Richardson lacing the tracks with her soul-steeped vocals.
Shortly after, however, the pair started to get the itch to perform the songs live, and by July 2013 the project had grown into a five-piece featuring Richardson on vocals and Skubak on keyboards, and rounded out by guitarist Andrew Sais, bassist Raad Shubaily and drummer Seth Daily. The material has continued to evolve and expand in similar fashion - a creative maturation evident throughout the band's new, four-song EP, Easy Art, which the musicians will celebrate with a record release show at Spacebar on Saturday, Dec. 13.
Songs like "Magic 137" and the slow-burning, melodic "Speak" still have roots in blues and soul (Richardson grew up listening to the likes of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, and the genre continues to exert a gravity-like pull), but the tunes often move in unexpected directions, incorporating noisy interludes, jazzy asides (Shubaily and Daily are jazz players by trade) and experimental progressions influenced by bands like Radiohead, a favorite of Sais'.
Despite these musical advancements, the growth is most evident in the songwriting, which stretches far beyond heart-heavy, he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not sighs. On "Magic 137" Richardson bemoans the negative effects of electronics on person-to-person communication, scolding, "I dare you to be honest to my face!" "Trigger Happy," in turn, touches on the violence surrounding United States gun culture - a particularly timely exploration considering current events.
Richardson, 26, said she initially wrote the song as a means of wrestling with the death of Detroit teenager Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed after knocking on the door of a stranger's home in 2013, though its meaning has grown to encompass "all the other gun violence issues going on in the country now," including the August death of teenager Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
"As you get older you stop being afraid, and it's like, 'Fuck it. I'm going to say this,'" said Richardson, a Xenia, Ohio, native whose mother performed in the now-defunct Dayton-area band Relations Plus One. "It feels good to get everything out there."
So far audiences have responded well to The Pleasant Tense's decision to tread this sometimes less-than-pleasant ground, though the crew's still-developing sound has occasionally left both fans and band members struggling to find the proper label for its music.
"I guess we've started to shy away from the blues and soul and gone more toward indie-pop, but it's really hard to describe," Richardson said. "We had a drunk fan say that we sounded like Etta James playing over Led Zeppelin, and I was like, 'That's debatable.' But I still really like the description."
9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13
2590 N. High St., Campus
ALSO PLAYING: Mary Lynn, Dickie & the Dailys