Aspiring toward a future on the stage, Nedelle Torrisi started her first band at age 11. Accompanied by a Casio keyboard and modeled on R&B acts like En Vogue, the group sang of finding, and getting respect from, the perfect man. A mere two years later, her hopes of a Broadway career were dashed when a director informed her, “Nedelle, theater is a triple-threat business.” (Which is a polite way of saying, “Nedelle, you can’t dance.”)
But her love for drama and song never left, and only a few years later she was releasing solo albums on the Kill Rock Stars label. She eventually joined up with The Curtains, a band founded by former Deerhoof guitarist Chris Cohen, who was looking to explore musical turf beyond the noisy, avant-garde rock he’d been playing for years. Torrisi, with her indie-folk and singer/songwriter leanings, seemed to be an ideal collaborator.
“We wanted to play music that was theatrical but very spare,” says Torrisi. “Chris also wanted to explore more conventional songwriting. Chris’ sensibilities aren’t really all that weird. They are definitely different though. But then, so are mine. That’s why we like playing together.”
Dropping Cohen’s deconstructionist mentality for a more accessible and listener-friendly style, the two began a project that, with the addition of percussionist Michael Carreira, would ultimately become known as Cryptacize.
Interestingly, Carreira auditioned for the band via a YouTube video (currently available on the group’s MySpace page), which shows him using only a small mallet and his hand to explore a wide range of sounds and rhythms on a simple cowbell. His originality seemed like a perfect match for the sound Torrisi and Cohen were hoping to explore. As Torrisi puts it, “Michael really brought in the arrangement aspect.”
You could almost go as far as to say that there is an enigmatic and never-seen fourth member of Cryptacize: silence. The band uses silence, or, more accurately, the spaces between the notes, in a manner often ignored by mainstream music. Far from being in the purely experimental way that makes some deconstructionist music come across as ponderous, inaccessible or, even worse, dull, Cryptacize’s use of the lack of sound makes the songs more engaging. It’s a welcome pause between the drama, a soft transition between moments. It could easily fail, but it doesn’t.
Torrisi’s flair for drama and melody, partnered with Cohen’s unique sensibilities and Carreira’s subtly unconventional percussion and arrangement, add up to an immensely rewarding gestalt. Together they make music that is sparse, dreamy, unpredictable and occasionally disorienting. At times, it can be pensive and haunting, such as songs like “Willpower.” It can also be jaunty and frivolous, as in “Cosmic Sing-a-long.” (The latter song’s opening line, “Every note is an unfinished song,” could function as a mission statement for the band.)
This is music that lets the notes linger and chords ring out. It’s a tasteful, uncluttered and beautifully melodic structure that supports the band’s tendency to veer off in unexpected directions, with frequent changes in key and tempo. But being wonderfully experimental doesn’t mean Cryptacize’s music is great for every mood.
“Just don’t come expecting to dance and rock out,” says Torrisi of the band’s live performances. “You’ll be disappointed.”
[David Cole an Asheville-based freelance writer.]
who: Cryptacize with WHY?
what: Indie rock
where: Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, March 19. 9 p.m. ($7. www.thegreyeagle.com or 242-5800)