Record Review - 1 May 06 2004

The songs on Portland quintet the Standard’s third full-length, Wire Post to Wire, took two years to craft — a fact made apparent from the scope of the first sprawling number. The album progresses from 2002’s August with epic songs that are urgent and tense, yet avoids falling into the crescendo-laden soft-loud-soft pattern that plagues so much post-rock and indie rock. The Standard expertly encapsulates a taut throb, and angular, agitated transatlantic tradition filtered down from and through Mission of Burma, Brian Eno and Clinic.

The Standard relies on traditional rock instruments — guitar, bass, drums and keys — to create a sort of sonic seven-layer salad, where each layer is flavorful in its own right, but no ingredient bullies the others out of the bowl. Stuttering, reverb-drenched guitar bounces through most of the tracks, playing off of Jay Clarke’s elegant piano and Rob Duncan’s unrelenting drum pounding. Instead of creating a homogenous mish-mash of sound, these instruments build off each other, allowing the listener to take in as much as he or she is willing.

Vocally, however, the album isn’t quite as consistent. Although Tim Putnam’s quavering, warbled voice can be a key source of intensity in the more bombastic songs, such as “Even Numbers” and “A Black Machine,” in softer tracks like “Unicorns and Chemicals” he sounds downright silly. These moments are few and far between, however, as the bulk of the album is passionate, original and eloquently intense. Wire Post to Wire is deliberate in its pace, leading you through shifts of tempo, mood and instrumentation, but never quite where you’re expecting.

The Standard performs at the Earl Tues., May 11. 9 p.m. $8.