BED'S got a silly name. But not quite as silly as their original band name, Darth Vanderslice. "I wonder if we've helped sell mattresses," guitarist and vocalist Sierra Haager jokes.
Since meeting in 2013, Haager and her husband Alex (bass/vocals) have left San Francisco, moved to Portland, gotten married, and started playing music together—all after bonding over a few key records from bands like the Delgados, Grandaddy, Low, and Yo La Tengo. Now in 2016 they've whittled out a spot for their self-described "slow-fi" project in the local landscape.
The "slow-fi" descriptor might be a tongue-in-cheek play on the lo-fi genre, but it's not inaccurate—the five tracks (four of which Bed had previously released) of slow-motion pop on the band's new EP, Klickitat, soften the moldy bleakness of Pacific Northwest garage with warm, crackling fuzz.
"In terms of the fuzzy sound, our songs have almost no guitar chords," Sierra says. "Almost all the stuff you hear that sounds like rhythm guitar is [Alex's] bass chords.... It's not that no one else does that, it's just not the most common way to play bass."
All too often fuzz sounds like sheet metal going through a cheese grater, resulting in staticky distortion that rebels against clarity with punk ambivalence. But the dusky tones of Bed's bass-driven noise soothe rather than grate, swaddling listeners in layers of cocooned sound.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the EP's opener, "The Rule," which immediately begins with melting melodies that coalesce around twinkly guitar riffs and sanguine harmonies. "I guess 'The Rule' is about coming to terms with the fact that you're not the exception," says Sierra.
She notes that this sentiment echoes the understanding that your band might not change the world, and "trying to find an adult identity for yourself when your main focus in life is being a musician. The way that it's set up and right now, and the way it's been set up for a while, especially in the United States, being a musician isn't really a viable anything anymore."
Much of Klickitat is music about making music. It reflects on the difficulties of devoting time and energy to being a musician even though it's not a very bountiful career option. Its five songs are linked by this undercurrent of tension, but the couple's alternating vocals seem to answer each other's worries with unyielding comfort. On "Fremm" Sierra sings, "We shouldn't wait" and Alex responds, "I'm on your side/We will never die."
The EP's final track, "Billy Joel," is one of its best moments—through stormy fuzz Alex despondently sings of failing the Myers-Briggs test and standing in the rain before crying out, "As long as Leonard Cohen's alive!"
At just under 20 minutes, Klickitat is frustratingly short. It's a normal length for an EP, but nevertheless leaves you pouting for more. Luckily this angst won't last long, since Bed's got their debut full-length on deck, slated for release later this year. But for now, enjoy playing Klickitat on repeat.