Without question, it's the greatest record ever made... in Lake Oswego. Eyes at Half Mast, record number three for local instrumental duo Talkdemonic, was set to tape in the Lake O, but not at a recording studio. Instead it was created in a large empty home. "It's this mini-mansion of a house with wood floors and six bedrooms, just sitting there," explains drummer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin O'Connor. "I walked through, clapped a little bit, and then realized it was the perfect solution to figuring out where we were going to record all the strings."
One of three locales the band utilized for recording purposes—but the only one that had a hot tub—the band took advantage of the property in order to intently focus and work on carefully assembling their record without the running clock of a traditional studio. Well, it wasn't all work, as violist Lisa Molinaro explains: "We would get up, drink a lot of coffee, go to the French bakery, drink some more coffee, record until nine or 10 at night, and then go have martinis."
This relaxed atmosphere—combined with caffeine jitters—pulsates throughout Eyes at Half Mast, a seamless continuation of the natural Darwinist crawl of Talkdemonic. 2004's Mutiny Sunshine was the electronic record, '06's Beat Romantic incorporated banjo-plucking folk music to their already established electronic sound (but if you dare utter the godawful "folktronic" tag, Molinaro will more than likely beat you with her viola), and now, Eyes at Half Mast bridges their past ingenuity with a concise beat-heavy flair for tightly wound instrumental songs. All of which are succinct and deliberately constructed to play from start to finish, instead of being dissected into a series of instant gratification MP3s. Says O'Connor, "There was probably 36 to 40 different track listings that we went through just to get the flow right, so it's completely cohesive and works together." And while the current musical tides roll away from the days of the monolithic strength of the complete album, the band isn't fretting or losing any sleep over it. "We're making records. We're not making singles," explains O'Connor.
The finest moment in the record they made comes in "Shattered into Dyes," a song that pulsates with a deeply muffled booming drum sound—a desperate pulse akin to the fists-on-metal SOS pounding of panicked sailors trapped in a sunken vessel—while Molinaro's viola notes slice gracefully through the surrounding noise. Throughout Half Mast there are mammoth instrumental washes brushed with heroic swipes of swirling keyboards, Molinaro's soaring viola, and the omnipresent drums.
O, the glorious drums. O'Connor makes a persuasive bid for the crown of best drummer on Planet Post-Rock—with all due respect to Mr. John McEntire—and his inventive beats are the glorious backbone of Talkdemonic. This impressive showing behind the kit is not based on overindulgence—if anything, he's quite subtle in his rhythm-making—but instead it is his range which neatly transitions from the aforementioned distorted thwack of "Shattered into Dyes," to the restrained jazz bounce of "Dust and Heat," to the guiding pace of "Civilian." That song, like so many songs on Half Mast, quickly draws the listener in with its wildly inventive sound before it abruptly ends. Just like that. No grandiose post-rock crescendo, no cresting wave and impending crash, just another track waiting in the wings. Half Mast is downright urgent—a rarity in the meandering world of instrumental acts who often make up for their lack of words with trudging soundtracks best suited for an afternoon siesta—with only a few tracks topping the three minute mark.
But Talkdemonic's quick songs are not empty songs. The emotional weight of the songs that create Half Mast permeates the album, and O'Connor, who lost his father during the songwriting process, is a firm believer that a recording can be expressive without leaning on the crutch of lyrics. "For me, all that grief came out into the music. It's actually easier, I think, not having to vocalize or cheapen it through lyrics. Some of the songs are really hard to play now because there's so much attached to it, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that way for other people. It doesn't have to be a death record."
This blank canvas approach is paramount to the band. While they camp out in Lake Oswego or hunch close on late night van rides across the country while on tour, there is no doubting the devotion of Molinaro and O'Connor, but ultimately their music is what you make of it. "There's no theme," explains O'Connor. "It's whatever the listener brings to it, which I think is one of the better parts of our music. We don't say how they should feel about it or paint the story. It's your own story. It's your own soundtrack."