SHOKO HORIKAWA and Jesse Hall are sprawled out on the grass of a Southeast park. There is wine. A little dog stomps through our interview. The sun is out. It's just about perfect. If there were ever a pair of musicians that can appreciate such a time, it's Experimental Dental School. Back in town after a Canadian tour, and prepping for yet another five-week American trek, Horikawa and Hall are undeniably content squinting beneath the soft haze of the summer sun.
But for Horikawa and Hall, it's not all lazy afternoons in the grass. In fact, it's two against the world. To them, Experimental Dental School is not a hobby, it's their life: They follow a daily practice regimen. They pack up a compact car—the true advantage of playing in a two-piece band—and spend weeks upon weeks crossing the American interstate grid. They board a plane and traverse Europe—where the band is best appreciated—and are preparing for their inaugural tour of Japan later this year. Hall best describes their move-or-die philosophy: "I'm not really happy unless we're playing or spending time writing."
It's a constant hustle for the relocated pair, who, in abandoning their hometown of Oakland, lost a band member in the process. Drummer Ryan Chittick remained in the Bay Area when the band headed north, but EDS failed to miss a beat, with Horikawa rotating to the kit as the band thinned down to a close-knit duo. After a pair of recordings that illustrated a sprawling range, but little direction, the latest incarnation of EDS released the superb Forest Field. While the 10-track album is available in tangible CD format, its main distribution point is as a free download (experimentaldental.com/free). "The idea, from the beginning, was 'let's give it away,'" says Hall. "Obviously that's not an original idea—that's being done a lot—but when I really thought about it, it's so awesome to be able to not have $10 stand in the way of somebody enjoying our music."
Forest Field is both caustic and gorgeous. Hall is all rough edges, a technically precise guitar/bassist—his custom-assembled guitar is modified with a lone bass string—with a rough and unyielding post-punk howl. He is the masculine foil to the amorous coo of Horikawa. Yet while her voice is left exposed amid the difficult time changes and technical wizardry of most EDS material, Horikawa holds her own behind the kit. A ferocious drummer with a tender voice—"I have an explosive side and a very soft side," she politely explains—Horikawa is the post-punk equilibrium to Hall's untamed recklessness, the balance that holds this duo together, and in the live setting she is one of the most entertaining figures you'll ever find onstage. The sheer skill and unbridled joy she expresses is enough to renew the faith of any doubter, those whose musical appreciation has numbed over the years.
A fragile balance is the crux of what EDS creates on Forest Field. A battle played out in song, the two dismantle their stiff arrangements (think meticulous blasts of math rock, akin to A Minor Forest), with a steady dose of visionary pop music (Blonde Redhead's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is a good comparison). "Shoko's personality is very different than mine," Hall explains. "She has more of a flower side, I have more of a machine side."