KUSIKIA Staring contest!

TWO MONTHS AGO, local duo Kusikia was all set up and ready to play a show in their North Portland basement. "Wait," drummer Peter Ryan calls to guitarist Nsayi Matingou, "we forgot to hug." They laugh, of course, in the same way you'd laugh if you forgot to switch on power to your amp. The two clasp together for an extended embrace, and when they break away and start their set, it's like they never let go.

Matingou melodically caresses her Stratocaster and stands—as she often will—back by Ryan's kit, while he looks up and locks eyes with his bandmate, his cymbals swelling to crescendo. As their set cathartically explodes, settles, and repeats, Kusikia fleshes out the kind of musical dialogue that only the best two-piece bands have—playing like there is no one else but them in the room, the two share a chemistry that is both musical and spiritual.

Ryan and Matingou began playing together in 2006 while living in Tacoma, Washington. By the time they moved to Portland in January 2009, the pair had released two albums and finely honed their friendship and musical rapport. Their name, Kusikia is a Swahili verb that means both "to hear" and "to feel." The moniker fits and describes them perfectly—their beautifully experimental auditory output resonates with as many senses as you've got.

Kusikia's guitar and drums interlock and interplay with syncopated timekeeping and tender, melodic finger-picking and hushed serenity before building and blistering into overdriven, crashing chaos. The pair's unique take on the tried and true dynamic exercise of attack and restraint—loud, quiet, loud—is all about the give and take between the duo. When they hit their wailing, distorted highs, Ryan's sticks scatter and flail about, jazzily accentuating the tumult. As they come back down, Matingou's delicate picking and hushed, vulnerable vocal cooing takes your ear. The arresting ebb and flow, something like Vashti Bunyan fronting Unwound, is a sight (and sound, and touch, etc.) to behold live, one that the duo hopefully captures on their brand-new record, Brown Town.