THE ACCIDENTAL THEME of Dramady's second LP appeared as they were writing "I Wanna Be Good."
"I was like, 'Wait a minute, all these songs are about wanting to be good,'" says Zacery Stanley. "All the songs are pretty much about being bad and trying to be a better person."
So it goes for longtime Portland duo Dramady, rounded out by Stanley's partner, bassist/saxophonist Amanda Mason Wiles. Answer Only to the Sea is the band's first concerted effort to turn their seemingly minimalist approach into a more refined, focused pop sensibility. It's also one of the more dynamic and fun rock records to come out of Portland this year.
Wiles and Stanley met while working together at a Portland café around 2005, and the pair's overbooked band regimen—a roll call of past projects like Narwhal vs. Narwhal, Pink Widower, Six Foot Sloth, and Miss Massive Snowflake—spurred their desire to trim down to a core thrust of organic songwriting in a comfortable environment. And with way fewer people involved.
The first Dramady release came in 2007, shortly after they formed, shaping a multi-instrumentalist, two-pronged assault that displayed Stanley's simultaneous drums-keyboards-vocals hybrid, along with Wiles' bass loops, vocals, and saxophone. Their wild live incarnation remains something of an anomaly—even among two-piece bands—but the recording for Answer Only to the Sea necessitated a bit more focus to achieve a more cohesive, polished product.
"Live is one thing, because maybe it's fun and entertaining to watch two people try to do a million things at one time," says Wiles, "but when you're listening to something in your headphones, it's apparent that there were spots we needed to fill."
Those spots are now few and far between. Some guitar and extra percussion peppers the LP. Mostly, though, Answer is a spontaneous explosion of pop-leaning confessionals, as Stanley leads the way with matter-of-fact pontifications on subjects as far-reaching as burying an animal in a backyard cemetery ("Diggin' a Hole") to wishing he were at home instead of wasting time at the bar ("Go Home").
The Pixies-ish "I Wanna Be Good" is an apt prism through which to view the Wiles-Stanley tandem, a song whose chorus implores, "Break it all down/Stop fucking around/Turn it into sound." It's a song so simply engaging and toe-tapping that it's hard to argue with its elementary message.
The album relies on repetition, too, mainly through Stanley's unavoidable limitations at one-handed drumming. However, the songs take on vibrant lives of exploration thanks to his other hand's melodic keyboard work, as well as Wiles' dynamic bass lines and saxophone outbursts.
The sheen of the album is also due in no small part to the band's decision to play to a click track for the first time ever. "I can't really embellish very much playing with one hand," admits Stanley. "At a certain point, I'm just thinking I should have the drums be perfect and play to a click and do the same thing: perfect snare sound every time instead of flubby, organic, wavering sounds."
"That's one thing that he did do," says Wiles. "He stayed pretty true to the one-handed drumming on the recording. He didn't cheat. Much."