BIG BLACK CLOUD Just clownin’ around in Kevin Spacey’s basement from Seven!

THE PRE-ORIGINS of Big Black Cloud are somewhat scattered as its members left the South in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but the band more or less agrees that if a starting point had to be pinpointed, it would be on Christmas Eve a few years back, after they had settled in Portland. As sleeping children across the world were tucked away with visions of sugarplums in their heads, Big Black Cloud blasted music out of the garage until 4 am. "That's when the band started," says bassist Soo Koelbli. "And we got our first noise violation on Christmas Eve!"

They were initially called Here Comes a Big Black Cloud, and at one point the band's ranks swelled to eight, including dancers. The band has since streamlined both its name and its lineup, now a trio consisting of Koelbli, guitarist Nick Capello, and drummer Travis Wainwright. "It's a different band now," says Wainwright. "The three of us get along so well. Everything is so easy; writing songs is easy. There's no more bullshit. It's just stress free and fun."

They're noticeably close to each other, both onstage and off. As Capello says, "It's like a self-help band."

Big Black Cloud is tighter than ever, now in full command of a ferocious, rumbling sound that's heavier than punk, more primitive than garage, darker than doom—but somehow finding ample room for addictive melodies alongside the shrieks and squall. Last year's full-length, Dark Age, was a masterful record that was bleakly energetic, a dance party of delirium that visited severely fucked-up places but never felt oppressive. They're releasing Shitty Vibrations, a seven-song cassette, for their current national tour, and it's made up of odds and ends including a session recorded for the Frawg Pound web series. "Robert and Jeremy from Nucular Aminals do this internet show with local bands—mostly North and Northeast Portland bands," says Koelbli. "They play a few songs live and tape it, and then they do a kind of ridiculous interview. But Robert does a really great job of recording. You play it like it's a house show, but there's no audience."

There's also the title track, which Capello jokes is "just about people I know who have shitty attitudes and are crappy to be around, and everything around them is super annoying and negative." Like Big Black Cloud's other releases, Shitty Vibrations is available on their Stankhouse Records imprint, which has since become a DIY bastion in the Portland scene.

"We wanted to put out a record and didn't have anybody to put it out, so we just went for it," says Wainwright. "And it's gone crazy since then. I think it had been a dream of all of ours to run a record label, so we just decided to go for it."

The remaining tracks on Shitty Vibrations are from sessions for their upcoming album, which is recorded and mixed, but is currently languishing in a data recovery place in Wisconsin. The hard drive that contains all the final mixes crashed, and the band is hoping that they won't have to start all over again. "So it might be done, and it might not be," says Capello.

If or when it sees the light of day, the band characterizes it as their best work yet, despite the struggle to record it. "It put us all in a really weird mental state the week that we were actually recording the music and playing those songs over and over again," Koelbli says. "I think it's definitely our darkest set of songs thus far."