Turning Tighter 

Portland collective spins a psychedelic web.

In the early '90s, British journalist and composer David Toop wrote that "music in the future will almost certainly hybridise hybrids to such an extent that the idea of a traceable source will become an anachronism." Well, at least part of the future may have arrived a little earlier than expected, and the monorail station is in, of all places, Portland freakin' Oregon.

"We all like tons of different music," says Rollerball's Mae Starr, "so I think it just comes out when we collaborate and write. We don't even know where it comes from -- maybe it's what's inside of us from everyday life." There's a psychic family thing going on with the quintet, three of whose members share a house, and all of whom migrated from Montana over the course of the '90s. The band skirts the brink of avant-garde skronk, rolling around in improvised prog-rock and psychedelia, pulling off a lusher version of Faust's odd funk through the collision of electronics and keyboards, Amanda Mason Wiles and Shane DeLeon's horns, and the rhythm section of Mini Wagonheel and Gilles. DeLeon and Starr drop cabaret vocals that are part in-joke, part surrealistic spiritual. Sometimes they're Cerberus Shoal with a far sillier sense of humor and no guitar. ("We like guitar," Starr insists. "We just don't have it in our band.") Other times they're a sprawling, lo-fi Calexico.

Ah, but the sprawl. The sprawl has been cut on Rollerball's new album, Real Hair (Silber). After three full-lengths and numerous EPs recorded at the band's home studio, they enlisted outside help and laid down the new album in Seattle in three days with producer Randall Dunn. The time constraints and outside influence show in Real Hair's tightness; the songs are shorter, and, in their brevity, less overwhelmingly gloomy. And, Starr says, Dunn is now a member of the Rollerball family.

The band may have compressed its structure, but it can still take you around the world in just a few minutes. "Starling," built around one of Starr's many memorable piano figures, curls up all electronic and radio-friendly, a slanted pop song with a pan-clattering breakdown and a juicy refrain closed out by synthetic steel drums. "Hecho En," despite its title, is a post-raga number, with the horns playing Middle Eastern scales and Gilles' percussion padding delicately around the marketplace, underneath Starr and DeLeon moaning about their "forefathers dressed in drag," eventually turning into a Neu-like Krautrock gallop and shimmering away.

The album is fairly upbeat and, according to the band, its live shows are starting to reflect that. With a number of Portland musicians passing away, and the band's Croatian tour contact suffering a fatal heart attack shortly after they'd left him, a certain amount of accentuating the positive has surely been necessary. "Not that it's easy to accept death," Starr says, "but it happens every day, so you've got to get used to it. It's just all material things, anyway, down here. You have to think beyond that. And that's what music's for."

Rollerball will be at the Stork Club on Saturday night with the Rubber City Rebels, Eddie Haskells, and Everything Must Go; Sunday in Sacramento; and Monday at the Make-Out Room in SF with Stara Nova and Bermuda Triangle Service.


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