First impressions are huge, especially in music. It’s no wonder, then, that Animal Eyes bears a certain resemblance to another beloved Portland band, discovered during its formative years.
Colin McArthur first heard Menomena while living in Homer, Alaska, population 5,000. Dubbed the “halibut fishing capital of the world,” Homer is a gritty maritime town, where the possibility is high that the barfly at the next stool is also a Deadliest Catch cast member. Or, as McArthur describes it, “a crazy little hippie, redneck town where people go to hide away.”
Other than mainstay bar bands, there wasn’t much going on musically in Homer. But the mother of McArthur’s longtime friend and bandmate, drummer Haven Multz Matthews, owned a record store in town. In 2007, she turned the then-high-school juniors on to Menomena’s Friend and Foe album. Everything changed.
“It blew our minds,” McArthur says.
Three years later, McArthur, Matthews and their friends Sam Tenhoff, Tyler Langham and Tyler Figley moved to Portland and formed Animal Eyes, a band that manages to show its debt to Menomena’s staggering art rock without sounding like a glorified tribute act. Playing spacious, syncopated progressive rock, the band shifts gears so often within a single track it takes stamina just to keep up. Like Menomena and its other audible influence, Animal Collective, Animal Eyes shares vocal duties, creating a dueling sense of tension. The band introduced itself to Portland with Found in the Forest in 2011, an experimental but accessible collection of harmonious jams pulsing with explosive percussion, Deadhead guitar riffing and clever, jazzy time signatures.
“It’s a mess of noise in our heads,” McArthur says.
Newly released EP Ursus—Latin for “bear,” harking back to the members’ Alaskan roots—shows the quintet continuing its toothy assault on the standardized rock-’n’-roll format. Ursus opens with “Bender,” a trippy, towering track in which Matthews sounds like he swapped his snare for an aluminum trashcan lid. It’s a clamorous and rhythmic declaration that the EP’s next four songs are not going to be in any way traditional. “Last Knock” is where the band reveals its new secret weapon: the accordion, another product of motherly intuition. “Sam’s mom gave it to him as a gift, so we started writing songs around it,” McArthur says. The song bursts into a swaying, rum-soaked nautical ballad, conjuring for the band members foggy images of the southern Alaskan coastline.
Clearly, Animal Eyes hasn’t forgotten where it came from.
“Alaska was where we
got the time and space and our early inspirations,” McArthur says. “But
Portland is our testing ground, where we’ve spent a lot of time learning
what it’s actually like to be in a band.”
SEE IT: Animal Eyes plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Desert Noises and Tiger Merritt, on Wednesday, Nov. 6. 8:30 pm. $7. 21+.