High up on The Ascetic Junkies' MySpace page is a defiant declaration: “not a folk/bluegrass band.”
That's true, though Graham Houser's banjo plays such a prominent role in the Portland-based quintet's sound, you can forgive — or at least understand — those who paint them into a string-band corner.
But banjo be damned, The Ascetic Junkies — formed by core couple Matt Harmon and Kali Giaritta after they moved from the East Coast — are a pop band through and through, and nowhere is that more evident than on their brand new album, “This Cage Has No Bottom,” released earlier this week on Timber Carnival Records. The Junkies will celebrate their new album tonight in Bend (see “If you go”).
“Cage” is filled to the brim with everything that's great about the Junkies: lively arrangements, spirited, sparkling melodies and bright-eyed boy/girl vocals as far as the ear can hear. Lyrically, Harmon and Giaritta walk a line between playful and provocative, delivering lines about life, death, whiskey and religion via hooks so cheerful, they sweep aside the world-weary feel that runs through these songs.
The result is a sound that combines the rootsy cool of neo-bluegrassers The Avett Brothers, the radiant charm of Mates of State's fluttery indie-pop, and the carnivalesque racket of early Of Montreal, wrapped loosely in Portland's DIY ethos. (“Cage” was recorded in “every room except the kitchen” of the Harmon/Giaritta house, and several songs feature the beer-fueled stomps, claps and vocals of four of the Junkies' friends.)
On the album's first track, “Why Do Crows?,” Harmon and Giaritta sing: “Why do musicians try to drag you along with the weight of their pain when they sing?” It's a fair question, and they have an answer that sort of sums up their band.
“My love don't worry. There's no need to fret,” they sing. “Yeah we're all going to die, but it won't happen yet, so ... ”
So what? So yeah ... this world can be a drag sometimes. For 12 songs and 39 minutes, at least, let's plug our ears, sing at the top of our lungs, and drown it all out.