Martian Landscape

"Five of the Eyes are one of the newest "rawk" bands in Portland to hit the scene: They're direct, straightforward and unabashed in the way they just love to "rawk". This isn't to say their music is boneheaded, no, nor is it too simple.  It's just that their big, loud music is clearly and happily indebted to the classics, unpretentious and altogether unconcerned with being hip.  It's a refreshing vibe in a city that can sometimes feel like a tiny Brooklyn, musically speaking.  The five piece formed early on in 2014, and now they're making their recorded debut with the audacious self-produced EP FOTE.  Fans of dexterous and riffy rock take note, this is your jam.

Right from the get-go, Five of the Eyes wear their influences on their sleeves.  Opener "Isabella" is a dead-ringer for late period Mars Volta.  Singer Darrell Foster croons, incants and shrieks in a highly dramatic fashion.  His voice is equal parts smoky and operatic, shifting quickly from a sultry low register up and into high, keening wails that'll zap heavy music fans right back to the hard rocking seventies and eighties.  Truth be told, he's more Jeff Buckley than Cedric Bixler-Zavala, especially in the way he imbues almost all of his vocal performances with a breathy, close-to-the-mic sense of intimacy.  The band, too, displays a clear penchant for Mars Volta, utilizing Latin rhythmic flourishes and frenetic shifts in both dynamic and time signature frequently throughout these five songs.  Unlike Volta, though, Five of the Eyes keeps the listener close and rarely indulges to the point of throwing anyone off.  Despite their proggier tendencies, they're clearly pop fans at heart.  They never write or play so erratically that you can't follow along, and they cleverly write oversized, soulful hooks into their songs to offset the passages that lean perhaps a little too closely toward navel-gazing.

"Eos" is a clear victory, falling beautifully and gracefully in the middle of a collection of songs that occasionally feels short in the subtlety department.  Here, the band plays largely at a gentle, even keel.  They let things open up and breathe, giving Foster more room to work vocally while guitarists Tim Meehan and Ned Rich explore the full extent of their fretboards.  An aggressive opening riff gives way to a funky and slyly syncopated verse-chorus structure, in which Foster delivers some of the best singing on the EP.  Halfway through, the whole thing collapses, giving way to a breathtaking acoustic passage in which a gorgeous vocal round repeats as the song builds to a wild careening finish.  It's impressive and complex, and it feels more unique to the capabilities of Five of the Eyes themselves, than any of the influences they so proudly honor throughout FOTE.

In fact, it's this very sense of flag-flying that's the biggest problem with the EP.  As a debut, it's remarkable.  The production is masterful, the songs themselves are fully and well formed, and all parties involved are clearly talented with their respective instruments.  But there's a spaceman on the album cover, Foster's lyrics ring vaguely of classic science fiction, and I have to repeat that the band frequently embellishes their songs with latin and ambient passages.  It's all eerily close to following the template that Mars Volta Laid down on their first two albums, and there are clear nods to At The Drive-In here as well.   There's a moment on "Firing Squad" where Foster sings in a wriggly falsetto about revolutionaries and public executions over heavily processed lead guitar work.  It feels like it could have come straight off of Relationship of Command, right down to the watery chorus on the guitar that sounds like Omar Rodriguez-Lopez dialed it in himself.  It's a great place to start, and fertile ground to pick up as a young band, but it's clear Five of the Eyes has completely and totally mastered the musical landscape of their LSD-guzzling, samba-dancing El-Pasoan heroes.  It's obvious they have a world inside their own heads that's as expansive as it is virtuosic, and perhaps on their next release they'll set about exploring it more fully.  With time, and a healthy does of collective self-exploration, Five of the Eyes could become a truly unique act in a league of their own.  For now, FOTE is an exceptional, though derivative, debut.  Send transmission from the five-eyed scissor, let's keep our eyes peeled on these gents."

-Jakob Battick / The Portland Phoenix / February 26, 2015

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