The avant-garde is alive and well in Virginia’s music underground–just ask art-rock trio ing. Their debut self-titled EP, released this September on Citrus City Records, is a landmark for fans of angular, experimental tunes. Through its five tracks, singer/guitarist Hannah Balessi, bassist Garen Dorsey, and drummer Will Mulaney craft a murky mosaic of rhythmic and melodic tiles.
While their style shares a common ancestor with the no-wave nihilism of bands like Sonic Youth, it also marries minimalist rock arrangements with classical finesse. The EP doesn’t invite many comparisons, but it does show off tons of technical skill, marked by the mind-bending starts, stops, and shape-shifts that mask recognizable song structure at every seam.
With the palm-muted count-in on “Sheep,” Balessi sets the stage and lurches onto it. Her arpeggios wobble like a warped old jazz record over the drums. She breaks into strumming, the snare rolls frantically, and then comes the payoff: a series of big, hold-your-breath pauses woven through with bass harmony and a dreamy, light-headed vocal hook.
The buildups are full of bite, owing mainly to Mulaney’s drumming. On “Ascension,” the high-hat sounds fit to hyperventilate, and on “Fair Winds,” the kick and snare crescendo to a blunt, distorted thump.
The production embraces those unrefined edges, but loudness and grit are only part of the puzzle; ing also paints with a palette of altered signals. They hide Balessi’s vocals in a haze of reverb, where the words all but evaporate. They fill the space between several songs with a strange, recurring sample–something like a sound file sped up to a piercing calliope pitch.
They’ll catch you off guard every chance they get, but if you keep your balance with ing, you’ll be just as surprised by the EP’s smoother stretches. “Dust” throws out one mellow melody after another, with Dorsey bringing much-needed bass warmth. “Journey” introduces Balessi’s whispery vocal with a lighter flick and a deep breath before setting off on its titular trip, and you can almost smell the smoke. When the pattern starts to mutate, Mulaney makes the most of the rhythmic scattershot; from the ride to the rim, he finds a micro-groove in each new iteration.
On the last of those zero-point turns, “Journey” settles in a place of unexpected calm–another taste of what sets ing apart as a band. It’s not just their willingness to take you to the edge of what you can call rock; it’s how nonchalantly they go there. On their self-titled EP, they’re as meticulous as they are mercurial, keeping in lockstep on even the most twisted rhythmic paths, and all while projecting casual lo-fi vibes. It belies the kind of focus it must take to keep three people on the same obscure page, and honestly, it defies description; it demands a listen.