In an industry becoming increasingly overcrowded with crossover acts, Portland, Oregon’s Trio Subtonic has carved out their own identity on their latest release, Cave Dwellers. Recorded off the heels of tours on both coasts, this tightly constructed disc features concise tunes bursting with melodic and rhythmic ideas, including hip-hop beats, exotic Brazilian rhythms and a flair for catchy start-stop arrangements.
Enhancing their keys/bass/drums lineup with a few touches of horns, Trio Subtonic kicks off the party off with “Bombast.” Opened by Jesse Brooke’s commanding drums, Bill Athens’ slick bassline follows, laying a thick foundation for Galen Clark’s keyboards, which come blasting through with swinging authority. Once the horns kick in, it’s like a slice of pure funk heaven. With a three-minute runtime, it’s a bold beginning and immediately accessible.
“Oak Smoke & Moonshine” reverses the approach, beginning with a hard-driving, bluesy piano figure, followed by a churning beat and another head-bobbing bassline. “Subtronix” features slightly fuzzed-out guitar work by Chris Mosley with tasteful placement of octaves, and “Why Are the Mountains Crying?” features darker-toned work on the bass by Athens; the marvelous marriage of wood and strings can be heard perfectly, every thump and “thwick” clearly ringing through. Clark’s trickling piano in “Escape” locks in perfectly with Brooke’s deft drum pattern, evoking the perfect late-night soundscape to match the balance of exceptional grooves and mellow moments that make up the remainder of the record.
With respect for and place within a community that’s likely better known for its established indie rock scene, the group’s approach to making music – call it jazz, funk, soul or bossa-surf – particularly on this record, isn’t a distasteful clash of styles. Rather, the trio has embraced the sounds that surround them and crafted a cohesive, expertly sequenced record that should pack dancefloors and demand careful listening.