Who: James Collette (guitar, vocals), Kevin Hoffman (bass), Rob Iggulden (drums), Karen Moore (keyboard, vocals), Morganfield Riley (guitar, vocals).
For fans of: Black Mountain, Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown.
Sounds like: The bizarro love child of Jeff Mangum and Jello Biafra flushed down a dark rabbit hole.
Its inception began in October 2014, with James Collette gathering a few friends to cover the beloved 1998 Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in its entirety. From there, he began planning his ideal album in his head, even booking studio time for a batch of songs he'd written and reaching out to high-profile musicians in Portland as potential producers. As his appointment drew closer, he struggled to get anyone to commit to the gig on such short notice and felt the increasing need to recruit other musicians to help flesh out the strange sounds he was planning. In a last-minute whirlwind, Collette finally formed a backing band of sorts.
"Karen [Moore] and I had been roommates years earlier," he says. "Kevin [Hoffman] had just moved back from New Orleans, and I just kept texting him over and over. Rob [Iggulden] I'd known for a few weeks. He had a Wilco shirt, and I said, 'You play music? You wanna play on a record?'"
Production duties eventually fell to Morganfield Riley (who now plays guitar and sings in the band full-time) and Jason Driver, who owns Fur Vault PDX Recording Studio in Southeast Portland, where Collette's album, Farewell, Blacksheep, was recorded last March. The songs have a bipolar edge executed so precisely it's hard to imagine the musicians were all barely more than strangers. Collette employs a playful, elastic tweak to some of his phrasing that's reminiscent of Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer, and his vocal melodies are interlocked with unexpected instrumental bursts of brass or low-end boom that negate any sort of expectation. For a band that came out of a tribute to Neutral Milk Hotel, it retains the bombast of "Holland, 1945" but shoved through a dirtier lens—as if The Diary of Anne Frank were illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley.
Since the recording, Câlisse has undergone some minor lineup changes as members started families or moved away, but the current roster is in a place where everyone is still fully dedicated. With a full year having passed between the record being made and then released, Câlisse has already tweaked the live performance of the songs and integrated several new ones, which will appear on its forthcoming sophomore effort, planned for release later this year. What began as one man's project has now taken on communal aspects.
"The dynamics have changed," Riley says. "With the first record, a lot of the songs were fleshed out on acoustic and adapted for a band, and they were James' songs. Now, there are songs that other people are bringing in. Even if a song is somewhat structured when it comes into the studio, it undergoes a treatment and changes to something else. It's become a lot less tentative."
SEE IT: Câlisse plays the World Famous Kenton Club, 2025 N Kilpatrick St., with Small Million, Christopher Bock and DJ Extra Gold, on Wednesday, April 20. 9 pm. Free. 21+.