Lance Mercer

Last Friday at Neumos, Sleepy Eyes of Death and Feral Children both aimed for something like all-out aural assault, but with dramatically different approaches and equally dissimilar results. The show was a record-release party for Sleepy Eyes of Death's new mini-album, Toward a Damaged Horizon, which reaffirms the band's considerable skill for M83-by-way-of-John-Carpenter synth-rock epics, but does so with few surprises. Live, the four-piece band sets up with racks of synthesizers in back and drums and guitar up front. They light up the stage with an array of simple, single-colored gels (blue and magenta and yellow) playing against a wall of fog and, for the climax, one KeyArena-sized strobe. It's a high-contrast show—minimalist lighting for maximalist, crescendo-heavy instrumental rock, with the relatively fixed movements of the keyboardists offset by hard-pounding drumming and guitarist Cassidy Gonzales's shameless rock-god posturing (the band may project a "serious" aura, but he can't help looking like he's having an incredible amount of fun at all times).

It's a pretty persuasive presentation of the band's songs, which sounded perfectly dialed-in and loud on the Neumos sound system. Instrumental (or mostly instrumental with a few shards of vocoder-flattened vocals) rock can be a tough sell, and the crowd thinned out a bit as the night went on, but those who stuck around seemed overwhelmingly into Sleepy Eyes. If anything caused their set to flag, it was the sheer consistency of their songs—each track followed a familiar pattern of "build up, break down, and repeat," giving the set the overall shape of a plateau, rather than the matching macrocosmic sense of ascent and summit that might be achieved via careful sequencing of some more varied songs.

Feral Children played with about two and a half drum kits onstage, with two drummers playing full-time and a few drums for the band's alternating singers to bang on when they weren't otherwise occupied. The result of all this rhythmic activity, though, was a near total obliteration of the band's songs. Often, all you could hear over the din of drums was harsh, howling vocals and a vague, muddy hum that absorbed guitar, bass, and keys in its murk. And for all that, the drumming was rarely anything that a single kit couldn't have accomplished—if you're going to have two (or more) drummers, you expect to see some pretty wild and/or tightly interlocking beats.

They fared far better when they toned things down, as on the haunted, faintly hopeful "Kid Origami" off their latest album, Brand New Blood. That song's weirdly upbeat, lightly galloping, and strikingly clear chorus ("Still I wonder/How to fold the paper right/How to fold the paper right/How to fold the paper right")—and not their more frenzied flailings (say, a guitarist tossing his instrument before falling to the ground)—was easily the most moving moment of their set. Because of their rural Eastside background and their desolate outlook, Feral Children have been compared (by more writers than just me) to a younger, mangier Modest Mouse—but for every "Shit Luck" or "Tundra/Desert" freak-out that band wrote, they'd do a dozen proper, if still skewed, pop songs. Feral Children should follow their lead. recommended