A writhing, offbeat, art-punk act prone to bursts of noise amidst sneaky melodies, the Portland act could be the illegitimate stepbrother of Deerhoof, its tour mates last time through. Like Deerhoof, XDS once hailed from San Francisco, but the band headed north, where the musicians simplified their life and refined the lineup into a duo for its latest, April's "Forest Field."
The team of Shoko Horikawa and Jesse Hall began as the noise-rock trio Meyow, before a move to Oakland, Calif., brought a name change and signaled a consistent move toward greater accessibility. Although steady, the journey's not been particularly fast. The band is still a quirky, buzzing, sometimes abrasive act, whose time-lapse bloom spans four albums since its genesis more than seven years ago.
For Horikawa and Hall, the history goes back further, to an initial encounter in Chico while attending California State University. They met cute, with a commensurate amount of oddity.
"I put up a flyer that was really an art project. There were a bunch of wires coming out of it, glitter and army men. It was just a huge collage, and she was looking at it in a café," Hall said. "It said, 'Noise Person Wanted.' She said, 'I can do noise,' not even knowing what that was. As it turned out, she was more interested in playing organ, rather than hitting a guitar with a hammer."
Their romantic and musical lives have been intertwined ever since. Horikawa and Hall moved to the Bay Area after finishing school and forged on with a new name, although the act still featured many of the same sonic tendencies. Indeed, Hall recently unearthed a video of Meyow's second performance, which bore striking similarity to XDS.
"It was really out-there, strange stuff," he said, "but at the same time, the basic elements are very similar to what you would see today."
These days, Hall doesn't use a dildo to play guitar, like he used to in Meyow. Not that he wouldn't.
"If I could find that same dildo, I would probably use it," he said. "It sounds like it's a gimmick, but it's really not. The sound is amazing. You really can't get the same sound from a slide, because the way it vibrates the strings itself. It's got such a visceral and vicious sound. The thing about noise is it's really easy to do, and it's really easy to not have any restraint with it. It can get very boring for that reason.
"Shoko is a good balance because she'll reel me in to one degree or another. I think it's good to have a balance between music and noise."
After the 2008 release of "Jane Doe Loves Me," Horikawa and Hall abandoned the Bay, burnt out on the struggle to pay rent on an apartment and a practice space. In Portland, they found both, and built their own basement studio. However, the new real estate came with the cost of losing drummer Ryan Chittick, who stayed behind. Rather than recruit a replacement, Horikawa jumped behind the kit. One problem: She'd never played drums before.
A month into the transition, the duo was invited on a five-week tour. A two-month crash course followed, where the couple used every spare moment not spent at a day job practicing. It's the same way Hall began playing guitar years ago, and he swears by the sink-or-swim method.
"It's just a much better way to learn. You have a reason to practice," he said. "There were some drumsticks thrown during said practices. There were some tears, and we worked through it. It was just like a natural thing " and I wouldn't say it wasn't difficult " but it was like she had played drums before."
"Forest Field" is first release to feature Horikawa on drums, and it's a bit more minimal in general. The album was released last month and is available as a free download from the band's Web site, www.experimentaldental.com. The sounds aren't as jumbled and jarring, finding a deeper groove that chases still-elusive melodies.
But not without trying. The album marks a renewed goal of making music that's listenable by, say, his mother. Indeed, he said this is their first release she wouldn't demand they turn off.
"'Forest Field' represents a shift to more melody while still retaining the elements that we had before," Hall said. "We naturally just make weird music. I think it is more of a challenge for us to make it listenable for people. But I really think that depends on who's listening and their frame of reference, because in the broad spectrum, I don't think the music is that weird. But if you're listening to Dave Matthews, then it's pretty bizarre."
Experimental Dental School with El Paso Hot Button, The Grammarians and Action! perform at 9 p.m. Tuesday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker