Single Frame has been around nearly five years without slipping into a readily identifiable genre. Their songs are too slippery for post-punk, too straightforward for avant-garde, too arty for rock, and too rock for pure art. They reside in a peculiar crevice where Talking Heads feathered the nest and Fugazi incubated the eggs, a cozy little enclave that's warm and welcoming yet in minimal danger of being overrun by hordes of casual music fans. Single Frame forces listeners to do a little homework, and it pays off.
Drummer Adreon Henry, guitarist/bassist Brendan Reilly, and keyboardist Jason Schleter, all of whom trade or share vocals are no easier to read than their music. Quiet types seemingly disinterested in prevailing musical trends, their reputation as one of Austin's cutting-edge bands is growing. From a moderate local buzz, word has leaked to West Coast labels, New York remixers, and taste-making magazines like the Seattle-based Resonance, which celebrated Single Frame as ideal for the "post-everything" generation. All that, and they more or less started playing together by accident.
"It was a deal where there was a show coming up, we were all between bands, and basically we wanted to go to the show," says Reilly of their May 2000 bow supporting Denton's Centro-matic. "Actually, it went over really, really well. We were just messing around."
Single Frame's sound is almost, but not quite, accidental, like random collisions of musical electrons orbiting a stable but elusive nucleus. Their efforts could be graphed: a steady sine wave of regular rhythms and changes charted against a variable amount of sonic entropy. Yet dwelling on their mathematical precision makes them seem cold and lifeless. Quite the contrary, their fascination with the rough joys of pitting one sound against another, and seeing where the results land, gives the music a core of discovery, playfulness. They're somehow inscrutable and irresistible at the same time.
These contradictions first surfaced in record stores late in 2002, upon the appearance of Wetheads Come Running. Back then they were called Single Frame Ashtray, before Austin's smoking-ordinance follies convinced them to drop the latter word. Their free-flowing synthesis of art, rhythm, and noise was already intact. Tightly controlled minimalist passages gave way to captivating melodies and sudden bursts of seething passion.
Eventually, Wetheads caught the ear of Costa Mesa, Calif., label Volcom, which re-released the album last year and will issue follow-up Body/End/Basement in May. More so than Wetheads, Body emphasizes Single Frame's willingness to think unconventionally Henry recorded some vocals with his head in a bucket of water without straying uncomfortably far from the beaten path.
"Current music seems like people are way more open-minded, because we had the Velvet Underground and things like that," reasons Henry. "They were considered extremely experimental, but you could take tracks off lots of things that are really big now and say that they sound like those first four records."
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