On the night of Sept. 17 Jakob Battick and Friends became Jakob Battick and Friend, when Battick and fellow USM student Mark Dennis played a very intimate show alongside South China at the new arts venue Mayo Street Arts.

Battick has become a much talked about new talent in the local music scene. In just over a year of playing original music in Portland he has received favorable write-ups from both The Free Press and the Portland Phoenix. This was the first time I had seen Jakob Battick and Friends since last fall so I was excited to see how his sound had since matured. But I wondered if I would buy into the hype Battick’s music has generated around Portland’s music scene.

The band took the stage at 9 p.m. inside the beautiful new arts venue, which is housed in a refurbished old church in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood. It was a cozy place to see a show on a crisp Friday night. I walked into a hushed crowd of about twenty-five people all quietly seated in front of the newly varnished wooden stage. Battick, who looks like a cross between John Lennon and Shakespeare, certainly looked the part of a rock visionary.

After about four plodding minutes of repetitive hypnotic strumming underneath Battick’s increasingly confident and emotive vocals, things started to move into gear. His songs are not polished or tightly constructed: Battick doesn’t give it to you right away. Instead all four songs that comprised his set built tension slowly and then explode. The crowd was almost silent for the entire set, it felt like the hushed tones of an NPR show as Battick and Dennis rendered them silent with their strange hybrid of freak folk, indie and noise-rock.

The packaging of Battick’s new album (out now on the [dog] and [pony] label) describes the band’s songs as “slow burning epics.” This is an apt description of what Battick and Friends do. What starts out as dusty and folksy sounding whispers, morphs into cymbal crashing, feedback-loop powered, ragged harmony brandishing monsters.

Battick’s music has also grown increasingly dark. Atonal jagged guitar riffs and minimal drum beats serve as a stark background for his tortured howls. His operatic vocal lines (which draw too-easy comparisons to Radiohead) sounded at home in Mayo Street Art’s lofty vaulted ceilings. The former church fit the mood perfectly as the music had little physicality and the mood was decidedly contemplative.

After Battick and Dennis wrapped up, South China took the stage, playing a beautiful blend of country folk songs with just a cello, guitar and male/female vocal harmonizing. It sounded downright pretty next to Battick and Friends more antagonistic set. Although the two bands are similar in their sleepy, unhurried approach, South China is the more mature sounding of the two. The songs are more cohesive, but what Battick and Friends lack in polish they make up for in excitement and originality. South China is a band you might hear on WCLZ whereas Battick and Friends is something more appropriate for Mark Curdo’s Spinout on WCYY.

What I heard on Friday night at Mayo Street was the sound of a mature band, comfortable in their sound, and a young band ferociously trying to craft their own sound. Jakob Battick and Friends’ sound is unique and for that, they are worth the hype. As a performer and musician, Battick is evolving at a very fast pace and he is certainly someone to watch on the local music scene.

Catch one of Battick’s unrelentingly sad yet astonishing live performances before he and his band grow up and, like, mellow out.


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