I often wonder if I were in a band what would our music sound like? My band might have bits of Prince, Gary Numan and Kate Bush thrown in with a small measure of David Sylvian. Needless to say it would sound crazy. For people who love different and often contrasting styles of music, bringing all of their influences together can be a challenge. For the Portland via L.A. trio of At Dusk, mixing punk, folk and even funk seemed second nature on their third album You Can Know Danger.
At first listen, At Dusk sounds like any number of post punk bands you might hear on college radio anywhere in America. I actually found a copy in a Edward McKay store in Greensboro, North Carolina a few years ago. It was once a demo for WUAG, one of three great college radio stations in Greensboro.
Thank god for college radio, because I might not have heard it otherwise. Even now in the age of everything all the time, it’s nice to know that there are still good old curators of good music out there like college radio. For less than a candy bar, I was treated to one of the better music store finds of that year.
Vocally it’s difficult to tell who the lead singer is as different voices are up front with a chorus chiming in sometimes interchangeably as tempos rise and fall against scrappy guitars. For At Dusk, that kind of polyrhythmic relationship extends to the arrangements as well as the tempo. As a band made up of longtime friends, it shows in how well coordinated these relationships coalesce to make seemingly unpredictable (yet structured) music.
Most post punk bands sound harsh with little if any melody, but that’s not the case with At Dusk. While there is a certain rough texture to the arrangements, there are surprising moments of vocal harmony and traces of melody throughout the album.
There’s even a degree of syncopation that could pass for funk in “Oh, It’s Way Too Late”, a song with a roller coaster tempo and plenty of vocal tricks. The vocal tricks are not the result of studio wizardry, but a kind of interplay that finds background and foreground voices switching places. On “Say that You’ll Do It” you can almost hear a reggae style bass behind all the voices. Styles and influences just seem to rotate, all anxiously taking their turns in the song cycle.
At Dusk is probably likely to remain a regional band despite getting the attention of national critics with You Can Know Danger. Other bands with similar approaches like Mission of Burma or Dearhoof might be better known, but At Dusk remains more interesting to listen to because you never know where a song might be going (and there’s the sweet hook of melody).
It’s not inconceivable that this band’s sound could evolve into something that sounds like early Hobostank, but for now At Dusk is one of the most melodic post punk bands I’ve listened to – and one of the more surprising.