[ALT-ROCK WILL NEVER DIE] Now that the Decemberists have hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the idea that a local group can go from a practice space on East Burnside to the top of the world is not just a junior-high pipe dream. But it's the way that band achieved the historic success that should provide an ample blueprint to any hardworking Portland songwriter—start slowly, build a fan base and never compromise your sound to cash in.
Local quartet Water & Bodies is obviously very far from storming the pop-music charts. Still, listening to the debut full-length, Light Year, makes it seem like the band desperately wants to re-create a sound that translated to a major-label offer and gold record...15 years ago. Water & Bodies is basically the platonic form of an alternative rock band: Light Year is all about the big lighter-in-the-air chorus and chugging bass lines that dominated KNRK and KUFO over a decade ago. Take "The Return," a song that begins with a promising string intro and guitars that pop like sparklers but then dives into a lead vocal so overly emotive and "passionate" that you could blink and think you're watching an early round of American Idol. "He was a good man," singer Christopher James Ruff belts out (like he's standing at the edge of a cliff, wind whipping at his bangs). "At least he's on his way home."
Home, for Water & Bodies, unfortunately sounds like a Placebo song. And while that's not a bad thing, per se: Songs like "Celebration Song" and "Light Year" are catchy, hummable and enjoyable bites of radio fluff. Knowing that three of the band's members have already traveled down that path (previous prog-metal outfit Kaddisfly played the side stage at the Warped Tour and sniffed label success) makes me think it's time for the band to find a path less traveled. Everything that glitters in the alt-rock world isn't gold, you know.
SEE IT: Water & Bodies plays Friday, Feb. 18, at the Doug Fir, with Archeology, the Dimes and UHF. 9 pm. $5. 21+.