[FOLK-STEP] It's an unseasonably bright January day; sunlight pours through the windows of Caffe Vita and backlights Ben Darwish's 'fro. The local keyboardist-composer, 27, has a cerebral, serious air about him—and indeed, Darwish takes composing seriously, using terms like "half-time" and occasionally struggling to put heady musical concepts into words.

The flaxen-haired identical twins sharing Darwish's table, meanwhile, are lighthearted and sprightly. Laurie and Katelyn Shook, of local folk trio Shook Twins, say stuff like, “Ben is a badass!” They don’t really read music. 

It's a strange bedfellowship—but then, theirs is a strange project. On Jan. 19 at the Alberta Rose Theatre, Darwish and Shook Twins (with guitarist William Seiji Marsh and drummer Kevin Van Geem) will premiere The Clear Blue Pearl, a 10-song "epic" that tells the story of "a couple on a quest for water after a devastating drought," set to music Darwish, a University of Oregon music grad, describes as “fantasy folk-step.” 

How that'll sound is anybody's guess: The ensemble hasn't recorded any material (though it plans to) aside from a holiday tune (for WW's annual holiday compilation) and a piano-driven, uplifting demo version of The Clear Blue Pearl's final song. Darwish positions The Clear Blue Pearl in the concept-album tradition, and says he set out to write his own concept piece out of frustration with his lack of worldliness. 

"I haven't done a lot of stuff that I would like to do, like travel," the Portland native says. "So I thought, why don't I just make it up? I've always had kind of a big imagination, but I haven't really been able to use it until now."

The twins were drawn to the project's imaginativeness. "I love it when artists break out of the box a little bit," Katelyn Shook says. "You don't always have to write about looove and shit.” 

The Clear Blue Pearl's "folk-step" tag, Darwish admits, is mostly for show. While the piece features folk and dubstep elements prominently, embellishing traditional harmonies with distinguishing dubstep characteristics like adagio tempo and "wobble" bass, Darwish notes that it also bears the influence of Tuvan throat singing. So…what is it? 

"It's just my music," Darwish says. "I feel like this, out of anything I've done, is…less like a combination of two things, [more] like an original sound.” 

Recent collaborations have found Darwish playing everything from Afro-funk to minimalist jazz instrumentals. But paradoxically, the more he mingles his sensibilities with others', the more distinctive they become.

"All these things I've done are just becoming a melting pot," Darwish says. "I feel like I'm finally starting to find my own voice in composition."

SEE IT: Ben Darwish and Shook Twins play the Alberta Rose Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 19. 8:30 pm. $10. Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.