It's a bit of a chore to keep track of the guys in the Standard. Even Tim Putnam, the band's verklempt vocalist, doesn't know where all the band members are living right now.
"Jay Clarke and Rob Oberdorfer live in Portland," Putnam says. "Ritchie Young, who's kind of our secret fifth member, lives, well, I don't quite know where he lives. He's kind of a nomad. And Rob Duncan lived in Boston, then moved to New York and then Portland, but, well, I guess he's kind of a nomad, too."
It sounds like the Standard is made up of bandmates who barely know each other. But this dislocated crew, once a wholly Portland-based band, is the very opposite: a group of guys who know each other so well that distance doesn't matter.
Albatross, the Standard's fourth release, is evidence of this fractured harmony, the band abandoning the aggressive and epic guitar antics of 2004's Wire Post to Wire for dark, brooding pop numbers that manage to be concise and sonically huge at the same time. Like no other music the Standard has created, the songs on Albatross are haunting compositions that show a band with an enormous amount of restraint and talent.
"Each record for us has been the next logical step," Putnam says from a Cleveland tour stop on the band's current tour. "After [2002's] August, we wanted a very intense writing, closed-off-from-everybody experience, which is what we did for Wire Post to Wire."
That album was written and recorded in New York, where the entire band lived for the better part of a year. Most people in the Portland music community thought the Standard had abandoned its hometown, but after the New York experience, the band divided, some coming back home and others, like Putnam—who now works for the gas company in Raleigh, N.C., scraping and painting meters—stayed away. But the Standard never ended, although it did transform.
"We didn't really want to write these epics anymore," Putnam says. "We wanted to write these very succinct, direct songs."
So last year the band headed into Oberdorfer's Portland studio to try something new. Overall, the band spent five months recording in Portland before going back to their respective homes. Why all the time? Well, because these are respectful guys.
"If someone says, 'Tim, I don't like what you're singing there,' or 'I don't like the guitar part there,' I don't really question it; I change it because I know that they want what's best for the song."
Such teamwork has stunning results, as heard on "Hills Above," a song that Putnam brought to the band as a spare guitar folk song before it was transformed by the other band members into a beautiful work of glacial pop, filled with Putnam's infectiously quavering voice, piano and now almost no guitar. You can almost hear the chemistry.
Recent live shows are reportedly similar in their coherence and power, something Putnam attributes to a new pre-gig ritual.
"We kind of just get together beforehand, sit down and look each other in the eyes," Putnam says. "As silly as it might sound, it's just an acknowledgment of our love for one another." Distance, it seems, has made the Standard grow fonder.
The Standard plays with Kingsbury Manx and the Heavenly States play Saturday, Nov. 19, at Dante's. 9:30 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.