Funny story: A twentysomething indie-rocker is walking down the street one spring day in 2005 and runs into a schoolteacher from the sticks with a curiosity for urban music and a history as a classically trained cellist. Conversation ensues. Neither has an outlet for their music, it turns out. While both maintain a hard-wired personal musical history, they both cast a wistful gaze toward the other's craft. The indie-rocker, Dan Enberg, has a bright red house (with two bright red cars parked in front) and a serious soft spot for post-rock, chamber-core and whatever else critics have tagged the grand instrumental sessions that have occurred in the past 10 years between chamber orchestration and rock music. In Enberg's house the pair jams, writes, collides. Two more members enter the fold, both schooled musicians: one in jazz and the other in beats. And out of Enberg's bright-red world, Bright Red Paper is born.
Then Bright Red Paper has some trouble fitting in. Without a definable scene for its instrumental orchestrations, the band slinks around town opening for bar-metal bands, playing 20-seat coffee shops and pizzerias, ending up in every "what the hell?" lineup or venue imaginable. This band is unique.
I'm not going to pretend I'm letting you in on a secret. Tightly constructed post-rock à la Dirty Three or Explosions in the Sky is nothing new outside of Portland. But within Portland Bright Red Paper is an anomaly, and since the band emerged last May, the city is starting to latch on like the genre's classic provocateurs Godspeed You Black Emperor! never existed. Since that Montreal band lit post-rock's dark blue flames way back in 1994, the genre's trajectory has been an ugly test case of selling out and copycatism. Yet, save for Enberg, the members of BRP—cellist Douglas Jenkins, drummer Eben Dickinson and bassist Arcellus Sykes—all profess oblivion to their role in a genre that critics, other than me, have pronounced dead.
Sitting in the midst of their evening practice on a recent Thursday, between two giant white plaster wolves, utterly hypnotized by the blur of Jenkins' bow and completely floored by the sense that I was between the tensed jaws of a steel compositional trap, I couldn't have been happier that I wasn't one of those who made the claim.
Earlier in the evening, the band members join me for a prepractice bullshit session, and the innocence of the style's birth could not be more clear. This is a band unburdened by the baggage of a rock band and fueled by talent and diversity in style. The conversation ranges from the jazz scene in Chicago (where Jenkins lived while earning his master's in cello) and underground hip-hop (Zion I) to Top-40 artists (Beyoncé). Eventually the subject of gloom arrives, the darkness that lurks in Bright Red Paper and generally lays upon post-rock like a dark-blue photo filter. And I'm waiting for the anarchist rant, the funeral tale, still not quite understanding that the minor keys create beauty before they create sadness. And so, Enberg thinks for a moment and says, "No, we're really all pretty happy people." And for a band whose future looks this bright, they have every reason to be.
Bright Red Paper plays with the Morals and the Case Worker at Food Hole on April 19. 9 pm. $5. All ages.