The Minus 5 can't really be accused of being conventional, or doing the expected. Listening to their last four albums in sequence reveals a broad range of genre and soundscape experimentation. One gets the sense that the group has always been a clearinghouse for its songwriters' "other" ideas, the ones that don't quite fit in with the guitar-rock core of the bands that made them legends: R.E.M. (Peter Buck) and Young Fresh Fellows (Scott McCaughey).
So when I say that their new record, last week's Killingsworth, is different, well, I'm ultimately saying very little. What Buck and McCaughey have done this time out is make an alt-country album. Sort of. Kind of. A little. In some ways, it is unique among their records in its consistency of tone and instrumentation. This is helped along by using the same crew of backup musicians for the whole of the record (the Minus 5 have a tendency to rotate to whichever of their friends are best for a song, and they have a LOT of friends. Like the whole of the Seattle music scene).
With a focus on horrible death and doom (song titles range from The Dark Hand of Contagion to I Would Rather Sacrifice You to The Disembowelers), it is appropriate that Killingsworth's auxiliary musicians be made up largely of the lineup of disturbed Portland balladeers The Decemberists. The slide guitar and banjo that fill out this record's particularly mellow sound (NOT something you'd necessarily expect out of musicians from the Decemberists) are complemented by harmonies from further Portlanders the Shee Bee Gees, ultimately pulling together as a relaxed, well-crafted record.
I'm most curious to see how this record pulls into their live show, where they have proven a consistent ability to distill the lush soundscapes and diverse lineups of their previous records into a four piece driving rock show. However they choose to perform this album, one thing is certain: it will be bitchin'. All the members of the Minus 5: Touring Edition have a long-standing and broad history of rocking the crap out of everything from tiny clubs to the largest arenas in the world.
The Minus 5 are playing Hell's Kitchen (3829 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, WA) with Canon Canyon, the Joshua Cain Band, and James Hilborne and the Painkillers, tonight at 9PM. $10, 21+, and well worth seeing on this, a rare occasion wherein a band actually stops in Tacoma between Portland and Seattle shows.