Isolated as Missoula is, local bands are free to come up with unusual combinations of sounds without any pressure to fit in. If it works, it works, and you'll want to see them the next time you have a chance.
Writ Large, a rather large Missoula band, has some novel things going for them that have made them fun to catch live. For one: the sibling vocalists Kenneth and Bente Grinde can sing harmonies in a classic folk style. Second: the band has taste for the offbeat — think funk grooves and a general sense of oddball approachable-ness in the Talking Heads style.
Their debut album, "Camp Mezzanine," out on Bandcamp this week, sneaks in at the end of the year as one of the best local releases of 2019, filled with left-field ideas alongside unabashedly pretty ones.
The band is not small by the usual standards of Missoula groups, where four-pieces are still typical. The full credits on the record are Drew Fetherolf (guitar), Bente Grinde (vocals, Rhodes keyboard), Ken Grinde (vocals, tambourine, acoustic guitar), Dylan Ritter (guitar), David Riley (drums, percussion), Matt Riley (bass), Jesse Brenneman (synthesizer), and Misha on vocals.
That should rightly give you the impression that there's a lot going on during the nine songs that zip by in about half an hour. In the first three tracks alone, you'll hear extroverted, skronky funk ("Deeper"), an indie rock version of cowboy doo-wop ("Blue Dog"), and a surf-influenced groove ("Grooje").
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That latter track, while spacious, has interwoven guitar and vocal lines arranged to match the island vibe and ocean sound effects.
In the group's slower mode, there's lovely work to be found. "Heatwave" sets Bente and Ken's harmony vocals against a nice soft-rock groove and melancholy lyrics ("it's not always like this/we try love/rain breaks the heatwave"). "Live in the Moment" kicks off with a layered 1980s groove and harmonies about unmooring yourself from a down period. "Camp Mezzanine," a ballad, is the best showcase for Grindes' harmonies — a slow burning track with gradually increasing intensity and tension.
It segues immediately into a groovier uptempo mood that can be found on "Wanderers," where the afrobeat-era Talking Heads atmosphere is the most pronounced, a nice illustration of the vastly different things the group is throwing together without sounding strained.
For completists, they recorded in Butte at the Len Waters Music Center with members of electronic/improv group Modality, Clark Grant and Ben Weiss, and Weiss mixed it at House of Watts here in town. You can listen to it on BandCamp.com, or watch for upcoming shows in Missoula.