If monks discovered percussion, it might sound a lot like Ga’an. Driven by a blend of real and synthesized vocal chants, and backed by tirelessly precise drumming, this band is one of Chicago’s most unique musical acts. The group, which has been active since early 2008, deftly creates mournful soundscapes that pulse and quiver with hungry emotion.
“It’s meditative and makes me feel like I’m purging all the yuck,” says vocalist Lindsay Powell.
Accompanied by drummer Seth Sher, bassist and synth player Jason Sublette and synth/keyboardist Jeremiah Fisher, Powell provides the band with passionate and ethereal vocal riffs.
“I am trying to use my voice as an instrument,” Powell says. “I try to integrate myself into the songs we work on together the way a synthesizer might. The vocals do not have any words in them to distract from the involved instrumentation of Seth, Jeremy and Jason.”
The lack of any discernible lyrics likens Ga’an to another semi-instrumental band, Sigur Ros, but while the latter’s music is dream-like pop, Ga’an’s compositions are the stuff of elegant nightmares.
“Servant Eye” opens with an eerie duet of palpitating guttural chants and Powell’s corresponding vocal flourishes. The workmanlike rhythm administered by Sher’s drumming makes the song’s beginning resemble something you might hear during a ceremonial human sacrifice. But at about the minute-mark, the vocal duet shifts to a new melody and a spidery guitar line descends into the musical atmosphere. The song has no chorus, no verse and no bridge. It is a series of haunting movements that trail the previous, slowly picking up the pace, and eventually careening to an inevitable end.
“Servant Eye,” like many of their other compositions, displays a wide variety of musical ideas and influences. At once both beat-based and proggy, and darkly soulful, Ga’an’s music defies labeling.
“The initial urge to make music for me started towards the end of high school when I started buying records like U.S Maple’s ‘Sang Phat Editor’ and Lake of Dracula’s self-titled album,” says Fisher. “Those Chicago no-wave bands seemed so much cooler than Soundgarden. They had lot of raw energy that wasn’t tethered to traditional song structures.”
That raw energy is evident on “The Hunted.” Here, Sher’s controlled drumming gets a dose of caffeine, allowing him to demonstrate his wild virtuosity. Soon the ruthless beat is punctuated by sharp bursts of distortion-soaked synth, and the tempo halts. The song’s second half is slower, but still as just powerful, as Sher’s percussion once again collides with the ghostly vocal hymns.
Starting July 22, Ga’an heads out on tour, and will have new recordings on cassettes ready for release.
“There is also a second cassette coming out of some mushroom jams that we recorded in the practice space,” says Fisher. “Jason is editing over four hours of recordings into forty minutes. It will be a bit more ‘Tangerine Dream’ than the songs we play live.” (Josh Kraus)
Ga’an plays at the BitchPork Festival, 1318 W. Cermak, on July 18.