Club Night: Talk Loudly, Carry a Big Guitar

Experiencing one of the band's instrumental ‘conversations’ is like living in an Escher painting.

One moment you’re walking up the stairs of an indie-pop track, the next instant you find yourself desperately clinging to the roof of an epic math-rock jam before you suddenly tumble down the inverse steps of a billowing emo tune. Some songs are marathons, others are sprints, but each Club Night creation is a veritable obstacle course, daring listeners to leap, duck, and listen during a swelling roller coaster ride of different moods and tempos.

“Josh has never written a non-complicated song,” bassist Devin Trainer says, referring to Joshua Bertram, the chief songwriter of the Oakland group that’s set to release their debut full length, What Life, in April on Tiny Engines Records.

“We don’t do a lot of coaxing you along,” says Bertram, whose band plays at Starline Social Club with illuminati hotties on Feb. 27. “There aren’t really any bridges to indicate that a change is coming. We just kind of snap into the new part.”

While Club Night’s oeuvre is comprised of immediate and intricate multi-suite tracks, their songs are not indulgent merely for art’s sake. They are fearless, daring ventures, containing hidden pop gems and ultimately anchored by an anthemic, propulsive atmosphere. Once you peel away the wires and cables, you’ll find a warm, beating heart in every Club Night song.

Bertram describes the cacophony of crashing guitars, trembling basses, and blurry synth sounds as a “conversation between instruments,” and the melding and blending of disparate noises creates a carnival feel. It’s the equivalent of being at a noisy, crowded house party and not giving a shit because the host is blasting Animal Collective over the speakers.

Those moments of delirium defined the band’s first release, the 2017 EP, Hell Ya, and they continue to permeate through What Life. But as expected for a band coming into its own, the group explores surprising new wrinkles in their latest album, parsing pieces of their collage to reveal previously unseen elements.

On “Village,” an undeniably sweet track on the back end of What Life, Bertram briefly trades his trademark high-pitched yowl for a hushed whisper, cooing softly to himself that he “wrote a little love song,” below a horizon of twinkly cowboy-bar guitars. On the first two releases from the album, “Mute” and “Trance,” the group dips into elliptical, Modest Mouse-indebted guitars. The more placid, reserved tone offers evidence that Club Night can pace themselves if necessary.

But their strength comes from their ability to (barely) harness the manic energy or their unbridled sonic ebullience. Yes, “Mute” and “Trance” have their tender moments, but if you’re not ready for their pace to hasten rapidly, you will be left with sonically skinned knees.

Bertram’s unique guitar playing — a finger-tapping, high-on-the-fretboard style that emits a pixelated, digital frequency — is bolstered by waves of dizzying synths and undulating bass lines. The interchange between Bertram and fellow guitarist Ian Tatum with Trainer’s bass lines is frantic and anarchic at times, but ultimately the sounds coalesce as one, creating a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud (if he were a fan of Built to Spill, and not currently in prison).

Underpinning that adventurous approach is Bertram’s desperate vocal stylings. Singing like he is trapped inside a well, with his head just barely above the rising waters, Bertram exhorts, pleads, and wails on What Life. These are not empty gestures; the lyrics on the album reflect the palatable anxiety in his delivery. A mix of Dada wordscapes and painfully detailed observations, Bertram’s words tackle an array of heavy topics, from environmental degradation to the disturbing lack of empathy in the world today.

“I feel confused, but only because life is confusing — there is no real reason to it,” says Bertram. “Hopefully, someone changes my mind about that. It would be great to get some answers, but this is a pretty frustrating existence we have going.”

From the global to the local, Club Night has gamely faced down a series of different challenges. The tragic Ghost Ship fire resulted in immediate and lasting emotional impacts on the band and shuttered many of the DIY venues that provided solace and comfort to the group. Some recent band roster overhaul has hampered efforts to embark on any sort of ambitious tour this year, although Bertram says that new opportunities may arise with the release of What Life.

You could argue that the group’s kitchen-sink approach to their music is a way to drown out the sorrows — you can’t hear your tears with your headphones on — but Bertram and company insist that their macro music method isn’t a façade or a mask. In fact, Club Night is excited about a future in which they tackle a (slightly) more minimalist style.

“The main thing I think we’ll incorporate moving forward is more space,” Trainer says. “However you want to interpret that — it could mean slower songs, chiller songs, giving more or less weight to certain elements. The idea is to maybe fixate on one facet for the whole song and feel satisfied with that.

“We want to sculpt or chisel some of the noise away,” Bertram adds. “I think we’ve proven, at least to ourselves, that we can do the anthemic, everyone-play-at-once thing. It will be good to exercise a little restraint in the future, maybe make more mood music.”

Before people start placing Club Night in the Philip Glass realm of ambient airspace, the group is not ready to abandon their expansive tastes outright. In Bertram’s parlance, they are still very eager to keep the conversation going.

“We have all our instruments talking at once, but it’s not like we are trying to drown each other out,” Bertram says. “It’s like we agree with each other so much, that we always have something to add. It’s inspiring to be in this band, and I think that shows.”

Club NightWednesday, Feb. 27, at Starline Social Club,  2236 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland $12-$15,

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