The buzz on Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael

Call Me Ishmael

The way bands generate buzz is always fascinating. At times, when bands prove themselves to be somehow above the ordinary, the buzz seems justified. Other times, though, the buzz is more mysterious, surrounding bands that seem, at best, to be mediocre shells. Why these acts attract media attention remains a mystery.

It is for this reason that seeing new area buzz bands for the first time can generate some trepidation. So it was last weekend at Call Me Ishmael’s headlining show at Old Ironsides. Ishmael is clearly a new Sacramento buzz band, so expectations for its performance ran high.

Things were particularly pressurized after a middle-slot performance by Umbravox, one the area’s most talented and interesting acts. Sean Hayashi’s songwriting continues to impress, as do the technical abilities of his band members. The result was a moving, emotional and musically interesting set, the likes of which are virtually unparalleled in the local scene.

By the time Ishmael hit the stage, there was much to overcome. The good news is that the band is every bit as good as the hype. Combining a rock-steady attitude and a sense of dynamics that is as interesting as it is emotive, Ishmael’s set displayed exactly why scene makers like Troy Wood and Jay Spooner call it one of the best bands in the area.

Ishmael’s accomplishment is in much the same vein as that of the band members’ ex-label mates in Low Flying Owls, a combination of heavy rock with ambient keyboard effects. What makes it all come together is a sense of harmony that is reminiscent at times of both the Beatles and the Smashing Pumpkins. Rhythm section Robby Dowd and Nathan Webb provide a solid backdrop for Andy Babcock’s (mostly) ambient keyboard drones, and the whole thing manages to coalesce into a soundscape that is simultaneously soaring and visceral.

One possible criticism is that guitarist and vocalist Bryan Valenzuela’s vocals seem out of keeping with the music at times, particularly because they are often shouted rather than sung—a particular problem after Hayashi’s always-solid vocals. On the one hand, this dichotomy produced something of a schism in the musical effect. On the other, this is one of the dichotomies that helps make Ishmael an interesting and original act—creating something akin to Iggy Pop singing for a harsh-edged Pink Floyd.

In other news, local label Dimm Records has just released Sacpop 3, the third in an ongoing series of Sacramento pop-music compilations. Featuring 20 tracks, the CD places area mainstays and virtual unknowns back to back, making for an interesting (and at times excruciating) listen. The two standouts are the Brodys’ infectious floor stomper (and previously unreleased) “Square Dance” and the disc’s closing number, Anton Barbeau and the Heart-Throb Ensemble’s “I Don’t Like You” (also previously unreleased), a track that somehow manages to achieve a 1960s garage-band vibe. Check independent record stores in the area to buy a copy.