Yet another neo-progressive rock combo, ent, stalks the local forest looking for a new cult
Channeling elements of minimalist classical music, à la Phillip Glass, with King Crimson/early Yes and Genesis, an artsy, instrumental quartet calling itself ent has simultaneously dislodged and elevated the bar for local musicians. Call what ent does “panic” rock. If Frank Zappa’s instrumental dabblings were spliced into cut-and-dried verse counts, somewhere to the left of that you might find ent, whose name betrays an e.e. cummings-like disdain for capital letters. The panache of these four young players—median age, 20—may seem awkward; it may cause anyone stumbling across their music for the first time to, well, panic.
Carson McWhirter plays guitar and Warr guitar, the latter a multi-stringed abomination of an instrument akin to a harp/piano. Ian Hill not only plays drums; he’s also responsible for the pretty landscape shots on ent’s EP cover. Scott Scheu is the group’s other guitarist, and Dustin Koupal plays bass. From their humble beginnings in a couple of area rock groups, Samus Aran and Falling Under, the members of ent have blossomed into one of the West Coast’s niftier instrumental combos.
After playing anywhere from two to six shows per month in and around the Bay Area, ent has attracted the interest of Darla-distributed Omnibus Records, which will release the group’s forthcoming full-length debut. Omnibus seems to be a perfect home for ent’s first formal release. “I try not to think about labels too much,” McWhirter says. “I’m not really into the ‘music business’—not the majority of it, anyway.”
The group’s name may sound obscure, but any fantasy fiction fan should recognize its origin. “It’s from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien,” says Hill, who often engages in mindless acts of sparring—the band members like to have swordfights in the countryside in their spare time—that involve naked women, berries and a helluva lot of foamcore. In Tolkien’s masterpiece, the ents were massive but mobile trees that came to the rescue of Frodo Baggins and company. “Once the movie comes out,” he adds, “everyone will know.” Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts? Maybe, maybe not.
McWhirter plays the aforementioned Warr guitar, which draws considerable attention at shows because of its awkward shape, along with the style of finger-tapping used to play the beast—think the Chapman stick. “If you were to cut your fingers off and replace them with the hammers of a piano,” McWhirter says, explaining his technique, “and you put a massive fretboard behind the strings and then use your imagination, you might get something.
“You may just get a mess,” he adds.
While McWhirter prefers classical and classic-rock fare along the lines of KC and the Sunshine Band and Captain Beefheart, Hill and Scheu are dialed into such texture-driven acts as Plaid, Squarepusher, Tortoise—Chicago’s finest experimental act—and Sigur Ros. Koupal prefers noise on the electronica tip.
If ent isn’t playing locally, you might catch up by checking out one of its favorite local bands—Pocket for Corduroy, Hella, Deimos, Shortie, Electro Group or perhaps even Hi-Hat Attack, a group that uses nothing but hi-hat cymbals. “I’ve never really heard Hi-Hat Attack,” Hill admits, “but the idea seems so rad.”
Whatever way you cut it, the panic generated by ent is pure sonic bliss. The five-song, self-titled EP, available at ent’s live shows on home-burned CD-R, is a good introductory totem. If you’re out looking for the next best thing to prog rock, look no further. One can safely consider ent’s music, entertaining and downright precocious as it is, to mark a new chapter in Sacramento’s rich musical history.