Trevor de Brauw, guitarist for Pelican, knows that instrumental music is often assigned to snooty musician types with no sense of melody. But, he says, the Chicago-based Pelican isn't your typical instrumental band.
"Instrumental" isn't an issue, de Brauw says, "as long as an instrumental band is engaging, or you can escape within the music."
His words describe Pelican's brand of crunching metal, science fiction-esque pop, and atmospheric sounds quite well. The songs from its latest offering, City of Echoes, show a band balancing its metal (by the way of hardcore riffs) and its New Wave-inspired, pogo-inducing clean guitar lines. It's a compelling album, full of music that's simultaneously dense and airy. And, for Pelican, it's a formula that works, even without a vocalist.
"We have just been [playing together] for so long, creating music, that [it] doesn't have any application for vocals," de Brauw says.
City of Echoes also showcases Pelican's uncanny ability to shy away from the math and prog clichs that some instrumental bands employ; its punk-like musical aesthetic can be summed up by a well-known '70s rock mindset: Keep it simple, stupid.
"We are all into different kinds of things," de Brauw says. "We kind of have a more tasteful aesthetic. We don't go into songwriting to make things complicated or indulgent. We try to make things appealing."
But it's not just the band's lean, unassuming musical vibe that wins fans. With songs unencumbered by vocals, listeners are compelled to find their own meaning in the music. It's a model de Brauw and his bandmates wholeheartedly endorse.
"We are trying to make music that has melodies and is very lyrical in the absence of a vocalist," he says. "It's kind of the vibe that people get from a movie, with the images being projected at them with a musical accompaniment. I certainly wouldn't dispel [audiences from doing that]. We try to make music that is going to conjure something within people."
Conjure, they do. Each song on City of Echoes brings images of different worlds, different times and different places all without the hokey "Dungeons and Dragons"-inspired imagery.
""Cinematic' is a word that people have used to describe us in the past," de Brauw says. "We're trying to make music that comes with that vibe. When you don't have a vocalist, there's not that member of the band projecting imagery."
And when you don't have a vocalist, live performances can be a bit tricky. Most bands tend to rely on a lead singer to keep the show rolling and to interact with the fans. Instead, de Brauw, fellow guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec, bassist Bryan Herweg and drummer Larry Herweg all rely on the music.
It's a novel concept in this day and age. But, amazingly, Pelican pulls it off.
"If the music creates an atmosphere," de Brauw says, "you can get lost in an atmosphere."
Pelican with Clouds and Your Black Star
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Monday, Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10; visit ticketweb.com or call 866/468-7621.