Back in the mid-aughts, Strength was the talk of Portland. The funk-electro-soul-pop group’s sound was fun but relatively earnest—despite the fact that Strength began as an art school band—and there was a Michael Jackson/Prince vibe to what Strength was doing that was otherwise absent from the Portland music scene.
Until the band’s appearance at last year’s PDX Pop festival, we had kinda started to wonder if Strength was done for. WIth only a single album to its name—2006 full-length Going Strong—it seemed that the band might be banished to the dustbins of Portland music history. But that’s all changed: Mind-Reader, Strength’s long-awaited follow-up, comes out in early September (with a release show Sept. 3 at Holocene with Fake Drugs, DJ Copy and DJ Patricia Furpurse).
“Brandy,” perhaps the sexiest sex-jam on Mind-Reader (and an early favorite from Strength fans), reminds of Beck or Chromeo with its tongue-in-(your)-cheek seduction. But anyone who has seen Strength live can attest to the fact that the group takes its sultry side very, very seriously. When Bailey Winters sings “let me put you in my car—it’s a big car,” he’s keenly aware of the humorous sentiment, but he’s also deadpan as hell in wanting to screw the listener’s brains out.
On the musical front, too, Strength’s irony is far outweighed by its desire to make every element—from the synth bassline to the echoing, minimal guitar strums and all the Thriller-esque ambient noises—exactly right. It’s as if Strength wants to test society’s capacity for accepting the white-hot heat of its passion—despite the fact that they don’t fit the physical mold of R&B sexpots who usually croon songs like “Brandy.” Is the song ridiculous? Yeah, but no more ridiculous than any Top 40 R&B tune grabbed at random from the airwaves. What’s ridiculous is that these nerdy, skinny, white guys are making old-school sex-jams that sound this good. Our own expectations and stereotypes are driving the humor much more than the band itself.
But, at the end of the day, the actual idea of being rubbed down with brandy is kind of disgusting—and the persistence with which Winters demands his anonymous girl accepts a brandy rubdown is borderline creepy. Can we all agree on that?
The same cannot be said for all of Mind-Reader. This is a really well-balanced and impressive disc. It’s good to have Strength back in the land of the living, breathing, and sexing local music scene.
Download “Metal” from XO Publicity