Sometimes you’ve got to throw away everything you’ve done, and start fresh. A clean slate. An empty palette. It’s the only way to move forward.
That’s what Jakob Battick did. The Bangor native was an active member of Portland’s music scene for nearly five years, but last year, he quit his most recent band, Jakob Battick and Friends, holed up in his apartment on Munjoy Hill and slowed himself down. For a guy who’s only recently turned 24, he’s been remarkably prolific in performing and recording, so this came as somewhat of a surprise to followers of Portland music. What came next made it worth it.
Afraid, the newest incarnation of Battick’s restless musical mind and a collaboration with bassist Ryan Cutler and a number of other Portland musicians, is nothing like the strange alt-folk of Jakob Battick and Friends, or the sloppy garage rock he played as a teenager at Bangor High School. It’s measured, it’s cool, it’s deeply atmospheric. It’s hip hop, kind of, but also indie rock, crossed with electronica, with just a hint of gothic moodiness.
“It’s far too easy to sit there and just be satisfied with what you’ve done,” said Battick. “It’s much harder and more rewarding to constantly question, constantly push, constantly improve upon what you’ve set down.”
Afraid started out last year as an experiment, after Battick became obsessed, for a time, with Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” the landmark 1992 hip hop album. It seeped into his pores to the extent that Battick put down his acoustic guitar, and picked up a sampler. In September 2012, he released under the Afraid moniker a split album, “EMF,” with his friend and co-collaborator Jared Fairfield.
In December 2012 and June of this year Afraid released two double-sided singles of spooky, song-based electronic music. Then this summer, Battick and company recorded “Pink Life,” an EP that expands on that sound, adding in more depth, more groove, and more overall instrumentation; it will be released on Oct. 8 on Bandcamp. All that hip hop, soul and funk that Battick absorbed finally made its way into the music, resulting in something that’s equal parts DJ Shadow, Deerhunter and Brian Eno.
“Together, Ryan and I have been writing songs since December. Matt Lajoie [of Herbcraft] started playing guitar, James Marcel started playing Rhodes [piano] with us,” said Battick. “Ryan and I were listening to so much Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo that the Rhodes just felt like heaven. Jared Fairfield started playing samples and keyboards and singing as well.”
“Pink Life” was recorded live in the basement of the Munjoy Hill apartment, direct to cassette, so the warmth of analog comes through even as the tracks were transferred to digital for online distribution. It started out as jam sessions, but quickly morphed into something more. It’s strange, yes, but often hypnotic, as on the layered, bass-driven “Peach Dreams,” and at times even funky, as on the shimmering, sexy “In Black Roses.”
“We weren’t planning on releasing the tapes at all. They were just made for reference from our basement sessions,” said Battick. “But, when we started stacking them up against each other, they started coming together to make a unified whole… it’s a testament to our obsessive nature in writing.”
“Pink Life” is Afraid’s first proper EP, but it’s yet to receive an official live debut – but that will happen soon, when the band plays on Saturday, Sept. 28, on the second day of the annual Oak and the Ax Festival, a three-day celebration of regional indie rock, folk and experimental music and performance at the Biddeford venue of the same name. For more information, check them out on Facebook. “Pink Life” will be available for streaming or download on Oct. 8 on Bandcamp.