Let's say you happened to have five guys that look like they belong in different bands. Hand them some instruments, let them roam free with their ideas and allow for some serious harmonizing. But don't stop there. Watch them fertilize in Philadelphia, expand their horizons to New York City and maybe -- for good measure -- send one of them to China for a year. What you would have then is a little treasure known as Inouk.
In a very short period, Inouk put out their debut No Danger and succeeded in doing something that only a select few albums have ever done: stump the critics. It seems at this very early stage of their career, Inouk cannot be pinned down to one specific predecessor. This is partially due to their shifting of genres and styles: Bowie, Dylan, the Beach Boys, maybe even a little U2 or Nick Drake. Nothing or all of these at once, while still maintaining what singer/guitarist Damon McMahon describes as "an Inouk sound." It is also partially due to Damon and his singer/guitarist brother Alexander's obsession with the TV show Twin Peaks. Under their guidance, their press kit states that "the songs become the musical equivalent of a Twin Peaks episode where the absurd and the beautiful co-mingle." Eloquently put.
This is not to say that Damon and company are above influences. He explains, "Of course we have influences. We're not necessarily more influenced by Twin Peaks than music, but it's more the gist of it. We're not a Rolling Stones retrospective," adding of course one more comparison to the list.
But part of Inouk's appeal and the reason for the solidity of No Danger may very well lie in their personal variations. For one, they really do look like members of different bands, and though two of the members are brothers, they couldn't be more different. "Alexander is the Beach Boys/[David] Bowie/ European thing and I've got the more American thing," Damon says. "So our songs are always really different from each other." Still, when they come together it works. It shines through in the harmonizing. The sound is almost easy to skip over, as each song is so layered and well-put together, but the hum of the brothers McMahon -- who have been singing together since they were kids -- and bassist Jesse Johnson harmonizing together carries the album through. "We can blend our voices pretty easily at this point," Damon comments. "And Jesse is the third vocalist and he has a really clear, high baritone voice. So his voice fits in perfectly."
So they blend and they harmonize and they love Twin Peaks, but what they brought to the table doesn't stop there. Starting in Philly and moving up to New York affected their sound as well. "I think New York really formulated the record because we recorded a whole year after we had moved to New York and it was in the winter time. But the seeds are kind of Philly based," says Damon.
Spending a year studying abroad in China didn't hurt him either. "It was a very forming experience," Damon says of the time he spent in Asia. "I seriously love China and Chinese as much as I love music."
With No Danger out and touring in the future, there is much to learn from Damon McMahon and this band he calls Inouk. It doesn't matter how many influences you have, or where they come from. What matters is that you figure out your own way of expressing yourself, because rock music is essentially what you see it as. Damon says of his childhood, "I would listen to the Band as a kid and Randy Newman. I guess that's what I thought rock and roll and masculinity was, a really sad pretty way of expressing yourself." And that's exactly what No Danger and Inouk are, sad ... and pretty ... and worthy of all legendary comparisons, musical or otherwise.
Check out Inouk with Hope of The States at the North Star Bar (27th and Poplar) on Mon. Oct 11 at 7p.m. $10. Special all-ages show. See www.northstarbar.com for more info.