New standards: Ostinato redefines the norm

I was raised on the Beatles, and their lite-punk pop cousins Nirvana, and for a large part of my early life, these were the groups by which I would measure all other popular music. In other words, I was dumb. But through trials and starts I came to learn that a clever melody and hooks up the wazoo don’t necessarily make for an instant classic– just ask the latter-day Beatles, The Apples in Stereo (if you don’t know the group, that’s kinda my point).
Well, it’s too late to apologize for my low opinion to each act that didn’t fit into my secular view of great music, but today, as my penance, I’m going to inform newcomers to Charlottesville, and those few long-time residents not in the know, of a great, local not-your-average-rock-band.
Ostinato is a three-piece, with the normal rock contingent– guitar-vocals, bass, and drums– but that’s where the comparisons with the norm end. Most of the songs on the group’s last recording, 1998’s Unusable Signal, never get above head bobbing tempo (as opposed to head banging, or even complete body flailing), and some are downright slow. And did I mention that most of their tunes are either vocal-less, or the vocals are so buried in the mix the group seems to regard them as just another instrument?
But, contrary to what a younger me would have believed, when you listen to one of their tracks, like “jagganath,” or see the group live, you know you are listening to something amazing.
Waves of distortion roll over your body with unstoppable force. At one of their shows, you stop looking at your watch, thinking about work tomorrow, or even eyeing that cute girl/guy to your right. All your attention is riveted on stage, at the three musicians making that heavenly noise.
I’ve mentioned David Hennessy’s penchant for distortion before, but let me stress that rather than use it as a crutch, something to provide a little extra oomph to the group’s sound. He uses it much the same way Hendrix did, all those years ago. Hennessy also provides the group’s vocals when they are needed, but like My Bloody Valentine before them, these are not particularly emphasized– when they occur, they probably are the most mainstream indie-rock of their entire mix (shoegazing might be a good description).
Matthew Clark’s drumming ranges from atmospheric to all out, sold-my-soul-to-the-devil-to-play-like-this pounding, often in the same song, but he and bassist Jeremy Ramirez always stay perfectly locked to the beat Hennessy lays down.
If I could use a time machine to travel back and meet the young me, I’d sit him down, explain to him what makes music really great, and give him a few select CD’s. At the bottom of the stack, below Wilco, Sleater Kinney, and a few select others, Ostinato would be waiting.

Ostinato performs with Maserati and Paper Lions at Tokyo Rose, Thursday, September 26. $5, 10pm.


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