After releasing miRthkon's Vehicle in 2009, AltrOck returns to Oakland, California and serves up Rainbro by Inner Ear Brigade, adding to the label's seemingly endless global smorgasbord of 21st century progressive music. Wally Scharold and miRthkon are apparently not stylistically alone in their Bay Area neighborhood, and yes, Inner Ear Brigade composer/guitarist/keyboardist Bill Wolter, like Scharold, studied at Mills College. One might consider 2012's Rainbro as another spin on lessons learned at Mills, with Inner Ear Brigade and miRthkon as two sides of the same coin -- a coin that will buy you some wildly creative music performed by adept young musicians. And, in accordance with the AltrOck aesthetic, lots of musicians, 15 in two incarnations of the band, perform on nearly any and every instrument -- including sparkling vibraphone and Crimsoid Mellotron -- that could be crammed into San Francisco's Tiny Telephone studio (which can't be that tiny). Of course, Inner Ear Brigade are not miRthkon and Rainbro is not Vehicle. This album is sometimes wacky and Zappa-esque, but also a bit less hooky (with nothing quite as funky tuneful as "Daddylonglegz") and absent the spoken word voice-overs and Scharold's humorously twisted world-view. Lyrically, these two bands with ties to the same academic milieu share a certain cerebral quality, but in Inner Ear Brigade's case the texts consist largely of fragmented existential observations and musings about meta-everything -- plus opening track "Knee," about a "Japanese spaceship/Flying through the atmosphere/Searching for the chocolate bean."
What really sets Inner Ear Brigade apart, though, is singer Melody Ferris, whose breezy, jazzy delivery (akin to Ludovica Manzo on Hubris by Italy's Slivovitz) is anything but angsty and nicely balances the complexity of the arrangements and lyrical predilections. A Flora Purim-meets-Frank Zappa feeling even emerges as Ferris sings along with Ivor Holloway's saxes on a Zappa-like theme in "Somnabulist Subversion." Inner Ear Brigade can be most appealing when they ride a groove, as in the first half of the funked-up "Oom Pah." But while "Oom Pah"'s abrupt midpoint compositional transition is skillfully executed, it also scuttles the quite pleasurable and even danceable momentum. Listeners preferring less choppy music may be grateful that Ferris is around to throw them a lifeline with her amiable vocals, yet one of the album's most accessible tunes is "Dirty Spoons," an instrumental track without her. The music flows unimpeded, the groove persists, the melodies are lovely, and the squelchy electronics poured into the stew elsewhere are a tasty seasoning here. "Dirty Spoons" is a fine lead-in to "25 Miles to Freedom," the album's ten-plus-minute concluding opus that builds organically in a thematically linked suite touching on Latin-flavored classicism with lilting vocals, precise arpeggiated post-minimalism, and angular sax-fueled modern creative jazz. All the band's strengths come together on this track, recorded by an alternate lineup (notably including violist Charith Premawardhana) in 2009. Hopefully, Inner Ear Brigade will revisit mile-markers like this as their own spaceship continues on its journey.