The English rock band Wire was once described as being too punk to be art rock and too art rock to be punk. Music writers and magazines had a terrible time describing the band because it belonged to no genre at all, except its own.
The bicoastal, semi-local band Them Hills has always found themselves in a similar conundrum, and with the release of their third album, “Rad Disguise,” the band continues to blur the genre lines.
The group will host an album release concert at 8 p.m. today at Coopers Ale Works in Nevada City.
The bones of “Rad Disguise” started coming together during the first week of January 2010. Guitarist/singer Dan Elkan and bassist Thaddeus Stoenner met at their warehouse space outside of Nevada City to begin writing new songs.
Elkan had just come off a year of performing as a guitar player/backup singer for Dangermouse and James Mercer’s project, Broken Bells, and drummer David Torch had moved across the country to work for the New York Times as a photographer.
Elkan and Stoenner found themselves without a drummer or a recording budget and very little time to work together, so the pair scraped together a few microphones and reference monitors and began brief and sporadic demo sessions, which would ultimately become “Rad Disguise.”
“The actual recording was done pretty quickly. We put a time constraint on ourselves when it came to actual recording. We made a rule that after we were done with a song we were not allowed to go back in and fuss with it,” said Elkan.
“The idea was to try to keep the original intent and inspiration for songs intact. We both believe that we were successful in that way and for that I am proud. We recognized that one’s tendency to ‘perfect’ an idea for a song often leads to losing sight of what was initially exciting about it in the first place.”
“Rad Disguise” is the first album Them Hills wrote and recorded simultaneously. The two would get together, harness a sort of stream of consciousness mindset, write and hit record. A few songs were from ideas that were formed before hand, but the method of the record was inspired at the time. They challenged themselves to work and write quickly without filtering or second-guessing.
“We’ve been playing together for over 15 years, so we really know what works and what doesn’t. For the most part, Dan will bring in a song and I will try to add something interesting or emphasize what I hear as the important melodies and rhythm,” said Stoenner.
“As far as differing styles, I’d say the main thing is that Dan generally writes catchy, hook-oriented songs and refines them until the we feel the arrangement is as interesting and concise as possible. I generally write more repetitive, meandering songs and focus on trying to make them hypnotic and dense.
“This was the first Them Hills album to feature a couple of my songs. I generally don’t write stuff that would work as Them Hills songs, but it was really cool to push my limits a little, I’d never really written or sung songs like that before.”
“Rad Disguise” is Elkan and Stoenner’s strongest album to date, they say. The album’s sound, they both profess, was happenstance, but agree it captures the band at its best.
“I’m really happy with the sound and feel of this record. We’ve made a lot of music together, but I think this is the best thing we’ve done, it really captures the essence of what we love about music and I’m really proud of how it turned out,” said Stoenner.
In between these sporadic recording sessions, the band was busy with personal and other professional projects.
Stoenner has performed with several local groups including his band Black Bear.
Elkan relocated to Los Angeles and is a current member of Zavalaz (featuring Cedric Bixler-Zavala from At the Drive-In and Mars Volta) and has performed live with Broken Bells, Kim Deal, That Dog & Hella.
He has appeared on recordings by Kim Deal, Hella, Team Sleep (featuring members of the Deftones), Norah Jones and Zach Hill (Death Grips).
Torch began performing with the band Phosphorescent.
Earlier this month, Torch and Hunt joined Elkan and Stoenner on a West Coast tour with good friend Nick Reinhardt of Tere Melos. With just a few practice sessions before hitting the road, the guys were surprised how quickly they all got back into the flow of things.
Elkan referred to it as “muscle memory.”
The tour allowed the band to work out the kinks, get tighter and bounce songs off different audiences and friends, he said.
Stoenner said the shows ended up being some of the band’s best shows ever.
It’s been close to a year since Them Hills played in Nevada City. Tonight they will perform “Rad Disguise” in its entirety plus some older favorites.
Joining them at Coopers is good friend Ryan Donnely of Casual Fog, who also released a new album, “Below The Heart and The Moon,” in September.
Also performing will be The Horoscopes featuring husband and wife duo Chris Streng and Sasha Soukup of Mt Whateverest, Jonathan Westfall and DJs Owen, Sam and Charlie.
“I love playing with other bands and artists. There are so many different ways to learn about yourself as an artist and musician,” said Elkan.
“Playing with Them Hills is great because I get to express myself and my personal writing. There are no guidelines but our own. It’s terrifying and revealing, but ultimately satisfying to be able to realize intent in its purest form.”
Music kicks off at 8 p.m. today. There is an $8 cover at the door and attendees must be 21 or older. Coopers is located at 235 Commercial St. in Nevada City. For more on Them Hills, go to www.themhills.com.