By: Michael T. Regan
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Why the weird capitalization?
Matt Hollenberg chuckles. "We're just into that visual, the look of the lowercase 'I'," says the iNFiNiEN guitarist. "It stands out, but there's not really a specific meaning behind it."
Fair enough — it does lend itself to all manner of graphical possibilities, and the concentration required to type the band's name correctly makes it tough to forget.
But at the same time, downplaying the "i" also recalls an athletic quip, that old chestnut about parts serving the whole and the way "team" is spelled.
Yes, we realize it's odd to evoke football whilst discussing a band as ethereal as iNFiNiEN, but consider this: Hollenberg, who doubles in the hypercomplex grindcore group Cleric, comes at music from a metal and psychedelic background.Singer/keyboardist Chrissie Loftus, a classically trained vocalist, formerly co-fronted another keyboard-driven rock act, Trace Fury. Bassist Jordan Berger and drummer Tom Cullen are studied in jazz.
iNFiNiEN doesn't sound particularly like any of those things. Easy reference points might be side 2 of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, or the first Portishead record. Perhaps Mr. Bungle for the Middle Eastern/dub-inspired freakouts. But again, references are limiting.
"Between the four of us, we're into every style," says Hollenberg. "But we don't approach it like, 'Here's this stock part, you put it here.' And that way, the music opens itself up to something else entirely."
Hollenberg and Loftus have played together as iNFiNiEN since 2004, when the two shared a house at Girard and Randolph with original bassist Justin Carney. The two credit Carney with shaping the band's sound, urging it to be more than just noodling music majors living together and jamming in the basement. Despite their friendship, Hollenberg describes interacting musically with Carney as "very intimidating."
"Justin was a teacher in a way," he says. "I was so used to stylized, genre-bound music. Now I never, ever, ever play power chords. Ever."
He's insistent, but I swear I hear a few major fifths squeeze their way in on the Don Caballero-ish breakdown of "Trivial Pursuit" — the central cut on the band's self-titled LP (recently remastered, remixed and reissued). Nevertheless, we can take Hollenberg at his word. His guitar work is much more intricate and dynamic than you'd hear in the noise metal world, with flighty layers of harmonics and solos stretching across octaves.
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Likewise with Loftus, some of the tracks harken back to the fusion of Trace Fury. "Aquatica" begins on a chiming major-seventh keyboard lead as her voice dreamily pans from left to right and back again (listen on headphones!). The song swells and embellishes on this basic two-chord structure; riffs and sounds are progressively layered until the mix peaks steeply and ends cold and breathless. It's the Kid A-inspired constructions her old band attempted, but done with more redolence and sophistication.
This growth comes from the group looking not just to their own backgrounds but each other's, allowing their proficiencies to blend. Cullen's drums can have a loose swagger and jazzy sway, but they can also pound out hellacious trills on the intense moments (he and Hollenberg bonded over a shared love of freeform metal/jazz group Candiria). Berger, who joined on Carney's recommendation after the original bassist departed for Los Angeles, dug that these were rock songs he could improv to.
"It was everything I was looking for," Berger says. "Dense chords, atypical structures."
Calling it "fusion" isn't even entirely correct, since that smacks of cocktail parties and easy-listening boredom. This is the sublimation of styles, a group of highly trained players sacrificing their training for the sake of something more exciting.