Some musical efforts seem ordained by fate; such is certainly the case with The Raccoonists, Pittsburgh's first post-rock supergroup. In the '90s, "post-rock" was the new gray-area definition for genre-blending indie artists such as Tortoise and Godspeed You Black Emperor -- a vibrant niche, but one Pittsburghers were too busy with punk rock and rave parties to notice. But after the millennial turn, post-rock's second wave finally broke through to a broader audience with bands like Sigur Ros and Mogwai.
Around that time, drummer Chris McDonald and guitarist Dan Burgun, both with solid jazz backgrounds, encountered Evan Wood and Andres Ortiz-Ferrari at Duquesne University. Back home in Puerto Rico, Ortiz was classically trained on the piano and played with the band Exp. Lab, whose members had followed advanced electronica (such as Autechre) since their high school days of peer-to-peer music sharing on Soulseek. Each pair of college friends eventually went their separate ways, with McDonald and Burgun joining the band Ennui (a Coldplay-style piano-rock quartet) and Wood and Ortiz-Ferrari forming Discuss (a laptop IDM duo similar to Boards of Canada).
It wasn't until both Ennui and Discuss had existed for a while that the four decided the time was ripe to forge a sonic alliance.
"I never knew that Chris was in Ennui until I saw him play," recalls Ortiz, who has returned to The Bluff to earn a master's in multimedia -- he's pursuing an ambition to write film soundtracks. "I asked Chris if he'd like to come to my apartment and try to practice to see what happens, and I was amazed to find that both of us thought of working with each other, independently."
Soon, the quartet discovered an innate chemistry. "We're on the same wavelength as far as composition," explains Ortiz. "I sit down and come up with a piano line on the Rhodes, Chris starts doing a drum part, Evan adds his guitars and sax. Dan is always on -- he never has to ask what key we're in, he just knows -- and his guitar comes with a noise box full of electronic toys and pedals."
Burgun's dense string squalls point to an obvious influence, other than ancestral Pink Floyd, that the group members share: the early '90s U.K. shoegaze exemplified by My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Combined with jazz-textured improvisation and electronically looped rhythms (think The Album Leaf or The Timeout Drawer), The Raccoonists' sound emerges organically from these roots.
That's lucky, because they don't practice much: Ortiz returns to San Juan every four months, while McDonald studies at the New England Conservatory, in Ran Blake's "Third Stream" contemporary improvisation program. So on the rare occasions when everyone's in town, they plow through new music on the fly. This approach works surprisingly well, according to Ortiz, who believes that their music is best represented in a live setting; he'll record their upcoming show for a promotional demo.
"One of the things I like about Raccoonists is how we can practice for one day and somehow have enough material for an hour," he says. "When we played with The Advantage [at Quiet Storm], they told us, 'Your songs are well organized -- it shows that you've been touring.' But I told them, 'We don't tour -- that was our second show ever.' And they were like, 'What? You guys should concentrate on this band.'"
And so they are, at long last. McDonald, for one, doesn't foresee any conflict with Ennui, which has already done some regional touring of its own. "Some people that have large, successful bands are in two or more [bands]. I see no reason why Dan or I have to pick one or the other."
The Raccoonists with Dark Side of the Cop and Discuss. 9:30 p.m. Sat., Jan. 6. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $4. 412-621-4900