Material: Having fronted Portland band System and Station for a decade and a half, and earning respect from all who have heard them, but struggling to get into enough ears, Ryan Heise can be forgiven for taking a little musical vacation and, well, launching another Portland project that is likely to earn him a ton of respect but not be heard by enough people. It stands to reason; System and Station has been compared to everyone from Fugazi to John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin to Stevie Wonder. Meanwhile, Last Giant has a sound that seamlessly blends post-hardcore, classic rock and funky soul. So, he’s hardly reinventing his own wonderful wheel. Still, the songs are excellent—layers of melody buried under swathes of rolling fuzz and noise that sits somewhere between Mother Love Bone and Hüsker Dü.
Musicianship: Bandleader Heise is a quality guitarist and an interesting vocalist. He brings the songs that he has written to life, wailing when necessary but also knowing when to keep the mood mellow, perhaps building anticipation for the next crunchy riff and scream. But, as they say, a band is only as good as its drummer and, in Matt Wiles, Last Giant has a beast. Not only can the guy hit hard when these big rock songs demand, but he’s mathematically precise and intricate. Bassist Palmer Cloud is the new guy in the group, but he’s already formed one half of a killer rhythm section. The previously mentioned funky elements, meanwhile, are naturally largely down to him.
Performance: The vibe of Last Giant is very ‘90s alt-rock, so there’s little in the way of a big rock performance from the band. The plaid shirts and mumbled between-song banter is as reminiscent of the grunge scene as some of the chunky, fuzzy riffs. It’s fun to watch the expressions of Heise’s face, though, as his song-journals are brought to life.
Summary: It’s unlikely that Last Giant will succeed where System and Station has so-far failed to do so. The songs are no more mainstream-friendly, after all. And who knows when Heise is planning to go back to the day job? But those who do spend a little time and effort getting to know Last Giant’s songs will be richly rewarded. The tunes are catchy, infectious even, if you can just dig them out.
The Players: Ryan Heise, vocals, guitar; Palmer Cloud, bass; Matt Wiles, drums.
Photo by Brett Callwood
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