Punk rock bands based on the formula of two distorted guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are a dime a dozen, especially in D.C. Not that there aren’t any good ones, mind you, but the standard instrumentation is beginning to look a bit threadbare. And there comes a point when rock just gets plain boring. So what do you do to sound different? The members of D.C.’s three-piece combo the Sorts answer the question admirably by fusing elements of jazz, ’70s art-rock, and the barest traces of funk into a mélange of purely satisfying vibrations.

In the fall of ’94, drummer Chris Farrall and guitarist/ vocalist Joshua LaRue (former members of D.C. post-punk stalwarts Hoover and Rain Like the Sound of Trains) found themselves weary of the same old same old. After the dissolution of their former bands, they recruited mutual friend and bassist Stuart Fletcher and started practicing occasionally. “Not that we had an idea of what we wanted to sound like, but more of an idea of what we didn’t want to sound like,” LaRue says. Farrall adds, “We intended to not have the sort of guitars that play straight-ahead rock or punk rock.” Ironically enough, in deciding to forgo the now-standard punk route the Sorts have achieved one of punk’s original goals—rebellion against the musical norm.

The Sorts’ self-titled album, released early last year on Olympia, Wash.’s Atlas label, fully demonstrates the band’s technical competence. There’s an element of improvlike nonchalance in Stuart Fletcher’s walking bass lines, Farrall’s intricate drumming, and LaRue’s casually proficient guitar. “It’s definitely jazz-influenced, but it’s not improvisational music,” LaRue says. “It’s all totally planned out and rehearsed. There are certainly accidents that happen, unintentional things that change and become important, but we all like jazz music and listen to it a lot…so the song structures and chords come [naturally].”

In addition to starting a four-week tour, the Sorts are releasing a new album late next month. In the meantime, LaRue explains, “We’re trying not to be a rock band.”

—Amy Domingues

The Sorts appear at the Black Cat Sunday, Feb. 2.