Lots of artists have a favorite mode to work in; Devin Ocampo’s might be the power trio. The Effects is the D.C. lifer’s third three-piece after Faraquet and Medications, and the latest to trace a tension between mathy technical excess (no King Crimson haters here), post-hardcore attack and release, and, increasingly more over time, poppy precision and grace. The Effects erupted out of the gate several years ago with a string of full-assault EPs, largely containing songs that were direct, muscular, and propulsive—a power trio’s power trio. Eyes to the Light, their debut full-length on Ocampo’s home base of Dischord Records, is a bit more surprising, both for its willingness to take detours—opener “New Isolation” is a galloping mission statement until its abrupt, wiry, self-contorting coda, a hint that things could get very proggy—and for its effervescence. The Effects can tear it up, but their album is also notable for its ease and its light touches. There are songs here you’d actually call painterly.
Not all of them, though. And that’s not a bad thing. “Numbers” is another clanging vision quest that ends with a curveball. “Another Day” is clangy but languorous, what seems to be a pulsing reflection on introversion (“the maladjusted inherit nothing, not even the Earth”) that benefits greatly from the talents of Ocampo’s bandmates: drummer David Rich, formerly of instrumental rocket men Buildings, and bassist Matt Dowling, of the sky-scratching mope-rockers Deleted Scenes. These guys do raw and they do deliberate, and at their best they do a bit of both.
“Anchors Aweigh” has a nautical feel and a nautical theme, applying a sea metaphor to either an estranged relationship, an artistic gulf, or both. “I grant the schism is a calculation, abstractionism met with consternation,” sings the typically laconic Ocampo in one unusually wordy lyric (he usually leaves the knottiness to his guitar licks). “I say if you’re lost and out at sea, anchors aweigh.” “Back and Forth” could be a rumination on static indecision. It also showcases an Ocampo whose vocals have evolved into a careful punk-rock croon, who knows how to make a cosmic road-warrior solo feel right in an otherwise delicate composition.
A few years ago, Ocampo—a recording engineer who is also a member of Beauty Pill and a prolific sideman among bands in the wider Dischord diaspora—described the utilitarian work ethic of the groups he’s led himself: “What defines my various bands is my work with the various members,” he told me, offering a generous, straightforward, very engineer-like sentiment that nevertheless undersold just how creative those bands have been within the strictures they set for themselves.
Yes, The Effects are what happens when you throw together three musicians who are technically rigorous but can channel their abandon, who do bombast but never for its own sake, who see the power trio not as an end but as a vector of something more interesting. In “Anchors Aweigh,” Ocampo even has a nice phrase for it: “collective entropy.”
The Effects’ record release show takes place Oct. 25 at Black Cat with Light Beams and Super Silver Haze. 7:30 p.m. $10.