The Spinanes

(formerly posted on the Yahoo! Music site)

A rare winner in rock's mixed-doubles class, the Spinanes brilliantly transcend the limitations of a duo, both onstage and in the studio. Standing tall above the crowded Northwest pop scene, Rebecca Gates (vocals, guitar) and Scott Plouf (drums) have quickly established a name with their gentle observations and distinctive melodies.

A former all-purpose player around Portland (band manager, roadie, publicist, fanzine editor), Gates eventually began writing songs and hooked up with Plouf in 1991. The pair's first show was at the legendary International Pop Underground Convention in Olympia, WA, which led to a contract with Sub Pop. The resulting album, Manos, was one of 1993's top debuts and a #1 hit on college radio. With few overdubs beyond Gates' self-harmonized vocals, the disc caused an immediate sensation with stunning tracks like "Uneasy," "Noel, Jonah and Me," "Manos" and the acoustic "Entire." Plouf's percolating rhythms were seductive, but the record's greatest assets were Gates' grainy, soulful voice and unusual self-taught guitar style. Her songs dodged standard verse-chorus structures, often languidly dwelling upon one melody line or introducing new motifs midway through, while her confident strums favored odd note clusters over traditional chords. The group had trouble finishing a sequel, however, and didn't release Strand until over two years later. Recorded with a peculiar abandoned-shipyard ambience, this woolly disc was far less accessible. Songs like "Lines and Lines," "Winter on Ice," "Meridian," "Valency" and "For No One Else" were just as accomplished, but muddy production and instrumental noodling sapped the record's power. However, the expanded arrangements (keyboards, mellotron, a variety of percussion) pointed toward an intriguing third album.

Following Strand, Plouf left to join Built to Spill. Gates has recruited a new drummer and plans to release another Spinanes record in spring, 1998.

1. Manos 1993
A superb collection that spans everything from churning rock to quiet ruminations, Manos is a powerful blend of soothing hooks and affecting, conversational lyrics. The guitar and drums mesh so perfectly, the missing bass player is hardly noticed.
Rating: 6

2. Strand 1996
More ambitious but less focused than the debut, Strand is a moodier, more experimental piece. The songwriting is as strong as ever, but the production indulgences are a minus.
Rating: 5

--Eric Broome