Tin Men

Tintin packs an epic, spacious sound into a modest frame.

There's a very little-known installment of the Shaft movie series where Richard Roundtree's funky detective gets sent to bust some pimps and pushers on a space station circling Alpha Centauri. Artificial gravity hasn't been invented yet, so our man Shaft floats weightless with a fishbowl over his head while he cracks the skulls of Neptunian wise guys and knocks boots with some ultra-fine astro-foxes. His karate chops hang like slow-motion ballet in the zero-G atmosphere; the sex scenes look like they were filmed underwater. At the movie's end, the ideal of racial equality is rather graphically illustrated when it's discovered that all men, regardless of color, turn purple when pushed out of an airlock into deep space.

As much of an artistic triumph as the film was, though, the soundtrack was a bit of a problem. Apparently the portrayal of alien races in Shaft Blasts Off! clashed with Isaac Hayes's hitherto unknown Scientologist beliefs, and he refused to let his signature theme song adorn the credits. Scrambling, the film's producers opted for a track called "Science Generals," by an obscure Boulder group named Tintin.

Really, it wasn't all that much of a stretch: "Science Generals," like Hayes's more famous theme, starts out deceptively sparse, with just a hovering ghost of guitar spattered with light splashes of cymbal. Then the first bass notes punch through the hush like the low end of an orchestra, tubas and trombones and tympani all balled up into a fist. As the verse lumbers and billows majestically, a voice that sounds like it's been inhaling interstellar gases gasps, "It was so large it blocked the trees/It blocked the streets/It blocked the sidewalks." Whether these words refer to the launch of Shaft's tricked-out space shuttle or something else entirely is unclear, but one thing is sure: With a macrocosmic scope and a running time best measured in eons, the song is fucking huge.

Gang of three: Patrick Selvage (from left), Sean Merrell 
and Neal Williams are Tintin.
John Johnston
Gang of three: Patrick Selvage (from left), Sean Merrell and Neal Williams are Tintin.


With Feral Kid, Herkemur and Bear Vs. Larger Bear, 9 p.m. Friday, December 19, Climax Lounge, 2217 Welton Street, $5, 303-292-5483

"A friend of mine and I started a band in high school. It was just two of us, but we would record at home on a four-track and make it sound like five people," says Neal Williams, bassist and lead singer of Tintin; guitarist Patrick Selvage and drummer Sean Merrell round out the group. "Our senior year, we ended up releasing an album that just our friends bought. Every song was a ripoff of a different band. We had our Modest Mouse song, our Sunny Day Real Estate song, our Dinosaur Jr. song."

With such epic-sounding influences, it's no surprise that Tintin has managed to make its meager three-piece lineup echo and swell like a phalanx of ax-slingers, an entire battalion of instrumentalists. On the group's recent self-titled debut, most of the tracks clock in at over eight minutes, twisted into neat melodic helixes and set adrift in seas of sighs and whispers. Not that the shit is wimpy -- there are filaments of grim stamina wired into Tintin's music, ligaments of tension stretched taut throughout the songs' puffy, amorphous structures. Such towering sounds are usually made nowadays by massive ensembles like Godspeed! You Black Emperor and the Polyphonic Spree, sporting up to two dozen players on stage at once. That Tintin can pull off even a fraction of that magnificence with just three instruments is quite a feat, and it harks back to another trio whose whole is way bigger than the sum of its parts: Built to Spill.

"My first band in high school in Boise, Fusaine, basically started because of Built to Spill," says Selvage. "They were the big hometown heroes; they were a huge influence on me to start playing." Fusaine, a guitar and drums duo, sounded a bit like a junior auxiliary version of Doug Martsch's celebrated group and toured and released records intermittently from 1998 until earlier this year. "Boise's not the most interesting place, so there are a lot of bands there. But I started playing guitar before that, when I was growing up in Salt Lake City; I'd play Guns N' Roses and Metallica and Led Zeppelin. I tried taking piano lessons and guitar lessons, but I couldn't do it. It was too structured."

Williams, too, graduated from high school bands -- though not before earning a coveted fourth-place prize for a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" at a talent show judged by Def Jam Recordings -- and relocated from Atlanta to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado, where Selvage had also just moved. "I met Patrick at freshman orientation," remembers Williams. "He had a Satisfact shirt on. I didn't really know who they were; I just knew that someone from Modest Mouse was in that band."

From there, the two clicked instantly, and they soon began writing and rehearsing songs while looking for a drummer. Meanwhile, Merrell, who was also studying at CU, was about to cross their path. "I started playing in a band called the Gash Cats when I was twelve," he recalls. "We started off as a pop-punk band and then just kind of evolved into sort of a prog, space-rock band. We were really influenced by Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine. After the Gash Cats broke up, I joined another band called Panic in Year Zero. Then I saw this flier at Wax Trax that said 'Looking for a drummer into Sonic Youth, Mogwai, June of '44.' So I gave Neal and Patrick a call.

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