"There's a lot of dissonance involved in our music," notes Martyn Leaper, 26-year-old vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter for the Denver pop trio known simply as INK. "I don't think we can control what we're going to do next. A lot of times, I just start fiddling with my guitar and something pops up. We don't have a definite plan of attack."
In short, INK. is sloppy. And not just a little sloppy; rather, it is incredibly, certifiably, profoundly sloppy. While most run-of-the-mill indie-pop practitioners are content working within the confines of traditional song structures, Leaper and his fellow INKsters--bassist Anthony Petrovic and drummer Chris Van Huffel--prefer to dribble, splash and heave disheveled fragments of pop, jazz and rock at their listeners like an abstract expressionist slings paint at a canvas. The result is music that is challenging, entertaining and frequently ingenious--in a shabby, unintentional sort of way.

Petrovic admits that he's fed up with conventional musical styles. "I really don't want to be in a rock band," he explains. "I mean, rock and roll is the easiest thing to start out with, because it's got that sort of dumb blues construction. But I'd rather deal with really weird organizations and song arrangements. I like music that people just don't get. I like the unexpected."

The looseness of INK.'s songwriting is certainly surprising, but it's also undeniably catchy. Sprinkled throughout the group's avant-garde jams are some of the most righteous hooks to be found in this or any other time zone. Tunes like "Salad Days," "(It's Cold, and I Feel Just Like) William Holden" and "I'm the Starling" ring with jangly melodies and harmonies of the sort the Beatles and Ray Davies produced in their respective heydays. Just as impressive are Petrovic's animated bass lines, Van Huffel's spare, consistent drumming, and the resonant vocals and engaging lyrical imagery of Leaper, who suggests a less-high-strung version of XTC's Andy Partridge. Leaper comes by this influence honestly. A British native who moved to Colorado in 1984, he says, "I can't help singing like him, because I'm from there. Swindon [Partridge's hometown] and Portsmouth, where I'm from, are about thirty miles apart. And we all speak somewhat the same in England.

"XTC has been a big influence for me, though," he continues. "In high school, especially. I liked the way they wrote. It seemed very calculated."

INK.'s performances, on the other hand, are anything but. Live, the musicians flail through their improvisational sets with an abandon befitting the most driven of punk bands. With Leaper and Petrovic kicking, hitting and otherwise manhandling their instruments in an effort to extract intriguing bursts of sound, Van Huffel is left to hold the din together. That's not an easy task, but it's one that the drummer readily accepts. "When I play, I try to balance between following Anthony and following Martyn, so that I'm not in my own little world," he reveals. "At the same time, I try to spice things up a little--which isn't always easy, because I feel I still have a long way to go as a drummer."

"Chris is really good at emphasizing changes for us," Petrovic interjects. "I don't want this to sound cheesy or `yoga-sizic' or anything, but I feel like I'm on a definite wavelength with Chris." After a brief pause, he adds, "Well, maybe I shouldn't say `wavelength.' That sounds weird. We don't burn incense or anything like that. But it does make it really easy for Martyn and me to improvise."

The band's upcoming plans include a single to be released on Denver's Elephant 6 label and an appearance on a compilation disc featuring local bands that's slated to be issued on INK.'s own Frog-Robin imprint in September. In the meantime, Petrovic vows to engage in a never-ending search for "a new sound. I know it sounds kind of ballsy, and I know a million other people have said this before me, but I'm going to do it. It's like the walk through the desert. The grand search. The lost ark. But I'm going to find it. I've still got plenty of life ahead of me, and I'll do it."

What does Leaper expect to gain from all this? The answer is simple: a good time. "[Playing in a rock band is] a kick in the ass, man," he asserts. "It's the funnest thing I've ever done. It's destroyed my school life. My home life is in the shitter. It's like a drug. It's also very taxing, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

Brethren Fast, with the Apples and INK. 9 p.m. Saturday, May 27, Paradise Theatre, 4501 East Virginia Avenue, $4, 333-6000.


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