When Drexel’s upstart music label MAD Dragon and Minneapolis rock veterans Motion City Soundtrack decided to join forces to put out a series of vinyl records, the talent search was multidirectional. Some acts floated in from the web. Others happened to be pals with Motion City.
New Jersey’s Brick + Mortar, the two-man wrecking crew of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon, did it the hard way: They worked the room.
“Brick + Mortar were discovered by the student A&R committee at Drexel,” says Terry Tompkins, president of MAD Dragon and director of Drexel University’s music industry program. “A few of the kids caught a show … last fall and were blown away.”
That’s usually what happens when you witness the Asbury Park duo in action. You get hit in the face with ramped-up rhythm, noisy electronics — they’re at the haziest, noisiest, punkest edge of the drum 'n’ bass genre — and a set of voices that’s surprisingly supple and handsomely tuneful for such rough experimentalism.
MAD Dragon just dropped Brick + Mortar’s first recording since 2011’s three-song Heatstroke, a follow-up to their 2010 debut, 7 Years in the Mystic Room. Their latest is a three-song 7-inch in Dragon/Motion City’s new Making Moves series. The duo plans to release a full-length sometime in 2013.
“Brick + Mortar has always kind of just been,” says Asraf. The 27-year-old bassist has played with Tacon since the two were in eighth grade at the same Toms River middle school. “John taught me how to play bass and I never looked back. Musically, though we’re the same age, I think of Tacon as a father figure to me. He showed me what performing is all about.”
Fatherhood, or the lack of parental figures, figures prominently in Asraf’s lyrical mien. “Old Boy,” one of the three songs on their newest extended single, talks about living up to his absentee father’s legend. “My dad was a Moroccan-Israeli diamond smuggler/playboy/con man,” he laughs. “My childhood was like the movie Blow, but with more hummus.”
Under the name The Black Rhythm, they gigged with other band members, though none lasted very long, and wore their wild style of free improvisation like a badge. After becoming Brick + Mortar in 2009, the pair funneled its largesse into something leanly, meanly melodic. “I don’t think that we have a style or genre,” says Tacon. “Growing up, the music we listened to never really transcended to the things we wrote.” He even eschews discussing particular influences. “We are just two guys making our own kind of art.”
But this isn’t fussy art-pop or spindly design-school wonk. Brick + Mortar makes workingman blues. There’s sadness in their newest songs. The tartly melodic “Bangs” is about fighting against hopeless futility. “Other Drugs” finds lyricist Asraf using everything in his power, from chemicals to romance, to cope with troubling issues. Several of the tunes planned for their upcoming album — “Heatstroke,” “Move to the Ocean” — may not be any easier to handle. “I write the lyrics and melody while being away from instruments,” says Asraf. “Just a strong a cappella from start to finish.”
Neither of them is afraid to get his hands dirty. Asraf works part-time at Bands on a Budget, a wholesale music-merchandise company. Tacon does landscaping and waits tables down the Shore.
“For years I worked as a garbage man,” Tacon laughs. “Brandon even worked there for a minute, but got himself fired for being, well, Brandon. And though I’m waiting tables now, it’s looking like I’m not going to have time to go back.”
Fri., July 20, 8 p.m., $13-$15, with River City Extension, Spinning Leaves and Laura Stephenson, Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., 215-232-2100, utphilly.com.