It's been a year since Philadelphia art-pop duo Pattern Is Movement released its acclaimed leftfield opus All Together. With its isometric rhythms and complex orchestral arrangements, the album serves as a testament to everything that is good about American avant-garde pop music. It's daring yet accessible, meticulous without being laborious, and it might just be one of the most original albums in recent memory. The disc consists of well-ordered interludes of fluttering keyboards and theatrical lyrics that are swept along by prodding rhythms and abruptly changing arrangements. Songs like album opener "Birds" and the lush "Jenny Ono" have a kinetic energy that is both highly manic yet wildly infectious.
Not bad for a couple of high school friends. Originally a five-piece band, Pattern Is Movement has pared down to two members—multi-instrumentalist Andrew Thiboldeaux and drummer Chris Ward—over the last few years, which is exactly how the group started out.
"Andrew and I started this band back in 2002, and we were playing with a bunch of our friends, and then basically those people left the band for other endeavors like getting married and having kids or going to college," Ward says. "But what is interesting is that Andrew and I have been making music together since we were 14."
The story goes that both Ward and Thiboldeaux grew up in strict religious households in Philadelphia and attended the kind of churches "where people speak in tongues and things like that," Ward says. The two started a Christian rap group, which rapidly led to forming a band. After attending separate colleges, they reconnected when Thiboldeaux started working on a solo record.
"He asked me to play drums at a show and it went really well," Ward says. "Finally we decided to make it into a band, which felt really natural. Now playing on stage together is a huge thing because every night it's like being 14 again, almost."
Well, except now they're playing sold-out shows across the country and have a reputation for their energetic, sweat-filled performances. After spending much of the last year touring in support of All Together with bands like Maps and Atlases, Subtle, and Shudder to Think, the band seems poised for something bigger, but have earned it the hard way.
"Over the last few years, really great bands have been coming onto the scene and tearing it up, and doing a really great job," Ward says. "Andrew tells this great story—he went to see Grizzly Bear like four years ago at a really small house show, and there weren't really that many people there, and now all of a sudden Grizzly Bear is the biggest band on the planet. Also bands like Dirty Projectors or Beirut, they are huge inspirations for us right now because they're doing music that's a little left of center."
The band has also found a kindred spirit in Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, whose sophomore album Actor is shaping up to be one of the most acclaimed records of the year. Currently touring the country together, Ward and Thiboldeaux first met Clark in 2006, and Pattern Is Movement even served as St. Vincent's backing band after her first album came out. Mutual admiration abounded, which eventually lead to this summer's tour. (St. Vincent heads to Bonnaroo just before Pattern Is Movement stops in Knoxville.)
"Annie has a really great ear for music," Ward says. "Her new record is a lot like ours in that it has really lovely, beautiful melodies that are almost like show tunes. They're almost inspired by Disney, and then there's this brutal attack of guitar and drumming which gives you something that's more grisly and gnarly. For our sound Andrew brings these really lovely arrangements and then I sort of beat the crap out of them with my drums."