Few are the guitar bands that understand a very simple concept: Often, singers have nothing interesting to say yet insist on standing there front and center, looking all forlorn and angst-ridden, demanding "more vocals in the monitor, please, I can't hear myself" and basically occupying both physical and aural space better taken up by oxygen, dust and the sound waves generated by the rest of the band.
Chicago's Five Style, like Pell Mell, Gone, the JBs and the Meters before them, have no need for a monster ego to ruin their music. They're musicians who play musical instruments, and their lineup proves it: John Herndon, whose fancy job is as drummer for Tortoise; Bill Dolan, the king of Heroic Doses; Leroy Bach, the touring keyboard/guitarist for Wilco; Jeremy Jacobsen, who records as the Lonesome Organist and whose remarkable freakazoid keyboard records, put out by the great Chicago label Thrill Jockey, are underappreciated gems.
Together, Five Style browses through genres -- instrumental funk à la the Meters and the JBs, tinny Lee Perry dub, early Meat Puppets, Tortoise at 45 rpm and a whole slew of influences just out of reach. Whereas their debut, 5ive Style, displayed a band totally in love with instrumental '60s and '70s funk (though live they ended up sounding nearly -- ugh -- like a funkier Chili Peppers), their most recent full-length, Miniature Portraits (Sub Pop), is more schizophrenic and confusing. The guitar sound remains the same throughout -- Windex-clean and shimmery but restrained in all the right places. They leap from gymnastic Africa juju examinations to pensive ballads, employ some fantastic sounds -- marimba, melodica, clavinet, organ, bicycle bell -- all with a glowing curiosity and healthy sense of adventure.