Onstage in a saffron denim jacket, Institute singer Moses Brown struts around like Mick Jagger on ketamine, jumbling his body language like the mess of words pouring from his mouth.
On "Salt," the eponymous single from the group's EP on Sacred Bones, you can't gather much from the lyrics that Brown spits out. He plods on about the "salt of the earth," stringing his words together in a gin-drunk font while the band marches with a high and tight discipline. That contrast of taut instrumental control and reckless frontman has sparked a great deal of creativity for the Austin quartet, a band with less than two years under its hole-punched belt.
With two EPs pressed last year, Institute has quickly risen to the forefront of Austin punk, a community witnessing a burst of interest and intelligence. Glue, Xetas, Super Thief or Beth Israel — in the past couple years, the capitol has taken a turn toward dark, heavy and high-IQ music. Ghetto Gouls, Flesh Lights, Breakout! or Carl Sagan's Skate Shoes — it's wiry, leave-your-glasses-at-home music, the refuge of smart kids sick of vapid tunes and needing a rock 'n' roll release.
Take "Bureaucrat," from Institute's self-titled EP on Deranged Records. With a post-punk roll on the bass drum and an angular guitar interval, Brown sings of a DMV from hell. "Please have your papers ready as you approach / This is a final machine," he sings in a surprisingly clear timbre.
It's an anxious image, one of stale light and endless time in waiting rooms. And the machine at the front of the line — borrowed for the weekend from Terry Gilliam or Louis Lowry — is a hair-rising device suggesting a cold, clinical death. But before we reach the end of the queue, "Bureaucrat" takes a bizarre and anticlimactic turn. "Oh you, you have to go the back of the line. I'm sorry, try again in three weeks," sings Brown, putting fate on pause.
This new, shrewd punk takes shape in different variations, but shares the trait of doing more with less. Fewer instruments, pedals, post-production effects — more words per minute, though — less sonic clutter and reduced room for error.
Institute's guitar channel runs on a clean path, letting the sour tones come from odd intervals and repetition. The bass purrs on simple and unifying riffs, the band's second great nod to British post-punk. The first, of course, is Brown's vocal slop, sounding like a time capsule from central London in the late '70s.
All of it gathers to create Institute's restless, stuck mood of being indoors for the cold weeks of winter.
Institute feat. Street Sects, Cannibal Bitch, Spokesmodel, Ill Informed
$5, 8pm Friday, January 30, K23 Gallery, 702 Fredericksburg, (210) 776-5635, facebook.com/k23gallery