An old photo of Secret Drum Band in rehearsal Credit: Martin C. Evans

As the Boredoms have repeatedly proved, you can’t have too many drummers. If anything, the lineup of Portland-based instrumental collective Secret Drum Band needs more—on their recent second album, Chuva (Moon Glyph), they’ve usually got two or three at a time.

Thankfully SDB also bring two things to the table that are even more urgently necessary than more drummers: antifascism (two songs use percussion parts originally improvised during a counterdemonstration at an alt-right rally) and environmentalism (two other songs were commissioned by the Portland chapter of the Oregon Native Plant Society, and almost every track uses field recordings—including a few of Amazonian ants).

SDB actually has four drummers on Chuva, but never all at once. Two of them are ensemble directors Lisa Schonberg and Allan Wilson, who also contribute synths, processing, field recordings, and occasional wordless vocals; the other two are Anthony Brisson and Heather Treadway. Wilson is formerly of !!!, and Schonberg and Treadway used to play together in Explode Into Colors. The new record also features at least eight guests—among them guitarist Marisa Anderson and former Decemberists drummer Rachel Blumberg, playing synth mallets.

On her website, Schonberg explains that SDB’s core members “document habitats and soundscapes in their compositions, with the goal of drawing attention to issues concerning endangered species, habitat loss, and other environmental issues.” She also says that Secret Drum Band’s music alludes to “Liquid Liquid, the Creatures, and Crash Worship.”

I have irrationally strong feelings about Crash Worship, but I won’t dispute the comparison beyond saying that SDB sound way less evil. I like the rough-and-ready feel of Chuva: the unfussy, energetic drumming centers acoustic rather than electronic sounds, and the elements that might read as “new age” (heavily reverbed chants, drifty synths, wilderness ambience) stick to supporting roles, inflecting the percussion with extra color and texture. The compositions evolve and progress in compelling ways, not just by adding and subtracting layers but also by shifting through distinct movements and sections.

The sound of Chuva isn’t polished, but it isn’t rough or unfinished either. There’s no distortion, no dissonance, no noise to speak of. But this isn’t wallpapery, unchallenging hippie bullshit—even though the music is warm, inviting, and sometimes serene, it’s never directionless or lazy. Every track pushes forward with resolve and purpose, driven not by aggression but by confident collective strength. And that’s punk as fuck.  v

  • Secret Drum Band play at the University of Chicago in 2018. The music starts shortly after the two-minute mark.

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Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.