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What Once Was: Craig Escalante (left) and the late Brent Kimble of Continental.

Continental Drift

After the passing of bassist Brent Kimble, the instrumental band Continental soldiers on

By Sara Bir

IT IS A bittersweet time for Continental. The band celebrated the release of its new album, What Was Gained From What Was Lost, on July 17 with a show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. Over the past six years, Continental has grown into an amazingly cohesive unit, playing mainly instrumental music of soothing beauty and incredible intricacy—growth apparent in the songs from the new CD.

But the band's performance that night marked another occasion, its first live show since bassist Brent Kimble passed away early this March after fighting a heart condition for more than a decade. Continental had sent its CD to the duplication plant a few days earlier. Those who had seen Continental before could picture Brent playing the bass lines that propelled the music, his eyes closed and his formidable figure swaying back and forth. A boisterous, personable man, Brent anchored the band with his presence and passion. Brent's passing is an unfathomable loss to friends and family. But then there are those such as me, fans of Continental who were barely Brent's acquaintances but nevertheless felt a confounded ache in their hearts upon hearing the news. Did it also mean the end of Continental? I felt guilty for being so selfish to care about the future of the band, but the idea of never seeing Continental perform again seemed impossible, so abrupt and messy.

Several months later, the band announced on its website, "We have decided to continue Continental as a quartet. It's easy to say, 'Brent would have wanted it that way,' but, in this case, we couldn't be more certain of it. Brent loved this band, as do we, so we feel compelled to keep it going." The world needs more bands like Continental—not to say the world needs more instrumental bands; perhaps it could stand to lose a few, in fact. But the world needs more music with the level of heart and spirit Continental puts into its songs. The transbay band (with members living in San Francisco but practicing in Berkeley) formed in 1998, with Kimble, drummer Gabriel Coan, multi-instrumentalist Mike Eul and guitarist Matt Holt; guitarist Craig Escalante joined in 2002.

While Continental does use arcs of free-form sonic sculpting, its songs stand out for their artfully meandering midtempo melodies and a catchiness that's never hackneyed or cheesy. Coan's jazz-infused drumming and the subtle noisemaking of Eul and Escalante frames Holt's crystalline guitar and those rolling bass notes (with the band now a four-piece, Eul is adapting the bass parts to keyboard). Putting on a Continental CD is like sitting down in a really comfortable chair: it just feels right. "OK," you think, stretching out your arms and swishing your ass into the cushions, "I could stay here for a while." I used to play Continental CDs at work to trick myself into thinking I was happy to be there.

What Was Gained From What Was Lost was recorded in Salinas and Cotati, with Daniel McKenzie of the Rum Diary at the helm of some of the tracks; indeed, the dark, dreamy, bass-driven "August Ends," which features Kimble singing the album's only vocals, calls the Rum Diary to mind. The head-nodding "Ghost War" crescendos from funk to a shimmering flurry of sound, while "I and I Midnight Rendezvous" layers a chiming guitar motif with feedback and a gently thumping bass. Shortly before the band began its set on the night of the record release, it projected an image of Brent onto a screen behind it; at the merchandise table, fans could help themselves to pins with a picture of Brent hanging out and having a good time. It sounds silly, but those goofy pins are a small source of comfort. My friend put one on his hat, and I smile every time I see it. That the band continues means a part of Brent lives on every time Continental makes music together.


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From the August 10-16, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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