Rants + Raves

Wye Oak’s latest, Civilian, a full and dynamic record

Though they slipped a bit beneath my radar, the band Wye Oak’s 2011 album – Civilian– has recently experienced a resurgence in this writer’s circles, as friends and I have been drawn in by the sound created by lead singer/guitarist Jenny Wasner, and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack. They inhabit a similar caucophonous pop region to their Baltimore counterparts, Beach House (also a duo); however, their album is frequently propelled more by the percussion (on songs like the My Bloody Valentine-esque “Holy Holy  “ and “Hot as Day” ). Wasner’s vocals, haunting in their own right, can remind of Cat Power – but with a more expressive and dynamic range.

I’d usually provide a “heads-up” regarding live performance, except that the band (as openers for The National) grabbed two cups of Starbucks, rather than some Stumptown – doing two shows in Seattle, nothing in Portland. My buddy Jake, after having seen them last Spring at Mississippi Studios, felt that their studio output was far stronger than their live show – so maybe they’re just practicing before they return.

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The Whole Love from Wilco starts promising and ends OK.

The first song on Wilco’s latest is called Art of Almost and it begins with noisy grinding electronic noise that sounds more like Radiohead than Chicago’s favorite “Americana” band. At just over seven minutes the song sets the stage for more musical exploration, but then I Might comes bouncing in with 60s’ era perky pop – all bap-bap-bap drums, farfisa organ and even a doo-doo-doo-doo chorus. The album proceeds to move around between genres and whilst almost all of the songs are better than good, the sum total experience didn’t really stay with me long. I didn’t want to play it again right away like previous Wilco albums. Rather I felt obligated to listen again to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Dawned On Me is a nice “Wilco” chugger that will offend no one, but it won’t be a hit either. Black Moon is soft, sad and pretty and puts their distinctive and reserved slide guitar to good use. Born Alone, Open Mind are earnest but non-essential Wilco songs. And then, Capitol City pops on and sounds immediately like the title track to the latest Pixar movie. I actually had to look at the song title and think back to recent animated movies to see if this was indeed from a kids’ movie soundtrack (it’s that corny). Standing O gets loud with a big 70s guitar riff, but doesn’t get much farther than that, and Jeff Tweedy’s voice sounds strained and submerged in the mix of hand-claps, and big lead guitars. The remainder of the songs are ones my Dad would certainly enjoy – they’re all likable, but not really lovable. Album closer One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) is a bit of standout mostly for the laid back delivery and playing, and the picked guitar refrain that repeats throughout. But dang if that piano couldn’t be found on Bruce Hornsby album.

As a whole The Whole Love takes its cue from the opening song as is ultimately the Art of Almost.

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Parish helps UK band Peggy Sue create moody gem

Acrobats, the second album from unapologetic PJ Harvey devotees Peggy Sue, has the trio abandoning their folkier past…plugging in, grabbing producer John Parish, and doing their best impression of their muse’s early recordings. And while there are plenty of sonic parallels, the record’s poppier qualities give Acrobats (for better or worse) a much easier entry point than just about any of Polly Jean’s recordings. There also seems to be a nod towards Sonic Youth’s sound, as well.

The album is currently streaming on the band’s website.

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It’s that time of year in the Pac Northwest to succumb to nature’s tears…

However, there’s no denying rains importance – and many a musical artist has acknowledged this, some better than others. I’ve started a list (by no means comprehensive) of songs where rain is a prominent feature. Some of these have rain in the title; some do not.

  • Husky Rescue – My World
  • The Blue Nile – Tinseltown in the Rain
  • Prince – Purple Rain
  • Jesus and Mary Chain – Happy When it Rains, Nine Million Rainy Days
  • Eurythmics – Here Comes the Rain Again
  • The Carpenters – Rainy Days and Mondays
  • Nick Cave – Aint Gonna Rain Anymore, Rainy Night in Soho
  • Bryan Ferry (Bob Dylan?) – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
  • Dusty Springfield – I think It’s Gonna Rain Today
  • Aha – Crying in the Rain
  • Gene Kelly – Singing in the Rain
  • Sunny Day Real Estate – The Rain Song
  • The Beatles – Rain
  • Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song
  • REM – I’ll Take the Rain, South Central Rain
  • Echo and the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain
  • The The – Kingdom of Rain
  • Madness – The Sun and The Rain, Grey Day

PLEASE SHARE YOUR FAVORITE RAIN RELATED SONG(S) BELOW – and maybe include one that rains on your parade…

Atlas Sound’s prolific Cox adds hooks to spacy beauty

With apologies to the memory of James Brown, Bradford Cox might be the hardest working man in showbiz (well, at least the indie music scene). Between his band Deerhunter, other side projects, and Atlas Sound, there’s never a shortage of his material to access. But the adage “quantity doesn’t equal equality” can frequently be applied. Though Cox can never be accused of putting out garbage, the sheer volume sometimes begs for some editing and consolidation.

So it is nice to see that Parallax, his latest Atlas Sound long player, seems to have been reigned in a bit – and has been invested with some solid melodic hooks. Where Parallax still has the bedroom-pop noodlings consistently found in Cox’s work, songs like “Shakes”, “Mona Lisa”, “Praying Man” (with a little harmonica) and “My Angel is Broken” all hint at Cox’s appreciation of 60’s girl group pop, and its inherent catchiness. There are still plenty of quieter moments, like the gorgeous (and appropriately titled) piano-meditation “Doldrums”, and the gentle guitar of “Terra Icognita”.

(ps: If you like to hear what may have influenced this, check out the recently released “The Smile Sessions” by The Beach Boys. Quite excellent)

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Real Estate & Clap Your Hands experience Portland’s enthusiastic crowds

Real Estate (Brooklyn via New Jersey) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (Brooklyn via outer space) recently graced the stages of performance spaces on the West Coast. Judging by their responses – especially here in Portland – they got back what they gave. Smells Like Pop’s Cory X and I went to both shows, and left feeling an appreciation for our hometown fans’ refreshing attitude. (editor’s note: we are both veterans of live shows in other cities – Cory having caught acts in NYC, Minneapolis, as well as legendary Portland venues; I’ve caught numerous shows while living in LA, NYC and the SF Bay Area).

Alec Ounsworth (main Clap-per, pictured above) stated part way through CYHSY’s set at Portland’s Hawthorne Theater that he was under the weather and fighting something off – and that that situation could get worse, or turn into a type of “euphoria”; fortunately for us, he said it was heading toward the latter, and proceeded to provide an energetic set, that the crowd responded to with appreciation and some frenetic dancing, to boot. The show surged on an upward arch, as the band and crowd seem to feed off of each other – and, as Cory X noticed, this was made all the more remarkable considering it was a Monday night. New numbers received a polite welcome, while old favorites (primarily from their debut) were greeted like the new classics they are seemingly becoming.

Though the world seems to be experiencing bad economic news in regards to real estate, the band Real Estate seems to be bucking that trend. Their new record, Days, is getting positive press, and their music is being utilized to accompany everything from NPR programming to TV and movie soundtracks. The band’s music – Cory X pointed to clear influences ranging from The Shins to The Feelies – is cheerful enough to begin with, the band seemed particularly receptive to the crowd – a packed Doug Fir Lounge clearly engaged by the atmospheric-bordering-on-psychedelic pop being provided. The strength of the band’s new record made its material stand out, though they wrapped things up with an encore of “Fake Blues” from their debut, dedicated to “our friends Das Rascist”- the fellow NYC artists, who apparently were in the crowd. The band encouraged the audience to join them at their hotel room for a party, somehow able to generate energy on perhaps the toughest night of the year (Sunday, evening after daylight savings). I suspect some folks actually made it…

Real Estate’s new album continues to channel waves via NYC

Days, the newest album by Brooklyn (via New Jersey) band Real Estate, sounds like an album by a band envisioning the experience of the surf from Tony Soprano’s hunting ground; it’s got the haze, the dreaminess – but still has the angsty feel of someone being prevented from “hanging ten” because of the loading docks and litter-strewn beaches. Much like their self-titled debut, the vocals are buried – intentionally it seems – allowing vocalist Alex Bleeker to be enveloped by foggy, Dick Dale-referencing guitars and some dreamy percussion. The melodies, and song writing, is stronger then their already solid first album. The band inhabits similar ground to potentially “herbally inspired” brethren Band of Horses.

Real Estate is currently touring in support of the record (at the Doug Fir Lounge November 6th)

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Strange Mercy, the latest effort from St. Vincent (ne, Annie Clark) is the payoff for years of hinting at a record like this. Her vocals – precious in the past -now reveal an artist who has literally and figuratively found her voice. The musicianship (her guitar work on “Cheerleader”) and compositions – once complex bordering on pretense – now nuanced and beautifully, sophisticatedly layered (the fantastic “Surgeon” a prime example).

Lastly, her lyrics – once clever-bordering-on-contrived, seem to reveal a poetic maturation. Great music from beginning to end; this album is an early frontrunner for record of the year.

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Upon repeated listenings to Hysterical, the latest from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I’ve come to realize how much I enjoy the album, and once again, the band. They seem to have melded the celebratory sound captured by their debut, while more successfully exploring the soaring sounds of their sophomore effort, Some Loud Thunder.

I was initially taken aback by the less than enthusiastic review provided them by Pitchfork – the site that was pretty over-the-top in their praise when this “cool new Brooklyn band” started, but which was now dismissing them. The review felt like reading the posting of a 17-year-old boy trashing the girlfriend that just dumped him on the internet….understood the sentiment, didn’t share the experience.

Catch them live if you can, as they are touring to support Hysterical, playing some smaller venues (including Portland’s tiny Hawthorne Theater, November 7th).

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We’ll have a full write-up of the Sunday MusicFest show at Pioneer Square featuring Band of Horses and Cass McCombs, but we’ve got to catch-up on all the work we missed while lolly-gagging at the festival! In the meantime, here are some photos we took at the show…

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