(Kill Rock Stars)
[SYMPHONY OF CELLOS] The cello is the one stereotypically classical instrument that always sounds cool in an indie-rock context. But what happens when you try to meld a suite of traditional compositions against a bed of low-key folk rock?
That's the basic question that the Portland Cello Project has tried to answer since its inception. A rotating cast of up to 16 cellists led by gregarious ringleader Douglas Jenkins, PCP has backed up everyone from the Builders and the Butchers to the Dandy Warhols, becoming the de facto house band of the local music scene. On PCP's second record, The Thao Justin Power Sessions (its first for big-time indie label Kill Rock Stars), it eschews the live show's focus on Top 40 pop covers and cameos and tries to make a cohesive, front-to-back record.
For the most part, it succeeds. PCP wisely narrows its scope to include just two guest vocalists, sometimes-local singer Thao Nguyen and PDX folkie Justin Power, to complement the four instrumental tracks. Both musicians contribute four original songs to the record, and they're all good, though Thao's infectious "Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)" loses some of the intensity of the original by trading an uptempo electric guitar arrangement for—you guessed it—an orchestra of cellos.
The best piece is "Hungry Liars," a whispering song led by Power's strident voice and an instrumental accompaniment that mirrors his words; when Power sings about the "smoke that will not stop billowing," the cellos drift like smoke pouring out of an old chimney. It's a beautiful sound that melds the old with the new and still manages to sound, well, cool. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
[ALBUM-ORIENTED RAP] The opening track from Sapient's Make More, "Here," is about as bold as rap songs get: a rap manifesto set to a sweeping orchestral storm of sampled brass, strings, voices and beats that's one part John Williams and one part Ennio Morricone. Sapient comes through loud and clear. "The industry is tainted/ Piss in the batter/ So I don't listen to rappers and all their whimsical banter/ They don't talk like they live/ And the pleasure material objects can give is as false as it gets."
Sapient's not the first MC to bust on phony rappers—or to detail his chosen method of murdering them, as Sape does on "I Did It"—but he's that rare spirit who follows the thought to its logical conclusion: Bad music comes from bad culture, which comes from a lack of commitment to the basic tenants of hip-hop (or the religion of one's choosing). With that knowledge, Sapient acknowledges the pitfalls of putting the words "music" and "business" together while also restating his vows on "Ready for Whatever": "I'll be that artist/ I'll be that human separately/ So I'll starve first/ Before I lose integrity."
One need not catch Sape's lyrical drifts to enjoy Make More. His self-produced beats are rooted in glitched-out futurism, but he often records live percussion to deepen the funk, and isn't afraid to sing verses (or squawk psychedelic arpeggios, as on "The Way It Is") to get a point across. Sape sounds as good as his lyrics sheet reads, in other words, and Make More is one of the Sandpeople crew's best-sounding releases to date.
They say the whole concept of the album is dying out, but this is some of the most cohesive, compelling stuff the Sandpeople camp has ever put out. The Northwest always was a little different. CASEY JARMAN.
Portland Cello Project releases
Friday, June 12, at the Aladdin Theater. 8 pm. $13 advance, $15 day of show. All ages. Sapient releases
Saturday, June 13 at Rotture with Sandpeople, Cancer Rising, Braille and more. 9 pm. $7. 21+.