Brave Records’ four-way split “14-inch”(Brave Recs)This four-artist, “14-inch” package from new Portland imprint Brave Records is exciting for a few reasons. For one, LAKE sounds amazing with production from Tucker Martine on the warm, Belle and Sebastian-meet-Sesame Street groove of “Good Company.” And the Red River is characteristically thoughtful and lyrically astute on “Swallow Song,” which reminds more than a little of Portland’s own Super XX Man.
But for Portlanders, this release should be exciting because it’s the first recorded showcase of what amounts to the Portland supergroup of the Old Believers and Congratulations. Songwriters Nelson Kempf and Dhani Rosa have each shown great promise from a very young age, and their bands’ half of the split is proof of even more growth. Congratulations’ “Juice + Syrup” trades Rosa and his old band Eskimo and Sons’ literate melancholy for complex vocal arrangements anchored by singer Danielle Sullivan, Motown-esque key shifts and plain-spoken lyrical immediacy. The Old Believers’ “It’s With You Now” is just as ambitious, with Kempf’s long narrative strings delivered against a pulsing chorus of friends new and old. The song rests on a lovely thought: that though memories may fade, “All the love you ever felt/ It’s with you now.”
What’s perhaps most charming here is that Rosa and Kempf manage to tastefully name-drop each other amid their lyrics, suggesting that each cut is a love song from one band to the other. Let’s just hope it’s true love, because we want to hear a lot more from this collective, and from this label, in the future. CASEY JARMAN.
Explode Into Colors, Eyes Hands Mouth(Kill Rock Stars)
Because Explode Into Colors won WW’s 2008 Best New Band Poll on the strength of its live performance and a self-released cassette tape, there’s some extra excitement for the band’s early vinyl-only releases.
Eyes Hands Mouth is the second in a three-part series of 7-inches from the group, which released Coffins on M’Lady’s earlier this year. And, as is par for the course with EIC, the title track on this latest wax benefits more from cinema genre-tags than the ones we usually use for music. “Eyes Hands Mouth,” with its ghostly aahs and woos, is a noir spaghetti western. “I can’t believe what my eyes saw,” guitarist/vocalist Claudia Meza sings over a galloping Lisa Schonberg beat and extra “Don’t Fear the Reaper”-esque percussion from Heather Treadway. All three Colorists contribute vocals behind Meza, but in context it sounds more like they’re coming to get her.
B-side “Wooden Ghost” is a slightly more subdued effort recorded than in concert, but the trio’s climbing and piercing oohs and aahs still blast over bassy post-punk like laser guns over dystopian wreckage.
To recap: We got a funky Western side and a dubby sci-fi side here. Both of which bode well for EIC’s eventual musical. CASEY JARMAN.
Vanishing Kids/Street Pyramids split 7-inch (Bright as Night Records)
Part of the pleasure of listening to a 7-inch is that it’s a medium that leads to playing a song on repeat; with just a few minutes per side of vinyl at its disposal, a band really has to make its mark, which often leads to some excellent material. The Vanishing Kids are part of a long line of Portland transplants, and the quartet (led by married couple Jason Hartman and Nikki Nads) puts its best foot forward with “Mother Earth,” the excellent and lurching single from the band’s upcoming full-length.
“Mother Earth” is all about tension: Between the breathy vocals, vintage keys and layered guitars, it’s a song that feels like it could burst at any moment. It’s also an excellent pop moment, one that draws on the tradition of bands like the Cure but never sounds too cloying or trite. The flip side—a track called “Outside” from San Francisco’s Street Pyramids, the new outfit of former Kids’ bassist Travis Marks—goes a bit too far down pastiche road, with a Talking Heads groove that never really goes anywhere. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Welcome Home Walker,Watch Your Step (Boogie Creek Records)
As side projects go, Welcome Home Walker is one of the better offshoots in town. Led by singer and guitarist Devin Jorgensen, the trio also features the harmony and production talents of Blue Skies for Black Hearts’ Pat Kearns, and the band’s new 7-inch sets its power-pop leanings against a cover of Ted Hawkins’ “Watch Your Step.”
Though Hawkins’ original is steeped in the blues, WHW turns “Watch Your Step” into a rollicking, Stones-y boogie, complete with a frantic pace and unrelenting rhythm section. Side B is even better. “The Untold Death of Grady Jones” glides on clickety percussion and perfectly placed cowbell, and it’s a story-song that never forgets to actually be, you know, a song. “Did they really have bloodstained hands?/ I guess we’ll never know for sure/ ’Cause someone shot the messenger,” Jorgensen sings, his voice constantly on the verge of cracking. My only complaint is that there are only two sides to listen to. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
COLLECT ’EM ALL:Welcome Home Walker plays East End Wednesday, Sept. 9. Vanishing Kids plays the Know Friday, Sept. 11. The Old Believers, Congratulations and the Red River play the Old Church Sunday, Sept. 13. Explode Into Colors’ Eyes Hands Mouth is out now. Release party is Thursday, Sept. 24 at Jackpot Records’ downtown location.