[TWISTY U.S.-BRIT POP] When you're young and talented like Danny Delegato and his group the Hugs, everything comes easy at first: praise, opportunities and the boundless energy to keep it all going. As such, the summery teen-pop quartet was the talk of Portland a year ago, landing opening stints for national acts and a label deal with James Endeacott, the guy who discovered the Strokes.
It's a bit early to pen the Hugs' Behind the Music story, but things have changed. The deal with Endeacott's 1965 Records imprint has, for whatever reason, fallen through; the gigs are modest; the hype has died down. It's in the midst of all this that the Hugs self-release their second disc, Again & Again.
That disc lives at the intersection of bratty and savvy, showcasing both the melodic intuition that garnered the band attention in the first place and the snotty immediacy that may have lost it the keys to the kingdom.
Opener "Dreams," with its early-Beatles guitar leads and pharma-tropical breakdowns, feels like three melodic ideas slapped together, and it's a rough start. But the hooks are here: In the Strokes-funk "Egos," Delegato's voice shifts from singing to barking, matching his raw, plainspoken lyrical insecurities. "In Love" showcases enough tribal drumming and vocal interplay to obscure its pop-filler lyrics.
But for all the Hugs' natural talent—which shines through often on Again & Again—one gets the impression that too much of their energy is going into being a rock band, not into making great songs. It's hard not to notice, for instance, all the references to getting high. Sometimes they're youthful and refreshing, as on the downright cute "She Was High," and sometimes it's worrying. "Sometimes I feel like I could just lay down and die," Delegato sings on "Come Close." "But then all I do is save up money, and then I get high. Woo-hoo!" The Hugs have everything they need to make it big on their own, but being young isn't enough—it's still going to take some work to make this a well-rounded band.
[SINGER-SONGWRITER] It takes three seconds of Le Petit Mort's opening track, "Sing Radio," to identify Leonard Mynx's obsession with Bob Dylan. The slightly funky backbeat, the harmonica, the hollow-room sound—then comes Mynx, singing and wheezing to a tune that sounds a touch like the Band's "The Weight."
But over the course of Le Petit Mort—a sampler of new Mynx material limited to 250 handmade copies—one hears many more influences: Tom Waits ("The Bones"), Leonard Cohen ("Maybe") and, OK, more Dylan ("Song With No Name"). More importantly, we hear Mynx himself. The Portland singer-songwriter, who released the pretty but macabre Vesper early this year, was already a talented lyricist—Le Petit Mort makes huge strides on two other fronts: studio savvy and overall temperament.
For Le Petit Mort (a French phrase meaning "the little death" which is often used as a metaphor for orgasm), Mynx found himself an impressive band (a stripped-down version of Norfolk & Western), one which he takes full advantage of here. It's evident on the epic "Ball of Fire," which seems to lift skyward at its midpoint, with engines engaging, whistling and screeching. The wall of sound returns on "Maybe," a hell-bent two-note noise-folk piece that grows more dissonant as it progresses.
And though the themes are dark ("Ball of Fire" is about an old vet's acceptance of death and "Maybe" focuses on death, God and the possibility of God being dead), Mynx has moved from a narrator repeatedly crushed by cruel fate to one obsessed with the cruelty of chance. And that's almost enough sunlight to work up some half-assed optimism in a duet with the great Laura Gibson: "Maybe it'll get better come Sunday morning/ Maybe it'll change in the middle of the month," he sings to her. "You know better, but I know you." I still wouldn't want the guy saying grace at my Thanksgiving dinner, but his album is highly recommended.
The Hugs release
Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $7. 21+. Leonard Mynx releases
Wednesday, Dec. 16, at Mississippi Studios. 9 pm. $8. 21+.