[SOFT PSYCH POP] I don't envy the task of transforming Nate Lacy's spiraling, naturalist and homemade acoustic pop songs into fully produced album form. So strange and singular are those songs (which he's been recording on his own for the past four years as Mimicking Birds) that it's almost a shame to take them out of their natural environment at all.
That was the same fear Lacy had when I talked to him last year. But one of his musical heroes, Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, coaxed Lacy into recording more than just demos, with more than just his echoing guitar and vocals as instrumentation. And Lacy went along, trusting other people's aesthetics for the first time in his blossoming career, as Brock and longtime Modest Mouse producer Clay Jones put their fingerprints on Mimicking Birds' first widespread release.
Lacy trusted the right guys. Mimicking Birds' self-titled debut retains Lacy's distinct vision, from his squeaky finger-picking to his biologist's take on humanity. In melding Lacy's vision with their own, Brock and Jones focused largely on giving the recordings weight: "New Doomsdays" is powerfully oceanic, echoing and rolling as if a great tide is pushing and pulling on Lacy's lungs. They also broke up Lacy's tendency to play his listeners into a trance: "Cabin Fever" peppers in synthesized strings and abstract percussion.
Lacy's work occasionally nods toward other artists (he sings a bit like Paul Simon; there's a fair amount of Modest Mouse influence), but behind those influences lies a visionary songwriter. I mean to say that he actually has visions, some of which surface on this disc's 11 tracks, and some of which are detailed on the album art Lacy drew for it: veiny bird creatures hatching from a long umbilical vine. Were he born earlier in the 20th century, he'd probably be one of those eccentric songsmiths only appreciated years after their death. But Lacy got lucky—he found some dudes with an aesthetic as fucked up and beautiful as his own. Let's hope this album is just the first collaboration of many. CASEY JARMAN.
[ELECTRONIC PLAYGROUND] It's not easy to describe Chrome Wings' odd, shifting sound. Led by sonic architect Jon Jurow (the sole performer on this disc), the project encompasses a variety of fringe genres—glitchy techno; expansive, ambient soundscapes; lo-fi shoegazer pop—all without stopping on one particular sound for more than a few minutes. While Chrome Wings has played with Starfucker/Pyramiddd and Experimental Dental School, this is hardly the work of a pop group.
On his self-titled debut, Jurow creates an impenetrable temple of sound that slowly reveals itself for the discerning listener. Oddly, the easiest entry points come at the end of the album. Penultimate song "I May Never See You Again" is both the shortest and most immediate track on the record, a thick wall of reverb and pretty guitars that stack up high until finally crumbling just before the two-minute mark. Though it's a remix (courtesy of local industrial house project Jizz Wisard), "Rave Wheel" might be the best song on the album. "Rave Wheel" places a percolating beat behind one of Jurow's more rigid and accessible backdrops and auto-tuned voice, and the added thump makes it a perfect closer.
Jurow sings on about half of the 13 tracks, but his voice is so distorted and buried that it becomes just another layer of sound in a dense mix. On "Debt Dreams," in particular, his voice washes over the track, almost indistinguishable from the warm synth tones and muted drum pattern.
Despite it being a difficult set to wrap your head around, Chrome Wings' debut is also an incredibly rewarding listen. Jurow captures a sound that is more often fetishized than it is actually produced. There's a reason Starfucker choose Jurow's band to open on an early tour: Chrome Wings pushed Starfucker's own songwriting to a weirder and ultimately more rewarding level. So while Chrome Wings falls on the harsher end of Portland's electronic spectrum, that doesn't make it any less vital. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
Chrome Wings plays Holocene on Thursday, March 4, at Holocene. Mimicking Birds plays Saturday, March 6, at the Mission Theater.