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October 16th, 2002 Zach Dundas (editor) | Sonic Reducer
 

Bright New Sounds of the Great North West

Fresh-pressed regional product from Badger King, Pete Krebs, Minus the Bear and Sleep of Oldominion.

     
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The Badger King
The Tongue and Tooth EP
(States Rights)

Sometimes seeing the Badger King live feels more like being at a karaoke bar than a rock show. It's hard to pin down what, if anything, "programmer" Jona Bechtolt does behind his laptop while singer Marianna Ritchey belts out melodies in octaves she has no business singing in. And yet TBK is one of Portland's best live bands. This EP is the band's first as an "electronic duo," reconceptualizing songs from their Elephant 6-esque debut album, The Lighthouse, The Giant. Ritchey's vocals have an undeniable presence, and Bechtolt does more with just his laptop here than a myriad of performers managed on TLTG. Oh, and the songs are unforgettable. (Godfre Leung)

Pete Krebs & The Gossamer Wings
I Know It by Heart (Cavity Search)

In a better world, the children would study the exploits of Pete Krebs and sing his name. Since leading Hazel to the modest form of immortality accorded Portland rock legends, Krebs has followed his heart from bar to bar and continent to continent with a work ethic not so much blue-collar as terrifying. He used to pop up with bad-penny frequency at Portland clubs--if it's Tuesday, this must be the Green Room--and since he moved to Europe earlier this year, he's been all over the joint. Roadhouse dives, hipster bars, folk fests, rock fests, jazz fests: As his website advertises, no 'burb too small, no city too big. Maybe you have to work this hard to hone songcraft of the sort paraded on I Know It by Heart; Krebs and his backing band of Portland aces toss out 12 melancholy pop diamonds with deceptive nonchalance. The winning romance of "Her Dress so Green in the Moonlight," no less heroic for being totally commonplace, gives way to boozy, organ-soaked rejection on "I Get Mixed Up." Then, all but shouting but wait, there's more!, the Gossamer Wings strut into a jazzy study of desolation, "Lonely Street." Krebs has always been one to do damn well as he pleases--if he's into Django Reinhardt, he'll form a '20s hot-jazz band--but he's also resistant to fads and contrivance. So while I Know It by Heart shows signs of many phases of his songwriting career, from some of Hazel's folkier moments to the post-Django stylings of Kung Pao Chickens, it's a cohesive and understated record rather than a chain of genre gimmicks. Portland music history is full of secret little masterpieces, and Krebs has put his name on more than a few. Here's another. (ZD)

Minus the Bear
Highly Refined Pirates
(Suicide Squeeze)

We can do so much better than this. Seattle's Minus the Bear tries to confuse you with complicated time signatures to distract from its abject inability to write a decent melody. Everything about Highly Refined Pirates reeks of the pretentious emo movement spearheaded by Joan of Arc: long, nonsensical song titles, embarrassing lyrics, the marriage of guitar arpeggios and--egad!--"electronic flourishes," the aforementioned melodic shortcomings. Note to Minus the Bear: Joan of Arc was sooooo 1999. (Godfre Leung)

Sleep
Riot by Candlelight (Stuck Under the Needle)

The Oldominion crew must be one of the slipperiest groups in hip-hop, a Northwest nation unto itself with dozens of members scattered up and down I-5, including Seattle MC Sleep. What, where and who is Oldominion? Well, to bite off just one question first, here's a valid answer: Oldominion is weird. Despite the widespread habit of inviting every acquaintance in the room to take the stage at shows, hip-hop crews are exclusive by definition. OlD takes it further, though. On Riot by Candlelight, as on member Onry Ozzborn's solo disc of last year and the group effort One, these guys come off as initiates into some really terrible secret to which the rest of us just aren't privy. The Truth? You can't handle The Truth. Sleep mixes in a little straightforward hip-hop belittlement with the kabbalistic oddity, but mostly sticks to hermetic references, dark portents, grim social prognostication, supernatural boasts--the works. It's a tense, paranoid album, set to ominous keyboard-heavy funk reminiscent of the brutal Casio minimalism practiced by old-school political rapper Paris. Factor in creepy cover art depicting an H.R. Giger-esque retro-monster-machine and disjointed samples, and you have a horror album unlike anything else in hip-hop...or any other genre. (ZD)

 
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