[GONE ELECTRIC] Few musicians have carved as distinctive a niche in Portland's singer-songwriter-scape as Michael Levasseur, aka Michael the Blind. In addition to making pat reference to his extreme nearsightedness, Levasseur's stage name serves as a subtle joke—he actually sees an awful lot, and those observations form the grist of some of modern folk-pop's most sophisticated lyrics.
After releasing three albums that focused almost exclusively on acoustic guitar and vocals, Levasseur has included a full band on Are's & Els, an expansion that unfortunately undermines one of his principle strengths. The high emotional pitch of Levasseur's compositions have benefited on past outings from their contradictory straining against his spare arrangements, and the inclusion of electric guitars and drum kits on Are's & Els saps some of the urgency from his vocals. Still, those vocals remain a singularity, even in a city where singer-songwriters compose a social class unto themselves.
The effusive, desperately emotive mood of Michael the Blind's delivery finds its closest facsimile in the forward-leaning agitprop of the Thermals' Hutch Harris. However, Levasseur's calmer pacing allows for elegiac modes to temper this propulsive energy.
On "Sympathies" (a track that makes worthy use of Are's & Els' full-band arrangement), Levasseur insists that he "can't sleep among the sympathies of war," a sentiment both instantly agreeable and surprisingly susceptible to unpacking. "Another Circle of Fifths" employs its eponymous chord cycle as a metaphor for Levasseur's addictive relationship with creation itself.
Even if songwriting is just "another bloom inside this beautiful machine," Are's and Els serves as a compelling argument for Levasseur's continued indulgence in the process.
SEE IT: Michael the Blind plays the White Eagle Saloon, 836 N Russell St., on Tuesday, June 5, with Rachel Taylor Brown. 8:30 pm. Free. 21+.