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February 13th, 2013 MATTHEW SINGER | Music Stories
 

Peer Reviews

Four Portland artists critique each other’s new albums.

music_peer_3915Munger: Melani Brown, Meyer: courtesy of Eat Skull, Alcott: parentheticalgirls.com, Sapient: sapientkills.com
Everyone’s a critic—even artists, who are predisposed to hating critics. So, with several major Portland albums dropping Feb. 19, we let the artists do our jobs for us and take a shot at reviewing each other’s work. (Conspicuously absent is STRFKR, whose new album, Miracle Mile, also comes out that day. The band declined to participate in this article, but a review, by WW’s own Dr. Know, will be available here.) 

1. Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, Untamed Beast (Partisan) 

By Rod Meyer of Eat Skull 

What worked for you on this album? The record sounds pretty good overall. The bass and drums in particular have a cool vibe to them.

What on this album needed more work? I would have cranked the guitars a bit more. The guitars have a pretty wide stereo spread on them for the first few songs, but it seems to be a little less apparent as the album progresses. Maybe make them a little dirtier and up front.

What song do you wish you had written? I wouldn't say I wished to write any of them, but there were some cool things going on: the vibrato-sounding guitar on "Addicted" was pretty cool, and the opening drums to "Devil" threw me for a loop.

If you could steal one idea from this album for your next recording, what would it be? We don't really steal ideas from bands. We're kinda in our own zone.

Additional comments: Untamed Beast is a good-sounding record. I can see it being pretty popular.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside - Party Kids from Matthew Ross on Vimeo.


2. Eat Skull, III (Woodsist) 

By Jeffrey Munger of Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

What worked for you on this album? This album is truly psychedelic. This is something I’d want to be listening to while asking my best friend “What is a jam, man? What’s really a jam?” It walks the fine line of being a total mess and totally catchy in the same moments. It is full of interesting textures that make kind of a wall of sound washy thing, it’s quite satisfying to listen to. The playing is all really great. The rhythm section is solid and simple but never boring. The guitar parts are wonderfully varied, going from way too pleasant to all out weird heavy stuff.

What on this album needed more work? What really needs work is the attitude that someone writing something about a piece of music is obligated to say something negative about it. I suppose the vocals could have been mixed just a slight touch louder on the first track “Space Academy” when the bitchin loud guitar comes in.

What song do you wish you had written? “Stupid Moon”. What a wonderful title for a song! The lyrics and vocals are almost Dead Milkmen style which I love, and cracks me up. The lines in this song about cutting off the seagulls head exemplify well how strange and gnarly the band gets.

If you could steal one idea from this album for your next recording, what would it be? There’s a lot of really repetitive droney background stuff going on in this album that’s really beautiful. We’ve never experimented with those sorts of techniques really, and it sounds like a lot of fun to try. Itremains to be seen if we could do it nearly as effectively as Eat skull. 

Additional Comments: Thoroughly enjoyable album, buy it. The album art is great too, super weird and dreamlike, very fitting for this album.


3. Parenthetical Girls, Privilege (Marriage Records/Slender Means Society) 

By Sapient

What worked for you on this album? They have been described as “saccharine pop”, which I associate with something lighthearted and wimpy, which Privilege* is notOpening with “Evelyn McHale” we hear layered acoustic guitar strums, over a folky drum pattern, with some synth strings filling out the background, while singer Zac Pennington’s clear voice carries the song with a raw, not over produced feel, bringing out a certain mood which is really unique and all of my comparisons are just ignorant sounding, so I won’t mention them. As the album moves forward, more and more sounds are added to the palette, including oboe, piano, drum machines, glockenspiel, and some great string arrangements. We see up tempo electro-pop songs driven by a prominent synth lead like “Careful Who You Dance With” which is very pretty, but has a dark undertone with one of my favorite lyrics, “Be careful who you dance with, somebody’s bound to get their head kicked in”. Awesome. The most traditionally rock song “The Pornographer” keeps a more simple arrangement, sticking to the electric guitar leading the vibe with a badass twangy riff, the bass holding a constant root on the verses, and  the drums carrying a pattern heavy on the toms and tambourine. 

What on this album needed more work? The album as a whole sounds like a complete and well rounded product. I think if I were to go into any depth about what I think would need more work it carries over into the realm of person who doesn't listen to a specific genre offering suggestions on how to make it more like the genres they listen to. Like if Andrew Bird reviewed one of my albums and said "I think it needs more violin pizzicato and tons and tons of whistling". The album is solid

What song do you wish you had written? The single “Young Throats” is possibly my favorite. The combination of that pitchy synth with high electric guitar strums has something perfect happening similar to what worked so well with Phoenix’s “1901”.

If you could steal one idea from this album for your next recording, what would it be? Privilege*, is a condensed version of five limited press EPs released only on vinyl over the last three years. In case you don’t know anything about radness, they hand numbered each copy of those EPs using their blood as ink (it’s too bad I’m writing this, because when I copy that idea, this is proof it’s not coincidence).

Additional comments: Parenthetical Girls’ new album Privilege* sounds like the result of the “ideal” way for a band to create an album: make a bunch of amazing songs over a luxurious span of time, put those songs in a pot and simmer them down till only the best remain. The end product represents multiple phases of songwriting and life experiences. Parenthetical Girls created this album in a similar way and I think they achieved the “ideal” result.  Privilege* takes you through a variety of moods and feelings, without being forced. I don’t detect a level of “let’s just make a different song because we need one that’s different”, it just is. 


4. Sapient, Slump (Camobear) 

By Paul Alcott of Parenthetical Girls 

What worked for you on this album? This record features a fair helping of cruddy, overdriven, live-sounding drums. I have a taste for cruddy drums, and they serve as an interesting counterbalance to a vocal approach which is almost universally smooth, and occasionally even sweet. For an MC-turned-singer the vocal on Slump are mercifully clean of auto-tune artifacts.  You get the sense that this fellow can actually hit his pitches.  On "The Dapper Mob" he even showcases vocal harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place on a Hot Chip record. The production is wide ranging. From the nearly naked acoustic guitar and voice of "Notroh" to the full-fledged hip hop stomp of "Pieces of Paper", Sapient claims a large swath of musical territory as his backdrop.  We hear this breadth sometimes within a single line. The synth lead in "Pieces of Paper" start out sounding like a wiggly descending g-funk, line before ending up with a triumphant Mannheim Steamroller flourish.

What on this album needed more work? Though this isn't explicitly a hip hop record, there are a number of hip hop tropes cropping up from time to time. Often those bit of rap boilerplate feel out of place on record that's largely a guy playing his guitar and singing sweetly. In "Roman Candle" he repeats "Nothing holds a candle to your love" a number of times before concluding with "Nothing holds a candle to your love... bitch". For a song that hasn't betrayed a touch of malice up until this point, the use of "bitch" reads as a jarring non sequitur. Maybe old habits die hard. 

What song do you wish you had written and why? The most intriguing cut here is "Opera Pigs", which formally speaking, is completely batshit. The song begins with ominous deep space synths and delay-drench oinking, immediately dumps the listener into a stark and jerky guitar and voice passage, which eventually cedes to a stuttering fragmented instrumental funk, before ending with a tense gothic string figure which makes its first appearance in the last ten seconds of the track. All of that happens within less than three minutes. There's something uniquely exhilarating about a song that hops so quickly and so confoundingly from idea to idea.

If you could steal one idea from this album for your next recording, what would it be? On "I Was Wrong" Sapient has what sound like castanets clattering and slurring into the approximation of a snare sound. It's a neat trick, and it's the same effect that you get from having a group of people clap together. Some people clap early, some people clap late, and you end up a smear of a beat, rather than a short and precise hit. I'm biking over to Rhythm Traders to pick up some castanets tomorrow.

Additional comments: Sapient is on to something interesting here in melding hip hop production techniques with a more harmonically complex and melodically-oriented approach to songwriting.  However, to get that strategy to really hit (like it did, say, on the first XX record) it seems important to get the vibe right. And by "vibe" I mean "reverb". Sonically the record is fairly two dimensional; every sound is placed in the foreground. If the sweetness of his singing is to be the focus, pushing the guitars and synths into the background by reverbing them out might create a spookier, more three-dimensional space for his singing to sit.

 


WEB BONUS!

STRFKR, Miracle Mile (Polyvinyl)

By Marty "Dr. Know" Smith of Slutty Hearts

What worked for you on this album? If you’ve always wondered what the Shins would sound like if they were produced by Danger Mouse—but, for some reason, you don’t want to listen to Broken Bells, the actual collaboration between actual Shins vocalist James Mercer and the actual Danger Mouse—you could do worse than to pick up Miracle Mile. It comes off as an album-length valentine to your dad’s collection of disco slow jams, with hints of Ambrosia, Atlanta Rhythm Section and maybe even late-period Doobie Brothers in the mix (though, thankfully, no Chuck Mangione). Like the Shins, Starfucker specializes in perfect, highly produced vocal melodies in a register that baritones like myself haven’t reached since we were 7. Unlike the Shins, Starfucker layers this falsetto icing over a throbbing electro-disco cake. In short, you can totally do it to this record—at no point does any song require leaping out of bed to hit “skip.”

What on this album needed more work? On a scale of 1 to 10, the intensity level of this record never dips below 4.7, nor rises above 5.6. If smoothness is key to your aesthetic, I guess that’s appropriate. Still, if you’re going to call your band “Starfucker,” I think it’s not unreasonable for your fans to expect a little more sass every once in a while.

What song do you wish you had written and why? For me, it’s easily the haunting “Isea,” which, unfortunately, is less than a minute long. It probably says more about me than about the band that my favorite song is the one mostly without drum machines. 

If you could steal one idea from this album for your next recording, what would it be? I’d love to able to sing in falsetto (or indeed, at all), and then have a second falsetto backing track a full octave above the first one. That said, short of some new, experimental surgery from a specialist in Zurich, I don’t think I’m gonna be boosting this idea anytime soon, no matter how much I may like it.

 
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