Sean Ogilvie and Micah Rabwin, the 33-year-old founding members of Portland folk quintet Musée Mécanique, are casually sitting on the sandy shore of Sellwood Riverfront Park. The breeze ripples the water as the two longtime friends talk fondly about their neighborhood sanctuary. Here, ships and boats come and go, occasionally stopping to drop anchor near the riverbank. People lounge behind magazines, with Oaks Amusement Park and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge just visible through the park's northernmost trees.
This place—and others similar to it—is where Ogilvie and Rabwin found much of the inspiration for their group's first album in five years, From Shores of Sleep. While it won't be officially released until early next year, the band will perform the album in full this week, in its first live show in two years. Considering those gaps in productivity, the band has truly tested the patience of its fan base. But Musée Mécanique makes no apologies for taking its time.
"One thing we learned a year into making the record is, you can't put too much pressure on this album to be finished because it's just going to take its own time," Ogilvie says. "I want it to be a place to go to. I want it to be another world that inspires your imagination to go somewhere else."
Indeed, when it comes to production, Musée Mécanique emphasizes patience and craft. Fittingly, the band is named after a family-owned museum in San Francisco that houses a collection of antique coin-operated instruments and arcade games, and its music is reminiscent of those intricate, delicately handmade machines. Its sound is timeless and imaginatively evocative, built with finely composed layers of wispy vocals and instruments, including strings, brass, woodwinds, glockenspiel, old synthesizers, keyboards and saws. For Ogilvie and Rabwin, spending copious amounts of time perfecting every production detail furthers their appreciation for the contraptions in the museum that is the group's namesake.
"You put in a quarter, and you see this whole thing unfold that's been so crafted to play maybe one, two, three songs," Ogilvie says. "That's kind of what our music felt like at a certain point. Everything was a little world in and of itself."
Ogilvie and Rabwin first played together 20 years ago, after meeting in school in San Diego. In the subsequent years, they bounced around the California coastline before eventually moving in 2005 to Portland, where they solidified the idea of Musée Mécanique. Renting an old Victorian house in Sellwood, they brought in Matthew Berger, Brian Perez and Jeff Boyd—who's since left the group to pursue a teaching career—to record Hold This Ghost, a sleepy set of 10 exquisitely arranged songs, in their basement studio. "We finally got to start making something that was just ours," Ogilvie says.
While Hold This Ghost is made up of songs that stand alone as separate tracks, From Shores of Sleep, as Rabwin and Ogilvie explain, is more conceptual. Waterscapes—such as the Sellwood riverfront and the coastal town of Astoria—contribute to the overarching story of the album.
"Over the course of the record, there's a journey that's, in my mind, a spatial journey you go on from the shore, to an open sea, to underwater, to the river," Rabwin says. "All of those places are referenced in various ways, lyrically or with the sound itself."
Musée Mécanique fans still have months to wait until they can hold physical copies of From Shores of Sleep, but the performance Saturday night will be the closest thing they've had to a new album in five years. And it sounds like it will be even more of a time-defying, dreamy journey than the last.
SEE IT: Musée Mécanique plays the Piano Fort, 1715 SE Spokane St., with Justin Ringle, Laura Gibson, Justin Power and Sean Flinn, on Saturday, July 27. 8 pm. $10 suggested donation. All ages.