[SOLLEE WITH STRINGS] Being a distinct frontman is a double-edged sword for Ryan Sollee. The Portlander's primary outfit, the Builders and the Butchers, delivered yet another album of brooding, gothic folk with last year's Western Medicine—an excellent though dreary offering—and Sollee's other folk-based band doesn't stray far. Albatross began as a pet project, a selection of songs scored for a musical regarding a dinosaur that evolves into an enormous seafaring bird, before Sollee eventually decided to form a full band around the material. That being the case, the self-titled Albatross is more theatrical in nature than the musician's previous efforts, but it's still anchored in dark balladry and murderous imagery.
Sollee's lyrics are delivered with a borderline preachy inflection—slightly nasal, with a sense of confessional conviction. "Oh, to me the world is spinning and I am such a mess," he admits amid slinking bass and Cristina Cano's repetitive piano on opener "May I Follow You Down." A cannonade of Morricone-style trumpet follows on what could be the album's lead single, "Ocean Cries Your Name," a track awash with soaring viola and a wispy set of backing âoohs.â
The orchestral embellishments shine best when they're given room to breathe. "They All Come Running Back to Me," though lyrically entrenched loathing and unrestrained ill will, offers a brash reprieve, while the instrumental "Drum Major and Marie" shifts with clarinet, trumpet and galloping drums courtesy of Wooden Indian Burial Ground bassist Paul Seely. Yet, despite differing bandmates and ornamental string arrangements, Albatross remains very much ingrained with Sollee's trademark storytelling—which, for better or worse, sounds very familiar.
SEE IT: Albatross plays Clyde's Prime Rib Restaurant, 5474 NE Sandy Blvd., with the Morals, on Thursday, Feb. 20. 8 pm. Free. 21+.