[ROOTS RAWK] If a side project is lucky, there will come a time when the term "side project" no longer applies. It often begins when the band takes on a character rivaling that of the projects formerly overshadowing it. For Portland's Black Prairie, a band composed of vocalist Annalisa Tornfelt and four-fifths of the Decemberists, Fortune is that album.
For the first time, Black Prairie places Tornfelt at the forefront, emphasizing her delicate, country-pop delivery. The album begins with the subtle, propulsive, almost hip-hop beat of "The 84," in which slinking accordion and cascading guitars interweave with Tornfelt's sweetly languid lyrics, chronicling her move to Portland with her soon-to-be husband. Black Prairie's previous release, Wild Ones, was an instrumental companion to Jon Mooallem's book of the same name, and while that soundtrack's melange of Eastern European sounds is still present on Fortune, the mood is amped up more than anything the band has put out in its four-year career.
Americana rocker and lead single "Let It Out," apparently written after listening to a lot of Coda-era Zeppelin, offers the first taste of the album's harder edge. The upbeat, accordion-seared cut addresses the inevitable ups and downs of long-term relationships, with densely layered instrumentation and a dynamite drum solo. The title track and slightly psychedelic "The White Tundra" follow, both awash in distorted guitar and soaring fiddle. Other tracks, such as "If I Knew You Then" and closer "Count to Ten," project Black Prairie's pre-established mellow side, with staggering strings and soft, acoustic lulls. But here, they serve as more of a welcome reprieve than the dominating theme. After all, orchestral dissonance only gets a band so far.
SEE IT: Black Prairie plays Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., with Tiburones, on Friday, May 2. 8 pm. $15. Under 21 permitted with guardian.