[DRONE AMERICANA] Above being a musician, Portland's Brian Mumford is a mad scientist. Though he does his songwriting on a junky acoustic guitar in desperate need of fresh strings, his passion is homemade electronics: jury-rigged oscillators and effects pedals—including a contraption wired to emit noise at the whims of a lit candle—that serve as the only accompaniment to his low, mumbling voice and simple, entrancing chord progressions. As such, each album he releases as Dragging an Ox Through Water is a "project" in the science-fair sense of the term, with Mumford running an electrical current through the American folk tradition and making it flicker like a potato-powered light bulb.
It's hardly high-tech stuff. Panic Sentry—released digitally and on vinyl in March, and now being issued on CD by former WW music editor Casey Jarman's Party Damage imprint—is lo-fi enough to come off like a back-porch field recording from the Deep South, the hissing and buzzing of Mumford's self-built gizmos standing in for the sound of far-off cicadas and bullfrogs. But Mumford writes as if he really is on the verge of taking his gadgets and moving into the woods for good, and the crudity adds to the sense that what you're listening to is the manifesto of an artist in retreat from the modern world. "I am turning into scum/ I am tangled up in someone else's profitable dream," he sings on "I Don't Understand What You Like About It," as tuneless violin creaks in the background. Elsewhere, Mumford imagines being reincarnated as a mole ("Mole Song"), forming an alliance with "the rats and the weeds" ("Sparrow Command") and, on "Wire Haunts," turning himself into one of his instruments. "A cord plays in my blood/ A switch would turn it on," he murmurs over what sounds like the death gurgles of an Atari 2600. He just might do it, too.
SEE IT: Dragging an Ox Through Water plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Jamondria Harris and Solar Throat, Saints of the Knife, Sean Pierce Sumler and DJ Mixed Messages, on Wednesday, June 4. 8:30 pm. $5. 21+.