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October 26th, 2005 Mark Baumgarten, Jason Simms, David Muller | Album Reviews
 

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Heroes and Villians

Night of the Murder Ballad Oct. 22 at Fez

A cavalcade of Portland musicians delve into death.

[POST-MORTEM POP] "To me, murder ballads are all about folk music," said Jen Bernard from the Fez's stage Saturday night. "I love how it's been expanded throughout the years, but it all really started with folk music."

Saturday night marked the ninth Night of the Murder Ballad, an annual event for which some of Portland's most well-loved musicians take the stage in a parade of dark elegance and play the songs of death and dyin'. Bernard, who has been organizing the event since its first year at the LaurelThirst Pub, offered her take on the style's history as she ended an old Appalachian folk song and readied herself to play a Scottish folk tune, both of which included the ingredients for a traditional murder ballad; namely, an untimely death and a mournful tune. If anything, though, the traditional folk death ditty was the exception Saturday, as most of the bands preferred to play more contemporary songs with less reverence for the deceased. Throughout the night, Bernard, Amoree Lovell, Pete Krebs, Little Sue, Chris Robley, WW contributor Jeff Rosenberg and many more offered the packed crowd contemporary takes on the end, including "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Killer Queen," "Death on Two Legs" and "Yer Blues."

The highlight of the evening came from Heroes and Villains. Taking the stage in ponchos and macabre makeup, the parlour-pop quintet disregarded the Anglo's uptight attitude toward death and embraced the spirit of El Día de los Muertos, channeling the Mexican holiday's festive approach with a touch of ironic parody. The song the group chose was Ween's "Buenas Tardes Amigo," a tale of a murdered brother and a Mexican village. The subject matter is tragic, but the song, written with the cultural vocabulary of a Sesame Street viewer and told with a gruff, thick accent replicated perfectly on Saturday by Adam Raitano, is imbued with a hysterical absurdity. But somewhere between Levi Cecil's rattling, gunslinger guitar solo and the wailing parade of mourners that wept across the stage as the band played, there was something unsettling that stifled the crowd's chuckles. Not sure to laugh or show reverence, the crowd sat in confused awe by the end, which means that Heroes and Villains got death right.

This Dimension

The songs from these Portland punks offer quick relief.

Clorox Girls (Smart Guy Records)

[UNDER-A-MINUTE-CORE] The sixth track on the Clorox Girls' new LP, This Dimension, is a scant 49 seconds long. But the band manages to do a lot in that time, in concept if not in content. The song, "Girl Parts," blows by at a furious pace, with a single four-line chorus, quickly terminating in a spasm from a blown bass amp. The abrupt ending is less a remonstration against pop convention than it is an aural ode to the effect girl parts have on this band. Which puts forth the question, is it really premature ejaculation if you intended to blow your wad early?

The rest of This Dimension follows in step, blending fast, fractured song structures with Buddy Holly-style lyrics and riffs. Overall it recalls the trio's self-titled debut. But, while Zach Lewis, who played bass on the first record, politely followed the guitar line in eighth notes, replacement-Girl Colin Grigson makes songs like "Frightening Girl" sound anxious by following the refrain, "It's not a gamble for me," with a busy, high-octave phrase that cleverly undermines vocalist Justin Maurer's confidence. Grigson also plays in the Observers, which gives him plenty of street cred and lends his new band a more complex sound.

On first listen, this new sound appears to sacrifice some of the catchiness of the first record. But on further listens parts like the hummable walking bass line from "Pop Codeine" become just as memorable as Maurer's "Ah-ah-ah" chorus. Such lyricless hooks are not uncommon on this album and are absolutely necessary for singalongs, since you're lucky if Maurer repeats any of his vocal lines.

The Clorox Girls will play three CD release shows, all on Saturday, Oct. 29: (1) Ozone UK. 6 pm. Free. All ages. (2) With the Briefs and the Absolute Rulers at Hawthorne Theatre. 8 pm. $10. All ages. (3) With Armitage Shanks at Slabtown. 10 pm. $5. 21+.

All Our Golden Tomorrows

Portland psych popsters disgustingly derivative, to delicious effect.

UHF (Second Story Records)

[POP] "The Behemoth" is a signature track on All Our Golden Tomorrows, the fourth release from Portland psychedelic pop band UHF. "Come with me and we'll go flying/ Far above the clouds you can only look down," sings Jeremy Leff in a dreamy, contrived British accent, raising the question of whether these guys actually enjoy taking acid or if they're just fetishizing the celebrity U.K. users/rockers of the late 1960s. Though UHF's sound is hopelessly derivative, it manages to work quite well 40 years after its inception.

Psychedelic pop once challenged and expanded the boundaries of rock 'n' roll with albums like the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Who's The Who Sell Out. But here it has evolved into a safe, almost trite genre in the modern world of indie rock. And while there are certainly psych-pop groups out there that fall more on the experimental side of the fence, UHF is firmly grounded in the pop aesthetic made famous by the aforementioned bands, among others.

On All Our Golden Tomorrows, some electronic effects provide the only distinguishing feature between UHF's sound and the past masters', but this record is excellent in and of itself. The songs are catchy without being cheesy, and they improve with each listening; the depth and intricacy of the sound is fitting for this band whose name is an acronym for "Ultra High Frequency." UHF has also met a considerable challenge in topping its last release, the highly acclaimed If It Was Easy. The band ultimately wins me over with the simple musical elegance of All Our Golden Tomorrows, in spite of my disdain for its style.


The Clorox Girls will play three CD release shows, all on Saturday, Oct. 29: (1) Ozone UK. 6 pm. Free. All ages. (2) With the Briefs and the Absolute Rulers at Hawthorne Theatre. 8 pm. $10. All ages. (3) With Armitage Shanks at Slabtown. 10 pm. $5. 21+.

UHF plays with Dr. Theopolis, The Bella Fayes and Jonah Friday, Oct. 28, at the Wonder Ballroom. 9 pm. $6. 21+.

 
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