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November 16th, 2005 Jason Simms, Jessi Kramer, Michael Byrne, Dave Clifford, Jeff Rosenberg | Album Reviews
 

LIVE, VIDEO AND ALBUM REVIEWS

     
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Speed at Reed Nov. 12 at Reed College

Tragedy rules the land of lawlessness, while the Observers look into a foggy future.

[HARDCORE] Since the Reed campus is effectively lawless, the couple of hundred black-clad punks and metalheads who invaded the college's Student Union last Saturday experienced something like a big house show: tall cans for all, couch cushions to throw at the bands, and people smoking bowls between sets.

By the time local hardcore heroes Tragedy took the stage near the end of the night, the teens in the front rows were sufficiently socially lubricated to facilitate jumping off of speaker stacks. Tragedy exhibited a characteristically flawless and tight performance, and their loyal audience, drunk as they were, managed to pump their fists in perfect time to the somewhat unusual rhythm of the intro of "With Empty Hands Extended," an impressive sight, as they tumbled over one another toward the stage.

Rumor had it that the Observers' headlining performance would be their last, but there was no mention of it during the set. Afterwards, bandleader Doug Burns told this reporter that the future of the band is uncertain. If it was the last appearance from this seminal local punk band, it was a fine way to go out. Burns was highly theatrical, pouting as he whined, "What's the point of feeling?" At the beginning of the last song, "Symbols, Slogans, Lies," which sounds like it came off of an early-'80s Flipside compilation, the audience crowded the stage, later seizing drummer Mike Warm's spare drumsticks to pound the on the kit, demanding an encore, which the band duly granted, never leaving the stage. JASON SIMMS.

sound seen - music video review

The Helio Sequence "Don't Look Away" Directed by Fred Armisen

Ah, the Enchanted Forest. A point of curiosity on the drive down to Salem, this dreamland of cheesy animatronic puppets portraying Old Europeans and fairy-tale characters is a perfectly surreal spot for the young and intelligent to both revisit their childhood and bask in the quaintness of 20th-century entertainment—and, I imagine, quite a fun place when you're on drugs. It seems like a great site for a goofy video, and the Helio Sequence stepped up to the plate, using the Oregon landmark as a backdrop to the video for "Don't Look Away" from its sophomore full-length, Love and Distance (Sub Pop). The duo—drummer-keyboardist Benjamin Weikel and singer-guitarist Brandon Summers—had never shot a video before but decided to face the lens when Saturday Night Live funnyman ( and ex-husband of the Mekons' Sally Timms) Fred Armisen, who also has no previous music-video experience, approached them to create this video. It's a cutesy piece, chock-full of said puppetry, an OMSI visit and Portland's favorite poptronic duo singing happy melodies over synthy blips. Weikel and Summers, looking into the camera rather sincerely, meander their way around the forests rocking wireless mics. Sporting lab coats, they play keyboards and ukeleles under a magical tree person. Other people wander the trail as well, but the Helio Sequence pays no mind. They're too busy being silly and cool. They learn about the world of science in the museum, X-rays and chemistry and electricity, then apply it to smashing TVs and checking out effects processors with stethoscopes. A strange girl follows them, snapping their photo, then running away. Then instead of singing lovingly into the camera, they start running away. It's so damn cute, but the inanity gets a little monotonous. JESSI KRAMER.

See the video at www.subpop.com.

Formative - Toothfairy (Hush)

Musical magician Chad Crouch reveals the sunny side of the suburbs.

[electro-folk] If every child of the suburbs took with them into adulthood the experiences that Toothfairy's Chad Crouch did, this country might just feel like Formative: ordered, sedate and kind, held aloft on a white pillar of crushes, basement bands, daytime television and Halloween dances. If they all seeded themselves and their memories among the rest of us, we'd be pretty OK. Really.

And you think you're not dumb enough to fall for it, that you can't really avoid that other scene of the suburbs offered up by Xiu Xiu, the Violent Femmes and other harbingers of suburban social collapse. But with Toothfairy's music as evidence, you'd be hard to fault for forgetting about all that beehive social theory.

Formative is consistently calm, unaffected and humble, with muffled freight-train beats, gentle bass lines and Crouch's quiet, conversational singing—a stateside dead ringer for the Notwist's Markus Archer. It's musical bait. Regardless, or perhaps because of your own adolescent nightmares, the nostalgia of these songs is irresistible. If there's a wisp of fading innocence, it's found on "Down in the Developments," where Crouch sings, "It could even happen with my teacher/ I saw her drive off with Keith in her car." But still, it ends with the line "Never kissed the girl next door," in a voice absent of whine or regret. In the song "Buzz Cut," that innocence turns into glaring naiveté as Crouch, who also runs the local Hush Records, reminiscences on cruising strip malls while singing "Blister in the Sun."

In my own Detroit suburb, we had all figured out the irony and fundamental ugliness of the Violent Femmes by the time we were driving. Yet, now, at 25, I can't seem to find the same in Toothfairy. Perhaps it just isn't there. MICHAEL BYRNE.

Split LP - Day of Lions/Flashing Red Lights (Yukon Records)

Gena Gestaldi pairs up with Mack Slevin, blows him away.

[ROCK] Day of Lions leader Gena Gastaldi is a true collaborator. Even in choosing the name for the (then) fictitious band that she began all alone in her basement, the singer/guitarist anticipated working with other musicians. So, it's not surprising that the fourth Day of Lions release is a split release with another like-minded collaborator, Mack Slevin and his nom-de-tune Flashing Red Lights (this on the heels of a DOL disc shared with Bryan Free.)

Day Of Lions began as a cathartic means for Gastaldi to deal with her sense of loneliness upon moving to Portland from her Alaskan home. Following the release of her first EP, Gastaldi expanded the project to work with a rotating cast of musicians fleshing out her songs. The results are comparable to Chan Marshall's Cat Power: Backing musicians make the songs sound full and rich, but they always retain the songwriter's distinct voice.

"Fireplace" is a perfect example of the strange duality of Day of Lions. Somewhat similar to songs by CocoRosie, the song hinges upon an acoustic guitar and intimate vocal line, doubled in a minor-chord harmony. It lulls along, quietly personal, and then suddenly a syncopated finger snap appears like a remnant from a lost doo-wop tune and the full band kicks in unexpectedly.

Flashing Red Lights takes the Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine tack, mixing major-to-minor chord shifts on piano and guitar on a handful of heart-wrenching tales. Slevin's songs are nice and concise slices of life but not quite as inspired as Day of Lions' material. Perhaps that's the contingency in Gastaldi's collaborations, a strong personality will always outshine its supporting players. DAVE CLIFFORD. Day of Lions plays with Sexton Blake and J. Nicholas Allard Sunday, Nov. 20, at Holocene. 9 pm. $2. 21+.

Little Cottonwood - Garett Brennan (Three Pin)

Local songwriter climbs mountain, takes advantage of energy bars for you.

[FOLK] Garett Brennan had two bright ideas for his new album, Little Cottonwood. One was to haul a bunch of microphones and digital recording gear 8,500 feet up a mountain outside Salt Lake City, to a little log cabin that would serve as his studio. The second was to get Clif Bar to underwrite the whole deal as a marketing tool, no doubt helping foot the bill to bring former Windham Hill producer Cookie Marenco up the mountain to helm the sessions.

"Been lazy too long," goes the album's first line, and the unhurried, loping pace of most songs here suggests that's not changing anytime soon. Much like an archetypal ski bum, Brennan's songs flee from structure, full of asymmetrical verses and irregular line lengths, and avoiding rhyme like it's avian flu. Brennan's clearly following the speak-singing storytelling style of Greg Brown or Tom Waits, but so far, his voice lacks their gravelly gravitas.

One thing the album does a remarkable job of is reproducing the environment in which it was made. The digital recording captures not only the well-played acoustic instruments but the rushing river outside the cabin with astounding clarity, providing a calming continuity that flows through the album. Eventually, on "These Knees (Thunder)," the location itself takes the lead, as a thunderclap enters right on cue with the instrumental's first verse, and a hailstorm joins in as the second verse begins, proceeding to wail as if taking a solo. If you can't afford your own mountain cabin, this album will take you right there. JEFF ROSENBERG.

Garett Brennan plays Saturday, Nov. 19, at Mississippi Studios. 10 pm. $10. 21+.

Rubber Wheels - Jackstraw (Self-released)

PDX bluegrassers give their beautiful instrumentation voice.

[BLUEGRASS] For the first few bars, I thought I might have put Los Lobos on by mistake. But no, it's just "Mexican Stomp," the amusing leadoff track from Jackstraw's winning new disc, Rubber Wheels. The Portland bluegrass faves' most satisfying recording yet—masterfully captured by Billy Oskay at his Big Red Studio in Corbett—this album has the potential to let the rest of the world in on what Stumptown's known for years: Besides their telepathic instrumental prowess, this group packs serious vocal talent.

Lead guitarist Jon Neufeld, as fine a bluegrass harmony singer as one could hope for, takes a sole, sweet lead here on his own "One Thousand Miles." Bassist Jesse Withers shows personality aplenty on his token lead, the winsome, wry "What Was I Supposed to Do," and his harmonies throughout are a delight as well. Mandolinist David Pugh sings first on the album, on his own witty "Country Dave." Later, he takes an authentically nasal lead on "You Won't Be Satisfied That Way," but his real highlights here are a pair of beautiful original instrumentals, where his pick flutters over the strings of his mandolin with the furious delicacy of a hummingbird's wings. But it's Jackstraw's lead singer, Darrin Craig, whose voice rings out with newfound clarity and confidence on his handful of strong new tunes, following on his interim singer-songwriter project A Horse Named Daryl. Nearing the end of its first decade together, Jackstraw shows no signs of slowing down, only picking up speed. JEFF ROSENBERG. Jackstraw plays with the Foghorn Stringband Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Wonder Ballroom. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages.


Day of Lions plays with Sexton Blake and J. Nicholas Allard Sunday, Nov. 20, at Holocene. 9 pm. $2. 21+.

Garett Brennan plays Saturday, Nov. 19, at Mississippi Studios. 10 pm. $10. 21+.

Jackstraw plays with the Foghorn Stringband Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Wonder Ballroom. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages.

 
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