The Shaky Hands make hipsters love what they don't even wanna like.
[JANGLE POP] Ask a handful of hipsters what kind of music they don't like, and chances are you're gonna hear a lot of hippie jam band names dropped along with some white-boy funk/soul à la John Mayer or the dreaded Jack Johnson. Now, I'm not throwing these names out there to scare y'all away from the Shaky Hands' joyous, bouncy indie-pop. I'm doing it because you're gonna be amazed how well the Shaky Hands prove that a bunch of white dudes can get a little hippity-dippity on your ass, throw in some funky syncopation here and there, and—get this—have it turn out fan-tastic.
Case in point: the Shaky Hands' eponymous self-released EP (the band expects to release its full-length debut in early 2007). While the peace and love comes through in a more thematic than straight-up musical way, the oh-so-catchy "Summer's Life" has a bounce that I'm pretty sure any Phish-head worth her dreads could get a wicked hippie-dance on to. But besides the constant, upbeat guitar, "Summer's Life" succeeds in great part due to singer Nick Delffs' ability to capture freewheelin' innocence and regret in one glorious pop song. He couples lyrics about the "old swimmin' hole" and statements like "We lived/ Like children do" with the aching, learned sentiment, "And it's you that I miss," in such a way that you don't even realize this sunny, boppy song is actually kinda sad.
Similarly, "Leave Today," with its lofty female vocals (courtesty of Sayard Egan and Emily Anderson), Colin Anderson's lackadaisical banjo and a sentiment reminiscent of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice," comes off as a hopeful plea to go on impromptu (and perhaps unending) holiday. But upon closer inspection, it reveals a longing—"It could be so nice/ It could be our life"—that the narrator knows might not be satisfied.
The Shaky Hands have established a characteristic aesthetic: bittersweet reflection cloaked in buoyant melody. From the slow-building, march-like drums of "Decide It All" to the funk-bounce of the closing track, "Soul," you come to expect a certain sound and feel from this band. So when Delffs sings in a choppy, rhythmic way, "I know, I know, I know/ But don'cha curse/ Inside my soul," it comes off natural, which is why it works. Now, if we could just anonymously drop some Shaky Hands EPs in the mailboxes of frat houses and misguided college kids.... Anybody got a stamp?
The Shaky Hands play with Wooden Nickle and Ample Sample Wednesday, Aug. 23, at Holocene. 9 pm. $5. 21+.
DJ Voids takes turntablism into the next realm.
[HIP-HOP] Twenty-six-year-old Portland DJ Tim Zagelow, a.k.a. DJ Void, just spent a good portion of his night freaking out over the prospect of Vestax's new Controller One, a turntable that supplements the standard pitch-control feature with buttons that correspond to actual musical notes. "That's where the new shit is," Void says excitedly. "But it's really underground right now."
There's little doubt that turntablism is headed into uncharted territory. The question is, will hip-hop fans follow it? "Five years ago it was a way different scratch scene," Void says. "People were way more into it." So while hip-hop enjoys global success, the role of the DJ is very much in question.
Whereas many DJs have gone digital, this lanky, patchy-bearded DJ often starts a track by running a beat from his turntable to the loop pedal near his feet, then adds layers of forgotten wax melodies around the percussion. Scratching is integral throughout Void's songs, but he indulges in heavy-duty fingerwork only once or twice in a composition. "I see it like a jazz solo," he says of his sporadic scratch assaults. "Like, 'This is my band backing me up, so what are they doing and what will sound right by that?' Even if it's just a record playing."
Void actually has a band called Village Idiots, but his bandmates, DJs Sidetrack and Papercuts, create instrumentation as an extension of their decks and cross-faders. While the idea of a turntable crew isn't new, turntable bands like Void's are relatively rare. The interaction between the DJs, who stick to turntable "bass," "drums" or melodies on a given track, keeps the performers, and hopefully the audience, on their toes.
When Void talks about the future of turntablism, he sounds a little like a crazed dictator. He calls the turntable the "universal instrument" and foresees a time when "master DJs" can fully emulate the sound of any instrument by manipulating samples with a cross-fader, nimble fingers and a cutting-edge turntable not unlike the Controller One. But if that's what turntablists are headed towards, why not bypass the ones and twos altogether? "The scratch," Void says without hesitation.
DJ Void plays with Digital Underground and Fogatron at Ohm. 8 pm. $15 advance, $20 day of show. 21+. DJ Void also plays with Mic Crenshaw, Sick Mediks, Easybeats, Trasheap and DJs Kez & Izm Saturday, Aug. 26 at XV. 9 pm. Free. 21+.
Falling in love is damn scary, and M. Ward knows it.
[FOLK] Yeah, yeah, yeah, M. Ward is not a Portlander anymore: Don't rub it in, OK? But there sure is a helluva lot of Portland talent involved in his latest folk masterpiece, Post-War. It has all the timeless magic you expect from Ward and his gruff, world-worn voice, but it also features ex-Thermals drummer Jordan Hudson, local solo artists cellist Skip von Kuske and multi-instrumentalist Mike Coykendall, and from Norfolk & Western (who will be touring with Ward in support of the album), violist Amanda Lawrence, drummer Rachel Blumberg and songwriter/Type Foundry producer Adam Selzer.
Ward is now living in New Hampshire, where (as reported in a July 15 post on LocalCut.com) "his lady" will be attending graduate school. So, it seems a fair assumption that Ward is in love. And right from the get-go, he pours his heart out about it on Post-War. In the first few lines of opening track "Poison Cup," Ward says, "I want all of your love." But he also plainly states—amidst palm-muted guitar and soaring strings—"She said/ If love is a poison cup/ Then drink it up," which more than hints at the danger in letting yourself fall. Hopeful despite warning, Ward says, "I'm 'onna give you everything," but there's no indication whether that sentiment will be reciprocated.
Likewise, "Chinese Translation" (featuring backing vocals from My Morning Jacket's Jim James) poses the question—albeit backed by an upbeat strum and galloping drums—"What do you do/ With the pieces of a broken heart?" "Translation" tells the poignant story of man trying to answer the same questions across generations. But they're left unresolved, a perfectly Wardian meandering guitar carrying the song to its softly picked, upward-swinging end.
"Magic Trick," a charming singalong (also featuring James), laments a woman who "disappears" while playfully winking at listeners with its canned studio applause. Another lovelorn tune, "Rollercoaster," has its own wares. Ragtime piano scampers around as Ward sings, "You're like a ro-wohl-wohl-er-coaster," but he's sure to mention that "You lift me up so high/ It's the most unbelievable ride," as if it's too good to be true.
In fact, it takes a cover for Ward to fully embrace love without precautions. Daniel Johnston's "To Go Home" (featuring Neko Case on vocals) portrays a narrator who is happy just to love; he's not even with the object of his affection. The song is a celebration of life and unconditional-yet-unrequited love: "God, it's great to be alive/ Takes the skin right off my hide/ To think I'll have to give it all up/ Someday." We can only hope when Ward says, "I'll be true/ To you/ Oh yeah/ You know I will....Forever, or until/ I go home," that Portland could, one day, be that home again.
Post-War came out on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
For the Thermals, simple still feels simple, but cheesy feels epiphanic.
[POP PUNK] "A Pillar of Salt," the standout track off The Body the Blood the Machine, the Thermals' third release, features a very memorable instrumental refrain. The combination of lead guitar and keys (new territory for the Thermals) is both rounded and has bite. Oddly, though, I can't tell which instrument creates which effect—you can hear a keyboard power up with a few low notes before the refrain begins, but in the throes of the melody—which is somehow both exuberant and contemplative—the guitar and keys meld into a single, bright sound.
A person familiar with the Thermals who hasn't heard this record might write this effect off to the fuzzy production that has characterized and endeared earlier recordings, but in comparison with the band's first two recordings, The Body is crystal clear. Throughout the album, each instrument is well-defined. The drums, played here by bassist Kathy Foster while the band was between drummers (Foster also drums in All Girl Summer Fun Band) are typically arranged into a single, energetic beat that serves as a relatively unchanging backdrop to the loud and deliciously repetitive guitar and bass lines. This very Thermals aesthetic is epitomized on "Back to the Sea," essentially a five-minute song consisting of a single section. On this record, more so than ever, the Thermals paint with primary colors, which show vividly through the production to make compositions that tug right at the primary emotions. So in a context of red and blue, the mixed colors in "Pillar" (the refrain sounds like pink and orange to me) can be downright epiphany-inducing.
The lyrics, which create what vocalist Hutch Harris called a "paranoid fantasy" in an recent WW interview (May 24, 2006), also fit the powerful-in-its-simplicity mold of the album. Eight of the 10 tracks find Harris singing to us from an exaggerated "Christian fascist state." And although people make fun of me when I walk around singing the opening to "Pillar"—"We were born to sin/ We don't think we're special, sir/ We know everybody is"—they, too, will be drawn into Harris' world, where—as in a good comic book—cheesy doesn't feel cheesy anymore.
To hear a song from the new Thermals album, visit localcut.com and search "Back to the Sea." The Body the Blood the Machine will be released Tuesday, Aug. 29. The Thermals play Sunday, Aug. 27 at Music Millennium Northwest. 5 pm. Free. 21+.