[RECORDED BLISS] It hasn't been the easiest year for Hosannas. The local experimental-pop group has endured two major setbacks—first changing its name after Australian outfit the Church threatened a lawsuit, and then losing half its members this summer—that could prevent it from reaching what every one on the inside knows is inevitable: joining the ranks of Portland's elite bands. Despite the drama, Hosannas has gone and delivered the record that justifies all the hype: Together, the first studio document of Hosannas' layered, bombastic pop, is one of the finest-sounding records to come out of this town since Menomena's Friend and Foe.
Recorded at Scenic Burrows and Type Foundry studios with the assistance of noted wingman John Askew (the Dodos, Tu Fawning), Together captures Hosannas' last days as a quartet, and it's the sound of a band incredibly confident in its abilities. While Hosannas' past material—the wonderfully lo-fi EP Gold and last year's debut full-length, Song Force Crystal—was often memorable, it was also marked by inferior production that often left songs that should have had a slam-dunk sound, as a friend said, like a basketball spiraling around the hoop.
Together doesn't have that problem. The mix is clear and crisp, with both Christof Hendrickson's fat analog synthesizers and Brandon and Richard Laws' floating harmonies pushed to the front of the mix. Almost every nook and cranny is stuffed with sounds (listen to "When We Were Young" on headphones and marvel at the number of different gurgling keyboard noises), but it also never feels overindulgent. And while some of the set's finer moments, including the epic live staple "Multi-Chamber American Future," are loud, drum-heavy rock numbers, Together's softer anthems shine brightest. "An Old Forgotten Tune" resembles a church hymn remixed by Brian Eno, and the album's closer, "The People I Know," is the put-down-your-drink-and-listen-in-awe ballad the band has been hinting at but never quite mastered. Hosannas' future might be in jeopardy, but if the Laws brothers keep on churning out songs this gorgeous, nothing can really hold them back. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
[TRAVELING FOLK] Joshua English is a local lad, but describes himself as a "modern-day troubadour," and indeed his music has more in common with the straightforward British folk-punk of artists like Billy Bragg than the blues, indie and world music sound that permeates most of the folk music in Portland. His 2007 album, Trouble None, had a similarly itinerant influence, meandering nicely from sparse, acoustic ballads to squealing, overdriven guitar solos.
On Lay Bare Your Bones, English has attempted to craft a more cohesive album, sticking fast to the single Brit-folk sound. It has its moments—opener "Theme From Idle Hands" is a brooding rogue's theme song with a killer a cappella break that showcases English's voice at its snarling finest; the rollicking "M-LV" rocks a tale of love and loneliness on the road; and the bittersweet "Nickel In" is a quietly captivating ballad that belies his American roots with a hint of country twang.
But all too often, the album blurs into a pastiche of indistinguishable folk-rock tunes that lack the hooks and personality to stand up on their own. English is clearly a talented lyricist playing straight from the gut. But his tales of life as a wanderer make me want go on a journey with him, and Lay Bare Your Bones spends too much time stuck in the same one-tune town. RUTH BROWN.
SEE IT: Hosannas play Sunday, Oct. 3, at Mississippi Studios, with Aan and Dana Buoy. 9 pm. $7. 21+. Joshua English plays Friday, Oct. 1, at Sellwood Public House. 9 pm. Free. 21+.