[FOLK POP] I often wonder: What if Simon and Garfunkel had been women?
Actually, the first time I ever wondered that was five minutes ago, while listening to “That’s the Way,” from Portland quartet What Hearts’ debut EP, Songs for Marjorie. The disc—and that bittersweet, musically upbeat tune in particular—takes some melodic and vocal harmony cues from S&G. The group also bears resemblance to classic Northwest bands from the Softies to Dear Nora—groups that may or may not be on What Hearts’ radar; some of this stuff is just in the air around here.
But spend too much time connecting the musical dots on What Hearts and you’ll miss the things the group does best. Three-way, all-girl vocal harmonies are a tough beast to tame—especially when you’re laying down sparkling guitar-picking and fiddle-playing—and What Hearts fucking nails it. Proof of this can be found in opener “Salmon River Mouth,” on which frontwoman-guitarist Julie Vitells, guitarist Karin Nystrom and fiddler Sophie Vitells sing like train whistles over drummer Sarah Fennel’s minimal, clacking beat. Like much of Songs for Marjorie, the instrumentation here—while well-played, tastefully understated and gorgeously recorded—is really a trampoline beneath the singers’ feet. Julie Vitells writes twisting, descriptive lyrical vignettes, but it’s clear her real joy comes from writing gorgeous harmonies to underscore the best couplets. That’s also what keeps me listening, past all the comparisons, again and again. CASEY JARMAN.
[SLUDGE] Since moving from Philadelphia in 2007, lady-sludge trio Purple Rhinestone Eagle has made a lot of noise. I mean that in the most literal sense—the band’s towering live shows and heavy, Black Sabbath-with-a-sense-of-humor sound usually crush anything in its path. But on PRE’s new full-length, The Great Return, it’s the songs that forgo the distortion pedal that really shine.
The Great Return still features plenty of pummeling riffage, but it’s varied enough you can’t really call it metal. The band has never sounded better than on the seven-minute minimal punk workout “Scorpio Moon,” which erupts from some seriously sexy low-end and drummer Ashley Spungin’s rumbling percussion into a wandering rock song once Andrea Genevieve’s piercing guitar cuts through two minutes in. “Scorpio Moon”—along with the primal rhythms and stop-start bass line of “As Life Leaves You”—brings to mind the Slits, or even Explode Into Colors (R.I.P.), at their most ferocious. There’s even a track of woodland folk, the whimsical “Hey Lady of the Forests,” that features, you guessed it, a flute solo.
Still, it’s not like PRE has gotten all wussy on us: Opener “No Space Nukes” almost overwhelms the rest of the record with its fuzzed-out guitar and Genevieve’s dark wail, and the stomping “The Queen of Rain and Gray” is certainly an appropriate song for the band’s hometown. When the band wants to be heavy, it thrashes with the best of ’em—the quieter moments only make the ripping solos sound even louder. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: What Hearts plays Laurelthirst on Friday, July 30, with Celilo and the Lord’s Own Choir. 9 pm. $6. 21+. Purple Rhinestone Eagle plays Thursday, July 29, at Backspace, with STLS and Forever. 9 pm. $5. All ages.