[MELLOW CELLO] The CD wrapper says “File Under: Alternative Rock,” but despite the melancholy Elliott Smith cover (the previously unreleased “Taking a Fall”), Portland Cello Project’s third and most ambitious album transcends category.
Although sporting only one actual “classical” work (Gabriel Fauré’s famous “Elegy”), Thousand Words feels more classical than the band’s previous efforts, mostly due to its poignant centerpiece: Decemberist Rachel Blumberg’s gorgeous tripartite suite “The Dream” (dedicated to the memory of her mother, Portland cello teacher Naomi Blumberg), which expresses its ambition not through sophisticated compositional techniques, but rather in employing memorable, related tunes to express distinct moods.
The elegiac feel also permeates Gideon Freudmann’s dirge, “Denmark,” but although this album is PCP’s darkest (the result of “genuine catharsis,” says founder and arranger Douglas Jenkins, who contributes a plaintive composition, “1516”), it’s hardly a bummer-fest. The punchy arrangement of the video-game theme from Halo, the Rihanna cover (“Hard,” with NYC beatboxer Adam Matta replacing Jeezy); Skip vonKuske’s delicious mashup of Paul Desmond’s Brubeck Quartet classic “Take Five” with Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme; and the disc’s open-road highlight, “Broken Crowns,” by Ashia Grzesik, who’s supplied some fine music to various stages around town. All of these add excitement to the ever-shifting ensemble’s first all-instrumental album. PCP has always been more than the gimmick that attracts initial attention (“Look, they’re doing Britney—on cellos!”), with Jenkins’ inventive arrangements and their genuine affection for both pop and classical influences. Like the saying goes, a picture—in this case, the cover shot of the band in front of the Fremont Bridge—is worth a Thousand Words. Portland Cello Project is beautifully bridging the worlds of classical and pop music. BRETT CAMPBELL.
[DREAM POP] There’s nothing Oregonians like to do more than complain about the weather. Just take a walk to the corner store or engage a stranger on the bus, and you’ll likely hear someone bitching about “Juneuary” or the fact that it’s actually, God forbid, raining during the solstice. But not everyone is upset: Local dream-pop duo Wishyunu makes music for people who actually like their summer days more overcast than sunny and humid.
The band’s new five-song EP, A Day No How, makes this abundantly clear from the start. “In My Sleep” is a crystalline, gorgeous waltz, layered with dreamcatcher synths and brushed percussion. It’s a lovely pop song in the mold of the Cocteau Twins or Mazzy Star, content to ride singer Bei Yan’s lush voice to some faraway fantasy land. “Closer Than Before” stays at the same medium tempo, inching forward with crisp acoustic guitars and an ascending, high-pitched keyboard. It’s perfect late-night driving music, comforting but not boring, catchy but not accident causing. You can sing along to A Day No How, or you can just let it wash over you.
That’s the band’s main strength: It knows what it does well and, at least on A Day No How, never tries to force anything out of its comfort zone. Wishyunu may never try to swing for the fences, but sometimes it’s safer to consistently get on base. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Portland Cello Project releases A Thousand Words Thursday, July 8, at the Old Church with John Vecchiarelli and Shenandoah Davis. 8 pm. $12. All ages. PCP plays again (CD-release show 2: Dance Party Edition) on Friday, July 9, at Doug Fir with special guests. 9 pm. $14 advance, $12 day of show. Wishyunu plays Thursday, July 8, at Berbati’s Pan with Housefire and Secret Cities. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. All ages.