[SOFT POP] When we last checked in with Kurt Hagardorn, the North Carolina transplant had just released Ten Singles, a severely overlooked collection of smooth twang-pop that sounded like it was straight out of the '70s. At the time, we explained Hagardorn as a very talented mimic; an immensely enjoyable one-trick pony.
Three years after the Bladen County Records release of Ten Singles, Hagardorn is responding to these accusations in song. Leaves, while just as smooth and serene as the previous disc, finds him simultaneously branching out and finding his niche, with help from a list of notable local musicians that includes Decemberist Jenny Conlee, as well as Paul Brainard and Lewi Longmire.
Sonic hallmarks are still identifiable here—Neil Young on "Tail Lights"; a melodic nod to "You Are My Sunshine" on "Be Peaceful"—but Hagardorn has grown more adventurous in his songwriting and more confident in his singing. A bit ironically, a cover kick-starts a four-song run of Hagardorn's most singular songs. Brainard's string arrangement on Harry Nilsson's "Life Line" gives the tune a Roy Orbison-esque dark majesty, while "On Our Way to the Show" is a sweet, sentimental waltz that reminds of Swedish crooner Jens Lekman.
Even when he's in a familiar country-pop territory, Hagardorn taps into a low-key vulnerability that makes Leaves feel more complete than his previous disc. Kurt Hagardorn has really found himself in Portland. You should find him, too. CASEY JARMAN.
[DUB MEOW MIX] With Proper Eats, the debut record from dub reggae trio We Like Cats, it's hard to know whether to dance or burst out laughing. The album's premise—three titans of the local experimental scene (Honey Owens of Valet and Miracles Club, Adam Forkner of White Rainbow and Rob Walmart, and Eva Salens of Inca Ore) coming together to make a summertime dance record inspired by cats and a mutual love of King Tubby—is charming and tolerable until you actually hear the second track, "Meow Hear Me Roar," which starts out as a killer dub groove and is ruined the minute the trio open their mouths and start meowing.
Fortunately, things get better from there. "Ruff-a-lution Dub" stutters by on a wheezing organ and looped beat, sounding more like an obscure remix than a bad dub homage. "No Ordinary Dub" adds thick layers of reverb and church bells to the wordless vocal coos from the beginning of the record, leading to a weird and disorienting feeling that is surely what our feline friends feel after sniffing some extra potent catnip.
Of course, your enjoyment of the disc will depend on the system you're using. Playing We Like Cats softly on a stereo is a little like watching a boxing match on an iPod—sure, you're experiencing it, but what's the point? Proper Eats will hit you square in the face, but only if you have a bitchin stereo and the endurance to make it past the first 10 minutes. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: Kurt Hagardorn plays Wednesday, June 23, at Ella Street Social Club. 9 pm. $5. 21+. We Like Cats plays Wednesday, June 23, at Holocene. 8:30 pm. $5. 21+.