[ROCK POETICS] It’s a shame Nick Jaina’s new album doesn’t come with a lyric sheet. More than any other local songwriter, Jaina songs beg to be read, labored over and deconstructed. On A Bird in the Opera House, his fourth full-length for Hush, his words are still the first thing you notice.
Though it’s just Jaina’s name on the sleeve, A Bird in the Opera House is clearly the work of a band, led by the understated lead guitar playing of Sean Flinn. Jaina [an occasional WW freelancer] can’t help but draw attention to it, calling out Flinn’s impending solo with a hearty “ladies and gentleman, Sean Flinn” on “Strawberry Man.” And Jaina frames most of the record around the chance to experiment in producer Lee Howard’s home studio, after even moving into Howard’s house while recording the disc.
A Bird in the Opera House is very much an album about time and place. Three tracks, including the gorgeous, winding opener “Sebastopol,” are named after cities, and most mention a person (mid-record comedown “Theresa”; the jubilant “Strawberry Man”) or local landmark like the Steel Bridge. Opener “Sebastopol” is typical Jaina-speak: It describes one of those in-between times (the first line is “just an hour before we first met”) with uncanny clarity, as he sings of an unnamed interest whose “eyes tell so many wild, wild tales.” The words are picturesque, but the song doesn’t really unfold until the trumpet and strings come in mid-tune. After years of breaking hearts with his prose, it’s wonderful to hear a Jaina record where both the words and the music make you swoon. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
[SELF-HELP POP] There are happy songs, then there are songs that are trying to be happy. Future Historians’ “Ooh Ooh,” despite its earnest attempts at being the former, is definitely the latter. The song channels Rhymin’- era Paul Simon using David Bazan as a medium—it’s celebratory and affectionate, yet recorded in what sounds like a bare-walled living room with no friends to help with the clapping. It’s your bummer friend realizing he’s a bummer and putting on a Saturday-night game face.
That same sentiment applies to most of If You Slip Into the Fog, the second album from Portland pop outfit Future Historians. The group—which sounds a bit like Band of Horses without all the studio bells and whistles—trades in chord progressions and drum patterns normally associated with summery pop groups, but your takeaway emotion will likely be melancholy. It’s a neat trick, actually: The record’s stark, slightly seasick sheen calls more attention to the Historians’ understated twang than to its tom or kick drum (the percussion floats in a mist somewhere behind the track). That, combined with frontman Dave Shur’s achingly pure vocal approach, gives tracks like opener “Flathead Lake” and “Old King Crow” a rustic, AM-pop feel often tapped into by bands like R.E.M. and Okkervil River. But it’s “On the Way Home” that reveals Future Historians’ true colors: Sad bastards through and through. It’s working out for them. CASEY JARMAN.
SEE IT: Nick Jaina and Future Historians play Friday, April 2, at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $10. 21+.