[MINIMAL FOLK] Following up a great album is hard to do. Following it up after a 26-year recording hiatus is just dumb. And yet, the Tree People have picked up right where they left off. The Portland-via-Eugene psychedelic folk group’s reunion disc, It’s My Story, is an album that showcases the same off-kilter beauty of its predecessor, Human Voices, a disc released in 1984 and widely considered a lost folk gem until its reissue last year.
The Tree People are a hard outfit to explain, because on paper the music sounds like your standard country fair fare: They’re called the Tree People, for chrissakes, and the instrumentation includes stand-up bass, panpipes, penny whistle and “throat singing.” But the band—multi-instrumentalists Stephen Cohen, Jeff Stier and Rich Hinrichsen—share a vision that’s more Sendak than Tolkien, and more Van Morrison than Donovan.
This is especially true of the vocal tracks: The title track proves that the group’s singer-songwriter, Cohen (a guy who can pull off a beret), remains an expert of vocal pacing and delivery. “The Change in Kate” has the jazzy feel of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (“You can hear soulful singing when she talks/ You can see joyous dancing where she walks,” he sings) without the heroin-chic. Cohen’s strength is in a childlike wonder and charm that hasn’t diluted over the years.
In fact, if the disc has a weakness, it’s that we could use a little more of Cohen’s striking vocals. “X Times Y”—a Danny Elfman-esque psych-folk instrumental with strings that sound like pigeons overhead or the upstairs neighbors’ squeaky box spring—fares well without a voice, as does the touching “Melody for 3,” but “Sunday” and “Hearing Test” feel like freak-funk jams without the funk, and will probably leave pop-oriented listeners hitting skip. Still, Cohen uses his limited time on the mic to its fullest. “More Than Yoko” is a 30-word beat poem set to song, and it comprises two of the album’s strongest minutes—another reason the Tree People deserve your attention. CASEY JARMAN.
[YOUTHFUL POWER POP] On the Bandcamp page for local power-pop group Your Rival, there’s a mention below the tracklist for the 360 Degree Sound! EP that notes the songs are “largely a one-man affair—which is hopefully not how I’ll record in the future.” That one man is young songwriter Mo Troper, and his confession is both a sincere statement and a total shock: The six songs on here sound like the work of a band that’s been cutting records for close to a decade.
It’s almost uncanny how much these sturdy, catchy pop songs sound like Supertramp or Weezer before Rivers Cuomo enrolled at Harvard. Troper’s voice is a little higher than many rock singers, somewhere between a shout and all-out falsetto as he sings a set of energetic anthems. “King of Bicycles,” despite a few silly bits (maybe ax the kazoo next time, bro), is like Cheap Trick’s version of Big Star’s “In the Street” for the emo set, with a bopping melody and confident lead vocal. Even better is “Can’t Fool Me!” with its “ba ba ba” backing vocals and slippery chorus: “No one will come out to play/ What’s a boy to do?”
Your Rival rounds out to a quartet for its live performances, but most of these songs would stand out with just Troper and an acoustic guitar. It’s a testament to the power of his songwriting, really; and even though these songs are sort of predictable, I still want to listen to them over and over again. With a little bit of seasoning, and a better recording budget, Troper and his band could really be onto something. Music styles and genres come and go like LaMarcus Aldridge’s post game, but solid power pop is always here to stay. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: The Tree People’s It’s My Story is out now. They play the Old Church on Sunday, Nov. 21. Your Rival plays Dunes on Friday, Nov. 12, with the Shivas and the Midnight Callers. 9 pm. Cover. 21+. It plays Artistery on Saturday, Nov. 13, with Tango Alpha Tango and the Shivas. 8 pm. $6. All ages.