Eye Level Eye, The Spider Moccasin Folk Ensemble, Very Rare Artifacts, and Turtle @ The Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective 1/25/2014
Last Saturday my friend Danny texted me to let me know about a show he would be opening at the Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective. We had been scheming about how to promote him with a write-up for his solo project Eye Level Eye, so I was excited to take the opportunity to plug for him. The show in question was a benefit put on by the Portland Rising Tide for a project to combat and hopefully halt the environmentally destructive consequences of extracting energy from tar sands (petroleum waste). In December, protesters in Eastern Oregon confronted Megaload trucks bound for an oil patch in Canada, and there may be some more conflict over this issue on the horizon. In keeping with the anarchist sympathies of the show-organizers and audience, the benefit showcased several wildly different genres of music presented alongside one another in a spirit of equal receptiveness. As a result, this was one of the most interesting shows I’ve been at in a long time, a truly eye-opening glimpse of the diversity of talent this city has to offer.
Eye Level Eye (my friend Danny Cox) got the show off to an awesome start. Eye Level Eye is stylistically kind of a throwback to the 60’s– psychedelic folk with poetic lyrics. Danny once mentioned to me that Syd Barrett is one of his biggest musical influences. Eye Level Eye is an intense trip: the chord progressions can be very dramatic and abrupt, the lyrics are haunting fragments culled from dreams. Danny’s voice is passionate and cuttingly beautiful. Just about every performance from this guy feels special. His performance of his song “Quiet” was one of the high points of the night. He hasn’t been able to put a release together yet, though he does have a soundcloud with some nice acoustic jamming from him and some of our friends. Check it out and here’s hoping he can get back into the studio soon!
The second act was The Spider Moccasin Folk Ensemble, a blues-rock guitar-bassist duo. They delivered a short set of blues-influenced tunes with environmental themes that tied in references to Chinook folklore. The two were veterans of the Oregon rock scene and were polite, funny, and apparently pretty photogenic as well.
My biggest surprise of the show was the third act, a one-man noise project called Very Rare Artifacts. I was completely blown away by this performance. With a laptop and a formidable array of pedals he delivered about twenty-minutes of brutal, intricately textured, occasionally-rhythmic noise– there was none of the pretentious nonsense that can often be expected from noise acts coming from this guy. When I approached him after he had finished his set, he told me that he had only just begin performing live. I was shocked; from the quality of his set, I had assumed that he was at the forefront of Portland noise. The one big regret I have from this show (aside from the fact that I didn’t buy any of the Laughing Horse’s $1 books on political theory, history, and philosophy) is that I don’t remember Very Rare Artifacts’s name, even though we shook hands and introduced ourselves. I couldn’t find a soundcloud or bandcamp for him online. In any case, Very Rare Artifacts will be an artist for fans of Portland experimental music to keep their eyes peeled for.
The fourth and final act up was Turtle, a free music trio made up of a trumpeter, a drummer, and a guitarist. This band too, gave off a similar impression to Very Rare Artifacts– they were playing perhaps one of their first shows, but they killed it with sheer self-assurance. This was a, I’m assuming, mostly improvised set with scratching figures and scurrying percussion overturing jagged punk violence. After about three improvised pieces, the spoken-word artist Sherpa joined them with some vitriolic improvised poetry. They went well with each other, and I suppose that this part of Turtle’s set sort of encapsulated much of the spirit of this night: experimentalists and anarcho-activists teaming up for something worth believing in. After Sherpa bowed out, Turtle played two more pieces for an admiring audience.
I’d like to remind my readers to support grassroots organizations that value direct political action, awareness of the real political issues of our time, and exercising one’s freedom of speech to the fullest extent possible like Portland Rising Tide and Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective. I don’t know when our bureaucracies and billionaires will steer us away from this paradigm of avoiding the inevitable and start to transition away from fossil fuel dependency, but I do know that you should make your voice heard, if not join in the fight. It was a great night for a cause we all need to know about.
Flyer courtesy of Danny Cox
Photos courtesy of Brett Sisun
I’m starting off the year with a band I’ve encountered before: Warpaint.
Dismal , sensual, with a sound that wanders around quite a lot, weaving pretty vocal melodies through morose punk-influenced rock, Warpaint are one of the better examples of the modern post-punk sound. The name Warpaint is sort of a giveaway to what they’re after: a somewhat sexualized, dark, very percussive post-punk. For many people, this is exactly what they want from music. I’ll be honest though… only a few songs in, I found myself putting on some Big Youth. I was getting a little too depressed.
I really liked “Hi”, a dubby ballad with some keyboard textures that juxtapose well with the velvety, sinister vocals and bassline. This new album is light on guitars, and mostly driven by keyboard riffs and eerie mixing effects. In songs like “Drive”, the vocal harmonies get truly gorgeous. What interests me most about Warpaint is the fact that they obviously have something of a progressive approach to music. Like some of the artier-sounding post-hardcore bands, or a particularly dark post-punk band, it’s a progressive approach that stays firmly within the confines of a certain sound, but it’s experimentation nonetheless. I can imagine these gals being an impressive live act, with, if not very much improvisation, at least some extended takes on these songs.
There’s oftentimes a slightly frail sincerity to Emily Kokal’s lyrics and vocals as well. After all, we don’t all just like Joy Division because they were sexy and aloof-looking, right? And we like the Doors, too, because there’s a little bit of the sadness of life in there along with all the tormented-poet poetry that attracts most of us. Warpaint ultimately become a little oppressive from their continual lyrical-harping-on over soured relationships and anti-social introspection, but they are certainly dead-serious. Warpaint are a dark-and-sexy rock band with substance.
I can see just from quick browsing around that this album is already starting to get mediocre reviews. Is it because this isn’t a debut, and Warpaint are no longer a true buzzband? It’s sort of a shame, really. It’s a genuinely interesting album from a decent band. My year in listening is off to a good start.
Last Thursday I saw psych rock revivalists Wooden Shjips and psych-influenced guitarist Plankton Wat (Dewey Mahood of Portland) at the Doug Fir Lounge. Wooden Shjips are promoting their new album Back to Land, and Mahood his newest album Drifter’s Temple. It was a hell of a good night for music. I showed up around 8:15, quickly ate some dinner outside the doors and then met up with my friend Sean. After chatting by the fire with a guy we had met at the door, I ran downstairs to catch Plankton Wat’s set.
A soft-spoken, genial guy, Mahood had brought onstage with him his old buddy from the band Edibles, Dusty Dyvbig, on drums. They were a potent combination, with Plankton’s virtuosic, mysteriously beautiful soloing gradually mutating into driving, reverb-heavy psychedelic hard rock. Sean had apparently never heard of Plankton before, and he was visibly blown away by the set. I was just glad I got to expose him to it!
Mahood has, for a while now, been a highly-respected staple player not just of the Portland scene, but of the psychedelic drone worldwide phenomenon we’ve been having since the early 200’s– last November he played at the Liverpool International Psych Festival. I also think I missed him, along with Eternal Tapestry and Dragging an Ox Through Water, at Portland’s Secret Society in December. The last time I saw him was last year as an opener for Blues Control. It was good to catch up with this guy’s path again! I should relisten to Drifter’s Temple, his album from last year, a few more times again soon. I was impressed particularly with the live version of “Hash Smuggler’s Blues” from off this album.
Wooden Shjips is a mostly-krautrock-influenced act that strongly stresses locked-in riffs and rhythms, with faint echoes here and there of other, more bluesy, 70’s legends like Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, and Blue Cheer. They’re sort of a minimalist psychedelic-hard-rock band– there’s an inexplicably mellow affect to their music, even though it can get pretty loud. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Wooden Shjips just make me feel pleasant. They’re not exactly trying to reinvent the wheel, they just seem like they’re having fun making music that’s good to chill to. According to Matthew Singer of Willamette Weekly and Robert Ham (of my staple music blog, Experimental Portland), they recently relocated to Portland. It’s easy to imagine that they’ll probably end up getting attached to the laid-back ambience of the Rose City.
I liked Wooden Shjips’s new album (which I had missed from 2013, and listened to a few days before the show) more than their earlier stuff (I’ve listened to West, Dos, and Vol. 2 so far). In particular, I loved the opening title track, which had a cool music video that reminded me a little of an Antonioni film, with ghostly mimes in a creepily empty suburban landscape. I hope that this next comment doesn’t come off as an insult, but even though Wooden Shjips is essentially a band with only one song, it’s a pretty good song. And in a live setting, you really get pulled into the groove.
Wooden Shjips stepped onstage amid flurries of sidereal psychedelic background-projection-art that sent us all off on the beginnings of a cosmic body-trip. I didn’t look around very much in the show, but when I did I saw that almost everyone was standing still with heads gently bent and swaying. I was really excited to hear “Other stars” and “Ruins”, my other favorite tracks off the new record, and perhaps my favorite Wooden Shjips earworms, along with “Flight” off of West. Like Mahood, Wooden Shjips were tactiturn and relaxed. Actually, I don’t remember them even bothering to say two words to us. It didn’t matter though. They were giving us all the soundtrack to our own personal psychedelic psychological mystery dramas. An aspect of their music that brings out this element of a psych-rock show is what you could call the minimalist jamming on some of their longer pieces, such as “Death’s Not Your Friend”, the last song before the encore. Back to Land eschews these kinds of tunes, which I don’t really mind, as I prefer their shorter songs on record, to be honest.
Now that Wooden Shjips have taken up residency in Portland, perhaps they’ll become more of a local fixture. I’m looking forward to seeing them many more times this year.
Photos courtesy of Sean Bradford
Another pleasant surprise from under the radar released last year was Finland’s Weepikes’s We Are Weepikes. I don’t really know almost anything about rock music from Finland, so when I was recommended this album out of nowhere I was anxious to check it out.
At just 20 minutes long (not including some extended remixes at the end) We Are Weepikes is criminally short for a full-length album, but it packs a punch much like a punk rock EP. Dubbed pronk for their common ties to progressive music and punk rock, Weepikes thrash out high-quality noise rock. This is a kind of music that I like to support when I go out to a show, partially because it isn’t necessarily that common anymore– it’s fun and it rocks hard. We Are Weepikes is paranoid, riff-driven punk with no jangle-pop attempts at pop-deepness in sight. That’s not to say I don’t like those other kinds of music too (when they’re done well), it’s just that I think we’re over-saturated with them at the moment.
Pasi Peni’s sneering, detached vocals make “Falling off the Carpet” and the brilliant “Flatliner” top-tier earworms, while the band’s slightly off-kilter tunings and vicious rhythms intrigue you to go back for more. The album is rounded off with two interesting remixes from k-x-p and ovito. If you love punk rock you should give this a listen, and I’m looking forward to their next outing.
Pasi Peni – vocals + guitar
Jyrki Lehto – guitar
Tomi Nuotio – bass
Ari Reiska Lehtinen – drums
I got the chance to interview Weepikes via email, and I took the opportunity to ask them about Finnish rock, their roots, and the origins of the band:
1.When did you all start learning to play? What were your early experiences playing like?
Tomi: I must have been 7-8 years old when I started taking piano lessons. And at the age of 15 I played classical guitar for a couple of years. I was quite lazy in practicing, so soon I switched acoustic instruments to electric ones. Somehow playing in a rock band didn’t feel that obligatory, at least compared to classical training… My first band around 1977-1979 was called Fire Stars. We played mostly cover songs, but had also some original material. The drum set was built of buckets, and the drummer joined a couple of years later the legendary Finnish hardcore punk band, Terveet Kädet.
Jyrki: I started with piano too as a child for a couple of years. Then I started to play guitar, my first band was a psychobilly band called The Rage as a teenager.
Reiska: I was 6 years old when I started to take piano lessons. My big brother had a band and I used to hang out at their rehersals. That’s how I fell in love with drums, I had the chance to get noisy when my brother and his buddies left the room. I loved it back then and still do.
Pasi: I was like 16 when I bought my first guitar and started to play. I studied few chords and that was it. I didn´t know how to play properly any music I listened to back then, so I started to write my own songs.
2.What music did you all listen to when you were teenagers? What were the first albums you all bought?
Tomi: I started with mostly rock bands from Finland, f. ex. Hurriganes, Sleepy Sleepers, Eppu Normaali, Leevi & The Leavings, Pelle Miljoona Oy. I believe the first album I ever bought with my own money was some LP from The Rubettes.
Jyrki: My first tape was Queen’s A Night at the Opera. I was listening Queen for many years. After that I went to rockabilly, psychobilly and punk.
Reiska: I have always listened to a wide variety of music but what really caught my ears as teen were bands like Living Colour, Primus, early RHCP and Fishbone. First album I ever bought was Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, I was 12 years old.
Pasi: Kiss, Rainbow, Dio, Van Halen. The first album I bought was Kiss: Ace Frehley.
3. What are the artistic themes you are most interested in conveying/exploring through your music?
Tomi: For me the most important thing is to sound original. Too many bands are trying sound like their own heroes. I’m sure people will find familiar elements also in Weepikes’ music, but I’d say our sound and style are our own. To be able to create it you have to be open for all kind of music from all kind of genres and know its background. We have been listening to punk rock, rockabilly, jazz, soul, classic rock, metal, prog rock, folk, electronica etc. etc. for years. You can say it’s the basis of Weepikes’ style and sound.
Reiska: I feel that we are trying to get the vibe, sound and approach out more through improvisation rather than having strictly organized, written out songs or ideas. So, more improvisational, accidental and raw attitude is the major theme in our music and the way we make it nowadays.
4. Who are some current Finnish bands you enjoy? What is the current Finnish rock music scene like? Who are some Finnish bands from the past that you draw influence from?
Tomi: Hopeajärvi, Olimpia Splendid, Mirel Wagner, Sokea Piste, Radiopuhelimet. And yes, of course I have to mention Free Punk/No Wave/Skronk band Can Can Heads, in which I play bass too. We are to release a new LP in March, it will be titled “Butter Life”.
Jyrki: Deep Turtle (sadly defunct a few years ago), Elifantree, Ville Vokkolainen.
Finnish bands like Mother Goose or Psychoplasma might be musically the ones who have influenced Weepikes the most. They both are definitely worth checking out if interested in inspiring guitar playing, not to forget excellent song writing.
5. Are there any current American bands you all like?
We all like… Let’s see. Lee Ranaldo & The Dust maybe? Or Polvo, who played a great live show here in Helsinki a couple of years back. To be honest I’m not sure there’s is an American band we all like… Or a band from any other country for that matter.
6. What is your favorite venue to play? Your favorite city to play?
If you start counting from 2010 when we put the band back together, we are still quite young band and haven’t played in too many venues or cities yet. That’s why my choice is Lepakkomies Baari, a Helsinki based punk rock club. We played our first gig in Lepakkomies after reforming, and the gig itself was a big success. Thumbs up also for Bar Loose.
So I sat down and listened to about 40 new albums this year– just about enough to barely qualify as a music journalist. Yes, I know, I should have listened to enough new music to make a top 50. When it comes to music I am picky to the point of full-on autism though (though far less than when I was younger), I’ll freely admit, so I’m not sure attempting a Top 50 would have worked out well anyway. Hopefully next year I will listen to more new music all the same. Here is my list of my top 15 albums of the year, followed by some honorable mentions, then a list of albums I will probably be re-listening to. Now granted, the albums listed in this post are not ALL the 2013 albums I’ve listened to. And there are honestly about 10 or so albums from 2013 that I still haven’t listened to yet that I probably should have. I’ve been scrambling at the last minute to listen to a few more important albums from this year, hence why this post is being published so late. I will post the rest of my listening log for albums released in 2013 in a few days (I’ve already been writing it down in a journal, might as well post it here too). Most of the albums in my top 15 have already been reviewed on this blog– for some of those I have not, I have briefly commented where I wanted to. Hope you enjoy this, and happy new year!
1. Julia Holter– Loud City Song
2. Föllakzoid– II
3. The Necks– Open
4. Cass Mccombs– Big Wheel and Others
I didn’t even bother trying to review this massive roadtrip of an album. It’s generally a waste of time to expend a lot of effort trying to review songwriters you already love. You really ought to just be enjoying yourself and trying to pick up the lyrics. Like, fuck…stop being a hipster and genuinely enjoy it for christ’s sake.
5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds– Push the sky away
6. Federico Durand– El Idioma de las Luciernagas
7. Celer– Weak Ends
8. Grumbling Fur– Glynnaestra
9. Ulaan Passerine– Ulaan Passerine
Steven R. Smith is someone whose music doesn’t always connect with me. However, I’ll always be a loyal fan, as I consider his albums with Mirza to be absolutely fucking genius. His new project Ulaan Passerine is challenging but melodic and deserves a respectful nod for a higher level of compositional excellence alone. Time willing, I’ll revisit parts of this album again and again.
10. Destruction Unit– Deep Trip
This went hard. Seriously, it’s good shit. Savage and uncompromising, but with more than a few earworms. Out of this whole psychedelic punk rock scene that’s been dominating the hip youth culture of our strange and sordid times for some time, Destruction Unit deserves recognition as one of the best of the best. Also, I’ll just take a moment to note that Sacred Bones Records have an absolutely mind-blowing roster right now. Just about everything they’ve been putting out has been either fire or noticeably good.
11. The Dead C- Armed Courage
12. Arcade Fire– Reflektor
“Normal Person” says it all really. For real, Arcade Fire are the only thing in modern music that does a good job continuing the crossover art rock of the eighties that our parents bequeathed us. This is a damn good record– sexy, sincere, and magisterial in that distinctive Arcade Fire way.
13. James Holden– The Inheritors
14. Boards of Canada– Tomorrow’s Harvest
Both Boards of Canada and Autechre stepped back into the limelight this year. So this new Boards album isn’t up to par with their best work…so what? Boards of Canada were one of the first electronic music acts I got interested in. I was bound to find a way to love this record. “Nothing is Real” and “Reach for the Dead” deliver.
15. Danny Brown– Old
Polvo- Siberia, White Manna- Dune Worship, Chelsea Wolfe- Pain is Beauty, Nihls Frahm- Spaces, Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi- Now While It’s Still Warm Let us Pour in all the Mystery, Zs– Grain, Kwaidan- Make all the Hell of Dark Metal Bright, Weather Exposed- Ring of Bone, Charles Bradley- Victim of Love
Albums I will probably revisit at some point (for various reasons):
Tim Hecker- Virgins, Autechre- Exai, William Basinski- Nocturnes, Broadcast- Berberian Sound System, Lumerians- The High Frontier, Plankton Wat- Drifter’s Temple, Jon Hopkins- Immunity, Eleanor Friedberger- Personal Record, My Bloody Valentine- m b v, Main- Ablation, Fire! Orchestra- Exit!, Barn Owl- V, Grouper- The Man Who Died in his Boat, Glenn Jones- My Garden State, The Holydrug Couple- Noctuary, Bardo Pond- Peace on Venus, Ashley Paul- Line the Clouds, Pere Ubu- The Lady from Shanghai, Janelle Monáe- The Electric Lady, These New Puritans– Field of Reeds, Eluvium- Nightmare Ending, Candy Claws- Ceres and Calypso in the Deep time, Date Palms– The Dusted Sessions