Entertainer writer tackles 16 of his favorite 2012 releases and coins the first music slogan for 2013: ‘Support your local noise’
Another year has ended. Can’t believe it’s true. But there’s the proof, the memories, an accumulation of sight and sound.
I sit here in December (it’s not August anymore?) and they all come back, man, a staccato full-bore flood. Lawrence Gowan’s raspy laugh as we discuss all matters Styx. Howard Bellamy’s rich, relaxing baritone. Steve Hunter whipping a lethal Def Leppard crack and momentarily derailing a Metallon interview as everyone fights for air (oh, to publish what isn’t published). Summer Soundtrack’s Mandi DeWolfe exhaling a line from “Summer Nights.” Norska and Witch Mountain dismantling Cloud & Kelly’s. Digitally combing through recorded Block 15 clamor in search of an Old Age interview (found it!). The Vicki Stevens Band lifting the Calapooia ever-higher with “More Bluise Please.” Kicking back at BurntWoodsStock, my every care evaporating. Sliding into my 40th year in the presence of the Afghan Whigs (remind me to tell you a story someday). A weekend at the coast with the girl of my dreams, splitting time between my birthday and writing about the Whiteside’s. The lucre I surrender to Happy Trails. But I can’t complain; it’s a blessed life.
As much as I love this job, I couldn’t have survived the year without you. When deadlines dogged me, your music kept me sane. I’m talking about you, the local artists, who took time to speak with me, shared your labors with everyone and created something to outlast us all.
This week I’ve tackled 16 of my favorite releases. The task has reduced me to bleary-eyed jelly (I refuse to recycle previously published pieces, preferring to spend fresh time with the albums), but I hope there’s even more in 2013. Someday we’ll fill this sucker, eh?
But enough about me. Let’s get spinnin’. And remember, as always, to support your local noise.
Abolitionist, “Bleeding Kansas” (EP) — John Brown’s final declaration began: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.” That same day — Dec. 2, 1859 — the abolitionist was executed for charges related to his violent opposition to slavery.
This controversial figure inspired the band Abolitionist (late of Corvallis, now of Portland), whose “Bleeding Kansas” notes the deadly struggle between proslavery “Border Ruffians” and the opposing Free Staters, a faction led in part by Brown, that rattled the Kansas Territory from 1854 to 1861. The Dustin Herron-powered unit relays this horror in typically vivid, pulverizing punk, rendering history exigent. “Pick up that gun, put down that plow,” he rallies against a feral, churning broth (“What We Need Is Action”), galloping into righteous battle. Whatever your politics, may defiant voices forever ring.
Biological Lovers, “Holding Hands” — Sometimes love hits just the right spot, as evidenced, for instance, on this Brian Smith/Hannah Sheets union. More probing and thoughtful than sickeningly sweet, “Holding Hands” explores the dynamics of a musical and romantic partnership. The couple’s tones embrace simpatico, hers a lovely summer, his an earthbound spring. They trade supportive lines in ongoing dialogue (“The Comforts of Love,” with glockenspiel swaying from channel to channel; “Tour Anthem,” guided by Sheets’ neon ivory hum). The Lovers bow out in electronic adieu (“This Town, This Place”), admitting, “I will miss this place / I will miss your face.” Luckily, they didn’t mean each other; today they reside in Vienna. Back in the States we await the next chapter.
Fjords, “Grounds” — Welcome to the Land of Epic Endings, where drummer Conner O’Shea (he’s second guitar now, thanks to Matt DeBellis’ arrival earlier this year) kicks wormholes through the ozone, Hugh Jepson’s guitar yells at other planets and the title track rocks so hard it turns itself inside out. Ryan Orman’s bass sets the scene in the superlative “Tennis Courts,” which accelerates from a lovelorn brood into an anthemic rager. The album ends with a trio of colorfully melodic wonders in “Sun Crowd” and the two-part “Fantasia,” which, yes, has an Epic Ending and, as a bonus, 48 instances of the word “headcase.” Sweeeeeeet.
Griefhammer, “Griefhammer” — Four-fifths of the lionized Victims of Internal Decay comprise this veteran armada (guitarist Terry Geil drops behind drums, freeing the spot for Mike Warren), illustrating the depths of musical brotherhood. Jaw-froth riffs rumble against Lance Thill’s verbal thrash; his savage bark still power-blasts faces from shattered minds. (Behold the charge ’n’ lunge of “What It Is Not” and the Sabbath nods in the spine-stomping “Killing Yourself, I Remain.”) The titans triumph in this heavy hello; Hans Jochimsen’s lethal chug is cause for weeping in the streets. Love metal? Welcome to school.
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Michelle Smith Harper, “And Then There’s Love” — Accompanied by calming acoustic streams and bassist Walter Davies (his warm pulses audibly guide “Should Have Seen Your Face”), Michelle Smith Harper reflects on life in that effervescent lilt of a voice. These songs are perfect for long, quiet evenings before an active hearth, memories and ghosts dancing in the firelight’s glow. “Tell me a secret,” she asks in the sumptuous “Little Darlin’.” And why shouldn’t you oblige, when she’s revealed the beauty inherent in hers?
Page Hundemer, “Double Stops” — A wry ingenuity links wildly expressive runs on a Breedlove Passport B35, the bassist’s primo beast of choice. Opener “ya ya ya” offers a taste of what’s to come as Hundemer charges downhill, then relaxes in grooves before chasing the next epiphany. “Catchy Tune” and “Turkey Bound” move with cool — the tongue-in-cheek kind, perhaps, as Hundemer loves futzing under the hood (witness “Beached’s” playful international swerves). “Heavywood” trembles with heft, strings nearly shattering the instrument to kindling, although its aggression is dwarfed by “Shock Doctrine’s” monster jolts. (This is acoustic, right?) As a later song claims, “’s Not for Everyone,” but with an album this good, such everyones are not for you.
Little Rascalz, “Run Kid Run!” — Trey Kenyon and Michael Shogren enjoyed a productive 2012, from winning the Olympic Trials — Track & Field Power Anthem contest with “Run This Town” in January to their December coup de grace, the full-length “Run Kid Run!” That’s a lot of running, but it’s OK: the album sprints with infectious aplomb (don’t let “Slow Ride” fool you — the cut kicks major data), beginning with the title track, a twisted carom toward a sparkling electronic horizon. They kill the circuitry for “Out of My League,” proving that even as an acoustic act, bereft of lights and pageantry, Little Rascalz know how to move.
Old Age, “Ancestors” — Matthew Ulm and Dustin Daniels recorded the album at Ulm’s house over the summer, and like most Old Age efforts, its frills are few (handclaps and tambourines season “Needles and Fire”; ukulele tempers Ulm’s “Connections” pain), its chills abundant. Fragile voices break in chilling sublimity, string fingers scuff in search of the next chord (“Rainy Day Friend”). Electric guitars fix to boil in a take on Wes Walker’s “Feathers on My Sleeve,” then paint danger-dotted grids in the all-too-brief “Metal Skeleton” interlude. Once again, Old Age captures the considerable strength of frailty.
Propfouler, “The Inland Night” (single) — The opening blast from the band once known as Tirade gushes six minutes of teeth-bared, knock-’em-down, check-the-shadows destruction. Electronic dread skitters and multiplies, then gets crushed into something more primal (the guitar’s scalded cries rage against the machine), all while maintaining its everpresent malice. What lurks in the coming shadows? Stay tuned. FACEBOOK: http://on.fb.me/Ym71fD
The Psych Country Revue, “The Psych Country Revue” — A crimson sun bleeds through “The Prisoner’s Dilemma,” an intoxicating pool of rock-thorned honky-tonk. Jawsh Holmes and Barry Walker Jr.’s guitars twine like rival rattlesnakes over Ronjon Datta’s tequila-sunrise keys. Julia Rosen’s stunning flower of a voice rises in pastoral contrast, mesmerizing in cuts like “Lost Love Aches,” a glass-bottom weeper that moves in sultry darkness, and “The Lost Country,” with its valleys and heavens vast as hope. Pour yourself a slug of twilight; I’ll wager you’ll finish this bottle by dawn.
Junior Raimey, “My Life Is ... ” — The country hoss rides a laid-back swagger with nary a lick of posturing. Such nonsense ain’t necessary when simple works best. As he admits in his impressive sling (“Already Livin’ the Dream”), “I ain’t got a million-dollar mansion on a hill / Got a shack and a tank by the hayfields.” Add a personal fishing hole and the love of a good woman (maybe that faithful-hearted hell-raiser in “2 Dollar Pistol”), and what more could a man possibly want? Hot-saw guitars cut Main Street glide (“Redneck Chicks Remix”) and backyard strums augment head-bob chill in “Soakin’ Up Summer,” a fine salute to cold ones flowing ’neath the sun. As pedal steels and slides hang with hustle and flow, it’s obvious that hip-hop and country travel well. This is how you keep ’em down on the farm.
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Brian Smith, “Serenity Infinity!” — Last December, the ridiculously prolific Smith (his Bandcamp page lists nine 2012 releases; a “For Old Age” demo EP drops on New Year’s Day) surrendered to the ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif., then emerged with the genesis of this album, a reveling in love anew. Hope and vivacity pour from the disc, beginning with “The Dream” and forever ascending (“City of Love” is particularly gorgeous). Like most Smith solo efforts, he did everything himself, from playing every instrument to supervising production. But one gets the feeling he’s no longer alone.
Summer Soundtrack, “Diagnose This!” (single) — Summer hit early this year (January!), proffering this scrumptiously infectious pop-punk charge (Travis Bazanele grumbles on tundra-throttling bass, Mike Ewing soaks his riffs in snarl) with a toothsome wash of reggae sunsplash. “Somebody call a doctor, we’ve got an issue on our hands,” announces vocalist Mandi DeWolfe, so pleasantly in-your-face. But don’t believe the sweetness; this band has muscle to spare, with drummer Mark Dilson swatting to lap the speed of sound.
The Vicki Stevens Band, “Ms. Vicki’s in Town” — Sadly, the band broke up this year (Vicki’s moved on, leaving her crew to plot another joint-torching takeover). But they’ve left an impressive mammoth legacy — I watched ’em destroy (destroy!) a capacity ’Pooia in March — and this hellfire disc. I’m confident that Bill “Froggy” Hyland dipped his harmonica into the mouth of an active volcano, the same one unsettled by Ron Rocci’s drums on “Good Lovin’ Tonight.” Guitarist Dennis Monroe burns throughout, tearing amour from “Crazy ’Bout My Baby” and sending hot-blooded thunder through the incomparable “More Bluise Please,” where Vicki ends an abusive love affair with the most devastatingly final of retorts. God, I’ll miss them.
Witch Mountain, “Cauldron of the Wild” — “Oh, baby, what’s your doom?” wonders vocalist Uta Plotkin (Corvallis High, class of ’99) on closer “Never Know.” By then the band’s answered the question, reducing eardrums to dust through drummer Nate Carson’s (Corvallis High, class of ’91) tectonic pummel and bassist Neal Munson’s carnivorous tremor. Actual quote overheard in response to guitarist Rob Wrong’s cloudburst over “The Ballad of Lanky Rae” (a woman so bad even immortals keep their distance): “HOT DAMN,” followed by surrender to the vinyl-length bedlam (save his “Aurelia” crawl to squall). Before applying stylus, make sure your speakers are insured against earthquakes.
Xenat-Ra, “Science for the Soundman” — The flexible sextet yanks music’s trap door, sending listeners into spaces where everything’s permitted. Spend a few seconds in “Ape With a Synthesizer” and you’ll know it’s true. The track culminates in the freakout of freakouts: Dave Trenkel mashes Hammond, Matt Calkins torches sax, Mark France shaves his fretboard supermodel-thin and drummer J.D. Monroe chops down the planet before calling his team home. Monk Metz voices this sensory assault, his limber poetry tackling dexterous wordplay in this refreshingly weird universe, rife with percussive spice (“Swalo Meh Hole,” abetted by Joel Hirsch on congas and Otto Gygax on shereke), Monroe’s expert turntable sweeps (“Parahelion”), and the ability to heed John Zorn’s request on an “Call for All Demons” cover: “Play the sh*t out of it” — something you’ll do with “Science of the Soundman,” if you’ve any sense of adventure.