PDX Pop Now! 2009

Today we’re happy to serve up a North West smorgasbord. However, unless you can get to the Portland area within the next 48 hours or so, this post won’t do you much good. There are the MP3s. Have at ’em. That’s the reason why you’re here ain’t it? This year marks the fifth time the good people of Portland have put their collective musicheads together for a weekend of free live music. The fantastic thing about the aforementioned people of Portland is that they’re doing this all out of the goodness of their hearts. Bands, businesses, and residents all volunteer their time to put on this grassroots festival which has spawned action packed compilations that help raise money and awareness for the festival. I wouldn’t mind it a bit if I were actually there this weekend enjoying the music, the weather, the wonderful city, and of course a healthy Powell’s browse would top things off nicely. If only… Included are songs from a few bands playing this weekend. And if your attendance is more than my pipe dream, here’s the link to the schedule.

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The Boy Koan

Sonically, my Memorial Day weekend has been marked by the sizzle of meat, screams and splashes from kids in the pool, and the hearty blaring of these two tracks from the nearest sound system and my own vocal chords. New York’s The Boy Koan has me geeked to start summer, or maybe I’m just geeked for summer to start. One thing’s for sure, I’m geeked on The Boy Koan—they’re the first band that I’ve ever asked to send me their lyrics. On second thought, that may simply say more about my thorough lack of thoroughness. I get the same tingly sensations from “Beasts from More Rustic Days” as I did when I first heard Grandaddy’s Under The Western Freeway. And “My Russian Doll” fires up pogo reflexes with its ’90s new wave gang vocals giving way to Mark E. Smith-like lackadaisical lilting on the bridge. It’s hard to believe this is the band’s first recorded efforts and that the usual purveyors of all things indie between here and there haven’t been giving this sleeper of a debut more blog space. I’d be surprised if the lack of coverage lasted long.

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Photons will be releasing three EP’s this year, the first of which is Glory!, out tomorrow via Insound.com. “Where Were You Last Night” continues the raucous party, still with bassoon.

Original Post Oct 20, 2008:
In trying to figure out what to write about San Francisco’s Photons, I had several paths in mind. Working in the musical history of the city by the Bay, or coming up with something witty about their eclectic pop. Then I remembered the line from the top of their Myspace page that says all you need to know before downloading and listening: “Now with Bassoon!”

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William Fitzsimmons

I haven’t decided if William Fitzsimmons is a bastard with an irritating beard, or the undiscovered perfect boyfriend I missed sitting in the back of my most boring college class. Perhaps he’s both, and maybe I dated his evil angelic twin. Joseph, the boy who knew he’d never fight with his true love; the artist who was so sure he’d leave his young family in the dark of night.

Fitzsimmons’ most recent album, “The Sparrow and the Crow” is about divorce. His divorce, but I’m certain any divorcee could glean some ah-ha from listening. Call it music to listen to once you’ve accepted what has happened, comfortable with it or not. With a Master’s Degree in mental health you have to hope he’s got solid ideas about the delicacy of marriage. The joy that aches.

If You Would Come Back Home is officially on repeat in my head, rarely interrupted for a week. It’s a nice sunshine melancholy soundtrack to the spectacularly mundane everyday stuff. He understands what took me so long to see, good writing is not about the fanciest words, it’s about the perfect arrangement of the most simple words.

(by our friend Emily M.)

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Not Waving But Drowning

A few years ago I went to a political fundraiser where it was decided everyone would more likely hand over their pennies if all the begging was disguised as a hoe down. BBQ beef on rolls as big as your head, piles of potato salad and hay. Bales and bales of hay. Cowboy boots on hundreds of people with too much money who’d never even seen a cow in real life.

Not Waving But Dancing is not this type of hoe down. It is decidedly more hopeless. Like a drunken fest in a Romanian Gypsy camp. At this hoe down Peter the Great would show you his baby skeletons in his cabinet of curiosities; you’d see less teeth, more fishnet, more velvet. With or without alcohol you’d feel yourself moving slower.

(by our friend Emily M.)

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King Loses Crown

I recall an interview with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins many years ago where he said that in his head the music he wrote sounded like death metal. I get the same sense with King Loses Crown. While this San Francisco duo exercises their love of hooks and synthesizers analog and digital, somewhere in their heads perhaps their music sounds more like death metal than the electronic power-rock of their self-titled debut EP.

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Rae Spoon

Rae Spoon is, according to the publicists, “one of the world’s only transgender country singers.” He’s also a clever songwriter and a bit of a wit, and really not all that country, at least on his most recent release, superioryouareinferior. This disc is a trip through musical styles, from lo-fi indie pop to mod folk. Drop a buck and download “If You Lose Your Horses” if you’re looking for a classic country track, or check out the album’s opener for an example of Spoon’s songwriting smarts — I never knew I wanted to write a song for the Great Lakes until I heard his. Oh, and if you’re looking for a record full of what it means to be a transgender country singer, you might want to keep on looking, because this isn’t it.

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Mona and Anar were destined to make this music together. That’s the only explanation of how they can (seemingly) effortlessly create such beautiful, personal, intimate, and delicate music. Their second LP The Hot Summer is out now, again self-released; why there aren’t labels lining up to get their John Hancocks on the dotted line is beyond me.

Original Post Sept 17, 2007:
Travels is the duo of Mona Elliott of the band Victory at Sea and Anar Badalov of Metal Hearts. The two met and fell in love while their bands toured together, and Mona has recently battled breast cancer. So they have quite a lot of emotion to put into their deliberate and simple music, which is full of a sense of togetherness and enjoyment that could only come from their combination.

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Intricate Machines

L.A.’s Intricate Machines seem to find inspiration in their own name, taking an intricate approach in their creation of pop music. They don’t necessarily pay more attention to the details in their music than anyone else; that’s impossible to judge. It’s just that the details and textures on which they elaborate are less obvious than most. Really, it’s just my roundabout way of saying they have a roundabout way of getting to the hooks in their songs. Intricate Machines require time to soak, simmer, and settle. If you’re willing to give them that time you’ll find plenty of pleasures to sink your chops into. Considering the minute attention span of music consumers these days, Intricate Machines take a big risk attempting to break into the indie scene with less than immediate hooks. This ain’t no microwave meal; this is some slow-cooking, crock pot rock. You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned exactly what Intricate Machines sound like. This is deliberate. I don’t want to contribute to the instant-gratification impulse they’ve obviously worked hard to avoid. Enjoy the journey.

*Show notes: Intricate Machines play this week in L.A. Click here for details.

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Loyal Divide

This makes me sick! (Well, the sick feeling probably comes from the dizzying bout of Neuritis I’ve been battling for the past week. Makes typing a bit tedious.) Peeved may be a better word. Either way, I can’t believe I let 2008 lapse without mentioning my favorite EP to come our way at the end of the year. Chicago’s Loyal Divide is at once cold and earthy, shoe-gazey and trip hop, Nine Inch Nails and Autolux, Laurie Anderson and Portishead. Your not so typical post-industrial-shoe-goth if you don’t mind me taking such liberties. “Labrador” is tethered to time as the track unwinds into a chugging locomotive pace, driven by Can’s tribal basslines, until ethereal vocals hauntingly give way to a languid narrative about a dog with “blackest eyes and softest mouth / she buried her bones behind the house / she grabbed a bird trying to steal my food / she squeezed its head until it cooed.” The vocals float along through punchy bass-lines and electronic tickings and tweets as everything but the bassline drop out, then rush back in. The Loyal Divide creates the most compellingly textured music I’ve heard from a new artist in some time.

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