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May 16th, 2012 WW Staff | Album Reviews
 

The Good, the Bad and the Odd

We review new local albums to see who’s keeping Portland the weirdest.

music.bigbox.weirdshit_3828ILLUSTRATION: j-malta.com
Plankton Wat, Spirits (Thrill Jockey)

Weirdness scale: 5/10

What kind of weird: Watching the slow-motion moments in a David Lynch film on repeat weird.

It would appear that the men of Eternal Tapestry are slowly taking over indie label Thrill Jockey. Soon after signing with the Chicago-based imprint, the full band quickly put out two albums, and it has another on the way. Soon thereafter, Tapestry’s Nick Bindeman used Thrill Jockey to release a solo release under the name Tunnels. Now, the band’s other guitarist, Dewey Mahood, is getting in on the action with Spirits, a new LP from his solo moniker Plankton Wat. 

Whereas Tunnels seemed to be Bindeman’s chance to prove his ability to write funhouse-mirror pop, Mahood’s effort is a further exploration of the sunburnt psychedelics and dust-covered folk that is the full Eternal Tapestry experience. Where Portland’s Mahood breaks off from the fold is in his rather sedate approach to those mind-altering sounds. That isn’t to say this is a quiet record. Rather, the building of volume and dynamics here are more subtle and restrained. When the layers of keyboard drones and multiple undulating guitar lines crescendo on “Stream of Light,” it feels like a gentle wave instead of a quickly building tsunami. Other tracks like “Islands” and “Broken Slumber” maintain a steady roll thanks to live and programmed percussion and a quieter volume.

This tempered approach suits Mahood brilliantly, as Spirits flows by with a steady calm that would go well next to a rippling stream or lost in the throes of a particularly righteous LSD trip. Better yet, these songs combine the two. ROBERT HAM. 


Ramona Falls, Prophet (Barsuk)

Weirdness scale: 6/10

What kind of weird: Brent Knopf’s brain is a spaceship weird.

Allow me to introduce you to Brent Knopf. He parted ways with Menomena last year to pursue his own project, Ramona Falls. He invented a music-looping software known as Deeler, which built the foundation for both of the aforementioned bands. For this, Ramona Falls’ second LP, he concocted album art that’s more of a physical activity than a visual resting place. Knopf is an unrelenting experimenter—and the 11-track journey through Prophet is ripe with new inventions.

The album has a vastly different feel than the band’s 2009 debut, Intuit. Compared to the relative calm of Knopf’s first effort, Prophet oozes a more ambitious and hard-hitting sound. Which is ironic, considering it took a much smaller roster of contributors this time around.

The key in listening to this album is persistence: It’s a lot to consume at once. Knopf’s piano-driven compositions and spacey vocals evoke a wide range of moods, resulting in a somewhat jarring first impression. The bright and catchy first half of the album delivers little warning for the impending intensity in later songs. “Archimedes Plutonium” grabs listeners with hand claps and peppy riffs, “Brevony” hits you with abrasive metal-inspired guitar odes and “Proof” yields an arresting fit of internal contemplation. Each spin unearths new details and, eventually, the album takes shape as a solid collection.

I’m still figuring out where Prophet sits on a scale of good to excellent, but the record justifies Knopf’s decision to step away from Menomena. His settled-in home as Ramona Falls’ frontman provides the vocal and lyrical intimacy I had hoped to hear in his previous collaborations, while giving him even more room to play around in his workshop. But like I said, this album takes persistence to crack. EMILEE BOOHER.


Strangled Darlings, Red Yellow & Blue (Self-released)

Weirdness scale: 7/10 (But, compared to last year’s The Devil in Outer Space, more like a 1.)

What kind of weird: Vaudevillian sideshow circa 1878 weird. 

There’s something wrong with the demented duo of George Veech and Jessica Anderly. They have honed the art of vividly eerie storytelling—from death marches to operatic numbers about the devil himself.  

Last year, the Darlings dropped The Devil in Outer Space: An Operetta, which showcased the group’s extensive musicality while also limiting its reach with its arthouse tendencies. With its new record, Red Yellow & Blue, however, the group hones its complex influences—including the aforementioned opera, plus a little rock, country, jig, plus gypsy jazz and funk for good measure—into its most satisfying and (gasp) fun record yet. 

That’s not to say the group has slackened its hold on morbidity—everybody from Lucifer to murderers and half-wits make appearances here—but there’s a new pep behind Veech’s Southern preacher-meets-Jack White vocals, which bound from jarring on the sharp and disquieting opening track, “Snake & the Girl,” to outright giddy on the peppy “J Howard Marshall,” a song that sounds almost peppy before Veech bitch-slaps the listener with “Anna Nicole, girl, your tits have grown cold.” Anderly, meanwhile, is a monster as the backbone, switching from Cab Calloway-style melodies to dark, thudding thunder with no discernible effort. Her exceedingly eerie violin and thumping cello dances with Veech’s jagged, off-kilter stabs of mandolin. And then Strangled Darlings really shock the listener, with a sweetly jazzy instrumental interlude called “My Love” that points to a soft spot in the group. 

That’s hugely important for a band that thrives on its devilish side. Whether carrying us through a haunted caravan or into the arms of Death himself, the Darlings serve goosebumps with a demented grin. Red Yellow & Blue solidifies Veech and Anderly as prime attractions at a musical freakshow you can’t help but be swept into. AP KRYZA.


Wizard Boots, Five Years on Earth With Wizard Boots (Self-released)

Weirdness scale: 8/10

What kind of weird: Grown man living in his parents’ basement weird.

Portland is home to many Wizards. There’s Wizard, teenage synth-rockers originally from Pendelton; epic math-metal band Wizard Rifle; and, of course, Jizz Wisard. But none of these other Wizards feign British accents and drop sloppy, oddly majestic songs like “Speedfreak4yrlove” and “Yogurt (I Just Ate Some).” Wizard Boots is the weirdest wizard band.

Of course, song titles only begin to tell the story of a band that opens its stylistically diverse (jangle-pop-folk-metal?) 21-track album with the line: “Who’s that man/ In the big black van.” When Wizard Boots isn’t relating Stones-y tales of jealous and occasionally masochistic love, the band is either getting real silly or real dumb. The ratio is just silly-heavy enough to make Five Years on Earth with Wizard Boots a worthwhile listen.

Behind the Robyn Hitchcock accents and lo-fi aesthetic, there’s a sweet-and-sour sense of humor that keeps Wizard Boots compelling. The dark and immature folk-rock jam “You Better Stop Fucking Around” builds up what seems to be a twisted tale of infidelity before revealing the disappointing reveal: “I’ll tell you how/ I found you out/ You left your email logged on/ To my computer.” At other times, Wizard Boots can be misguidedly sweet, as on “Ten Years (3650 Days),” where singer/guitarist Christopher Elsken details crazy ways he’d like to woo his crush.

It may have been worth Wizard Boots’ time to cut this gigantic collection down to the 10 or 15 sharpest songs. But then, depending on how twisted you are, your picks may be different than mine. CASEY JARMAN. 

 
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