With so many varied projects, Emil Amos finds himself guzzling coffee just to keep up. Every group he’s involved with, he says, pulls from sources of Eastern inspiration, both melodically and philosophically. But differentiating his various endeavors is what Amos thinks he can get away with in each setting, whether it’s the post-rock group Grails, droning metallurgists OM, the lo-fi basement recordings he makes as Holy Sons, or as half of Portland’s instrumental hip-hop duo Lilacs & Champagne.
“Each one exists in its own aesthetic biosphere,” he says. “The rules of what makes a mood happen on a record are pretty obvious. You wouldn’t have the sense of humor on a Lilacs record on an OM record.”
Lilacs & Champagne finds Amos joined by Grails compatriot Alex Hall, splicing together samples snatched from previously untouched source material. The duo, now two full-lengths and an EP into its career, is bound only to Amos’ boundless ideals. He seeks a universal language, strong enough to unify endless dusty sources. Shower Scene, the first installment of the Midnight Features EP series, delves deeply into porn soundtrack samples. Snippets might not be readily recognizable on the album, which was released in April on Mexican Summer, but a wealth of cultural tangents could be.
While infusing Lilacs with a jovial tone and allegorical intent, Amos and Hall, in addition to borrowing from lowbrow art forms, also take from progressive rock’s knotty past. Professing a youthful zeal for comic books, the drummer and producer recalls a specific fondness for The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, a comic from the 1970s. Amos’ ability to seamlessly meld these influences—porn with the comic world’s ability to suspend disbelief, say—as well as a sturdy infatuation with hip-hop propels Lilacs’ impartiality.
Part of that openness Lilacs is chasing down, though, comes from an abiding appreciation of Arizona cult act Sun City Girls and its inclination toward humor and pastiche. “They knew how to take the worst, darkest corners of humanity and combine them seamlessly with the most macabre sense of humor,” Amos says. “They could make anything funny.”
Working with the same sort of cultural collage is obvious, as an ominous bit of percussion, accompanied by gratuitous porno-grunting, opens Shower Scene’s “Maple St.” Dismal keys build in the background, as a pilfered guitar sample hues the entire track in vaguely psychedelic tones. What sets the work apart from not just the rest of the EP but a spate of instrumental hip-hop offerings is its tolerance of sparse drumming. Amos tags each composition with a philosophical bent, endlessly referring to Lao Tzu, Confucius, Kierkegaard and Buddhism and his own personal mythology. The adult-film hook doesn’t hurt, though.
“[It’s] pretty multifaceted in the end,” Amos says. “It represents the idea that when you’re a young kid, there’s something behind a certain cupboard door that you’re not supposed to touch. It ends up being such a tension with taboo when you’re not supposed to know something. The music is really supposed to bathe in that sense of mystique.”
SEE IT: Lilacs & Champagne plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Hosannas and Philip Grass, on Wednesday, Aug. 6. 8:30 pm. $8. 21+.