The sixteeth installment of Experimental Portland's on-going concert series took place at Rotture on a humid Wednesday night, and for $5, featured an amazing lineup consisting of Midday Veil, ALTO!, and Antecessor. I apologize to the internet and myself for having missed what was supposedly an amazing set by Antecessor -- but the remainder of the show was inspiring enough for me to unexpectedly pen a few words!
September 11th, 2013 @ Rotture in Portland, OR

ALTO!

I'd never before heard of ALTO!, but the three-piece band is certainly the impetus for my writing this; I just can't resist documenting a visually mind-stirring music. Encompassing musical tendencies both spontaneous and controlled, ALTO! manage to strike a balance between eardrum-destroying noise and muted hypnotism with ease. Beginning with an extremely minimal intro, hardly perceptible, ALTO! slyly beckoned the most curious of minds towards the stage while others chatted on, unaware the set had begun. It was a meditative hello, a subtle glimpse into the type of hypnotic reveries ALTO! are alluding to, even though such glimpses may ostensibly become lost in their most full-on and guitar-shredding moments. From there, the next track increased in speed and density to form bizarrely danceable music -- though only for those who like strange time signatures and drum-heavy cycles in sound. It was in one particular moment of letting up -- in ALTO's most subtle moment of repetition -- where I found the most fascination, in the form of a single guitar line adorned by the two percussionists on opposite sides of the stage. One had a shaker in hand while the other chimed a bell, both repeating in his particular pattern as though on a timer. Their sounds were satisfying, certainly -- but even more satisfying were the moments preceding each sound, where both drummers moved like wound-up toy soldiers, clinking and clanking with the same repeating series of arm movements or head bobs. Moving into the following track, they left behind their trance-states to join more involved ranks, transforming from mere toys into military drummers flanking a perfectly stage-centered guitarist general. Together, they led showgoers on a journey through the Middle Eastern desert, greeting Barn Owl, Om, and Swans along on the way.

Los Angeles-via-Portland's STRFKR are a band people love to hate, but I like to give props where props are due. "While I'm Alive", from the band's latest album, Miracle Mile, may be my favorite song of theirs yet. Groovy basslines and sweet echoes of, "I love my life," are posi-well, but the track's prime attraction lies in a high-pitched vocal wail, perpetuated throughout guitar notes during the track's introduction and hook. Given the dynamic quality of the aforementioned vocal line, any successful require music video would need to acknowledge its brilliance with equal measure. Luckily, director David Terry Fine's collaboration with the Seattle dance troupe Can Can Castaways executes this with flying colors. (We're talking one of the swellest dance moves I've seen this year, next to the headless-arms-waggle at 2:05 of this So You Think You Can Dance number). Much like the life-affirming concept of the music video, stills from "While I'm Alive" are plenty nice-looking, but show off very little of its glowing essence, which lies in living movements both subtle and bold. In this Q&A with David Terry Fine, he touches on the experience of working with STRFKR and Can Can Castaways, as well as the appeal of body movement.
 

Pure Bathing Culture Moon Tides Partisan Records (2013) Moon Tides is dreamy atmospheric pop, swathed in romantic reverb, but what does this predilection towards cavernous sounds say about our current obsessions? Pure Bathing Culture reflect a number of themes of the indie underground like a crystal ball, that are easily missed or ignored with cursory reductive listening. There's more going on here. Moon Tides takes steps towards defining the spirit of 2013 -- or one manifestation of it, anyway. First of all, let's look at the fact that Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille transplanted to Portland, OR from Brooklyn in 2011, after playing together in the retroactive folk rock band Vetiver. This reflects the cultural shift away from industry and big business, as Brooklyn was the place to make it during the 2000s. This westward push shows a growing interest in mysticism, meditation, quiet simple enjoyment of life and of nature. It shows Portland's increasing role as a cultural mecca, for a particular type of person. No one has named this westward push, and as such, it still has interest and potency. Even though they haven't been there that long, Pure Bathing Culture are quintessentially Portland, and are a useful lens through which to notice things going on here in the Northwest. They are a gender-balanced duo, which is something you see a lot of here in the City Of Roses. They transubstantiate the mood of '60s mysticism (Moon Tides features themes about astrology, crystals, tarot cards), and place them in a modern context. You could interpret Pure Bathing Culture departing Vetiver as the culture leaving behind '70s psych folk wanderings, the freak folk of the 2000s, and stepping into the '80s. Moon Tides reflects what people like, what people are like, what we all gravitate towards.

 

Stemming from a road trip director AJ Rojas took that spanned over a dozen states, the music video for Portugal. The Man's "Modern Jesus" is purposely treated to alternate between hi-def and lo-fi, as is paralleling the fascination which can be found in middle America's often gritty underbelly. A cast of memorable characters appear to leave indelible marks upon one's brain in "Modern Jesus": a grandpa dancing in a farm-like setting; bloody youth wrestling one another atop barbed wire; overweight and wheelchair-bound individuals repping the same taser-owning crew; the list goes on. This fascinating sociological portrait seems to serve as a reminder real life is often more interesting than fiction -- and that embarking on a creative journey without a plan can often lead to brilliantly unraveling realities. In the featured interview, Portugal. The Man's bassist and back-up vocalist Zach Carothers speaks to his love for music videos, on working with friends, and on occasionally skirting record label rules to follow your own creative impulses.
"I have wanted to work with AG since our friend, Michael Ragen, introduced me to his work with Earl Sweatshirt a few years ago. He has an eye for the things that happen below surface, in bedrooms, in the streets and in our schools and captures it without prejudice. AG has a vision and it doesn't matter if you think the video could use more of John running because, in the end, he knows what he wants and always makes the right decision. A true artist." - John Gourley, Vocalist of Portugal. The Man

 

"Pop music shouldn't always get a bad rap," says Top Pops!, a recurring selection of indie pop highlights across a selection of styles, updated every month to keep you on your dancing toes. This month, Gauntlet Hair pay homage to noise pop vibes and Pure Bathing Culture get adorable, while Grumbling Fur and Dubais present a psyched-out jam and lo-fi offering, respectively.
+++ FULL POST + ALL TOP POPS! COLUMNS + ALL MUSIC COLUMNS

Pure Bathing Culture - "Pendulum"

Portland favorites Pure Bathing Culture, comprised of guitarist Daniel Hindman and keyboardist Sarah Versprille, have done the boy-girl music partnership thing to great success. After blowing up the local scene with humble fanfare, they've taken the same type of reverb and cutesiness that has become grotesquely overdone in the indie pop genre and gone on to offer something just a bit more. It's hard to detail just what that something is in words -- but it's a feeling evoked, of genuine pleasantries and not of fads, of beauty in wispy, fleeting moments, to be celebrated. A reminder of the passing of time in this way, "Pendulum" is the opening track of their upcoming full-length, Moon Tides, which will be released on August 20th via Partisan Records.

 

I must confess, with some embarrassment, that this year was the first time attending the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and this has been much to my regret. The festival is held in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland underneath the St. Johns Bridge and is the longest-running free jazz festival on the West Coast. "Free" is a bit of a pun here; the festival is both free to attend and also because it highlights the work of free jazz musicians. At the risk of painting with broad strokes, free jazz can best be defined as jazz in which "the rules" have been eliminated: set chord changes and a fixed rhythm are gone. It's a sub-genre that has inspired a lot of controversy among jazz fans, but is also deeply loved by many. Cathedral Park Jazz Festival Photography by James Moulton I go on a Sunday evening, which is the last day of the festival. The atmosphere is, appropriately enough, like a festival, and there are concessions booths, signups for a jazz camp and informative areas around the park. What immediately jumps out at me is the number of families at this event; free jazz isn't necessarily thought of as accessible music, let alone kid-friendly, yet there seem to be a lot of younger kids hanging around. This is why jazz festivals are so relevant, especially when they're organized in a specific neighborhood: they sustain popular interest in an art form that risks becoming a museum piece otherwise, and that interest comes from people who might not be interested in jazz.
July 21st, 2013 - Cathedral Park Jazz Festival at St. Johns Cathedral Park - Portland, OR  

The lingering spectre of Bohemia is alive and well on this Thursday evening, cloistered in a mysterious pocket of SE Portland. This show is an invite-only occasion in a tiny house venue, lit up and resplendent in candle flame and shadow. Four stellar acts, firmly underground but rising rapidly, quickly and firmly destroy any lingering retrophilia, that destructive nostalgia that leaves cultural explorers feeling hopeless and defeated. The feeling that everything has been done before, done better, by our parents, our older siblings, our neighbors and bosses. Can it be that there are actually GIANTS among us, living saints and martyrs, sacrificing all in living rooms and kosher delis the world over? Every act that plays this cozy living room show is distinctive, with something passionate and personal to transmit.
July 18th, 2013 @ Dream's Outer Space in Portland, Oregon

Wizard Apprentice

First up is Wizard Apprentice (formerly known as Fat Transfer), from Oakland, CA. My friends and I come in during the tail end of her performance, lulled, hypnotized, and mesmerized by her loop-oriented, disembodied soul music. She plays with backing tapes, vaguely karaoke style, with layers and loops of her own voice, making a spectral chorus out of thin air. Talk about "an army of me"! She unknowingly answers a few questions I'd been having regarding arrangements and structure, and my mind is whizzing with new ideas by the time she extinguishes her wicks. She's got a new album out on Bandcamp, seems to be a formidable talent with a distinctive vision to communicate, so you'd be advised to get in on the ground floor, and check out this newcomer.