Swami & The Blind Shake Album ReviewInstrumental surf music has achieved a place in modern culture that seems to be at odds with its origins. The roaring breakers, the blue sky and the bright Californian sun suggest a music that should be joyous; however, within the lexicon of this genre there is an ever present dark undertow. It is this contradictory presence -- this sense of danger and even evil, that has, since it's emergence into the mainstream around 1961, given this music its enduring appeal. Bands like The Fireballs, The Spotnicks, The Ramrods and The Surfaris pioneered this unhinged, amped (oh yes, I am using original '60s surf slang here) celebration of the wipeout and the quasimoto. Their West Coast and Hawaiian sound, washing up as far away as the shores of the UK in the form of the Shadows, was popular throughout the world in 1960s and 1970s. The modern reinvigoration of surf rock is accredited by many to the use by Quentin Tarantino of "Bullwinkle Pt II" by the Centurions and "Surf Rider" by The Lively Ones in Pulp Fiction (1994). However, this peculiar and hyperactive music, that seems to go so well with murderous and terrifying imagery, influenced a good many bands much earlier, including the B-52s and the Cramps in 1980s. One thing is, however, certain: since Pulp Fiction this music has been overused in a great many media campaigns. Over the last twenty years, it has surfaced in adverts for everything from toothpaste to banks and, because of this, there was a distinct danger that this evocative music might just become a part of our culture's aural wallpaper and be stripped of any potency. Which brings us to the new album, Modern Surf Classics, by Swami & The Blind Shake. Both authentic and imaginative in its approach this album captures the spirit of the original music, whilst successfully recasting it for the 21st century. The combination of the propulsive and bombastic energy of Minneapolis' own psych punk combo, The Blind Shake, along with John Reis' instrumental brilliance, has produced an album that carries the listener forward on a groundswell of pure and brilliant energy.

 

As far as I'm concerned, pop music is the most exciting frontier for musical innovation. From the mainstream radio-friendly mash-ups of Beyonce, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber down to your favorite neighborhood indie pop band or danceable electronic act, pop music is encompassing of a wide world of sounds, full of ground-breaking firsts. Yet it's safe to say that in the current indie music climate, with its constant breaking and building of narrow-minded subgenres like dream pop, vaporwave, chillwave, and the like, oversaturation often leads to myriad bands which sound more or less identical. Of these, most lack a truly distinguishing spark that makes them stand out. Which is why I get really excited upon the discovery of pop bands who don't easily fit in anywhere, and are able to -- if not reinvent it -- at least give the wheel a furious and energetic spin. My latest and greatest finding lies in Royal Canoe, a group of musicians from the uncommon birthing ground of Winnipeg, Canada. While undoubtedly considered "indie pop" by any wide-casting use of the term, Royal Canoe aren't actually easy to define, especially with non-abstract terminologies. With two drummers, two keyboardists, and four vocalists, the six-member band is kind of all over the place stylistically -- yet somehow, it just works. Royal Canoe Band Interview After talking to Royal Canoe's vocalist and guitarist Matt Peters, I came to realize that what sets Royal Canoe apart from other indie pop bands is not exactly the genre tags they fall under -- of which there are many -- but their fascinating communal character. For a pop band, they are remarkably tenacious. They make a point of having extremely high standards for creation and performance, in service of being the best musicians they can be. Any self-imposed rules they have set for themselves are balanced by a willingness to share artistic duties, as well as an openness to inspiration and experimentation.
"I think everyone definitely has an appreciation for letting their voice be heard but also trying to reach a greater good..." -- Matt Peters

 

matt leavitt
Time permitting, Portland-based artist Matt Leavitt allows his imagination to run free by tinkering, inventing, and manipulating objects in the pursuit of fine artistic ideas. The fascination of his multi-disciplinary artwork can be found equally in the methodologies spawning them as in the finished products themselves; trial and error, as well as chance events, serve as stepping stones to reaching greater ends -- some predictable, some unpredictable. Leavitt creates with the mentality of sussing out his wildest artistic fantasies, all the while drawing equally from his knowledge in Civic Engineering and his experiences at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. In his experimentation, he has done things many would never consider. He has attempted to make ink from flowers petals; he has thrown melted candle wax onto frozen ponds; he has created sculptures from liquid clay. His interests flow in many directions, and these divergences are present when one looks at his entire body of work. The projects he undertakes are always well-detailed within his mind; every piece of every series falls in line with subtle stylistic rules yet deviates within a larger framework.

 

"Since most art dealing with consumerism seems too matter-of-fact, I want my work to be allegorical, being humorous and visually interesting but imparting a deeper message. Why the hell do we need all this stuff, anyways?"...