Tuesday, April 24, 2012


 Doldrums/Blouse/Bear In Heaven - Mississippi Studios, Portland, April 12, 2012

It's 9 o'clock and the lights are doing funny things and the individual on stage is programming eerie synth washes and slow bumping beats that pause long enough for him to begin singing in a classic pop falsetto, androgynous and fetchingly yearning - quite affecting, in other words, quite pretty - then the beats resume, the lights cover him like television snow and now I know, the show's begun.

There's dogged vision at work here, not to mention inextinguishable belief in self. Doldrum co-founder Bill Kellem stands in this violently umber light, twiddling knobs and singing like a heartbroke puppy, which is a compliment. This is rock 'n' roll, with no guitars, no drums, no other band members (yet). Just a bedroom troubadour that sneaks out at night to play gigs. That he sneaks out of Montreal and is appearing here in Portland is no small feat and perhaps testament to the guy's transportive abilities, who knows. (And, again, what the heck is in the water up there in Montreal?) Regardless, if Mann or Weil had been raised in the age of glitchtronica and the i-Everything you can damn well bet they'd be doing exactly this kind of Doldrums-style patchwork, serious pop hooks all mashed into a pulp, pulled apart again then put back together through the spiraling limitless magic of the hard drive as it's seduced by software. BUT, at the heart of it, melody, hook, propulsion, same as always. Not every detour pays dividends but more often than not the two of them (Bill is soon joined by brother Matt to provide actual human percussion) end up stunning. It's No Age meets No Wave meets F**k Buttons, with more than a touch of garage intransigence thrown in, which it seems certain they just can't help. Oh, and a kind of raging hormonal white soul, I'm not kidding. I said "rock 'n' roll" before but let's change that to 'wack 'n' roll.' If this is the doldrums, actual excitement is gonna kill ya.

By the time Portland band Blouse begin, starting, appropriately enough, with "Firestarter" of their self-titled LP (Captured Tracks), the house is at capacity. Guitarist Charlie Hilton and a keyboard player that shall remain unnamed (she's obviously an addition for the tour but I've looked and looked online and can't fine out who she is) look a bit like a couple of rocking Bronte sisters and together they anchor a delicate pop trope, part Passions, part Cocteaus, dreamy but decidedly bass-driven, which is no surprise given it's Jacob Portrait on bass, doubling his workload from his duties in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Third song "They Always Fly" shimmers with Numanesque swaths of keyboard, insistently rhythmic in a confident, unfussy way, always an effective means of conveying a melodic trance. That Blouse are influenced by the dark lilt of post-punk synth is fairly transparent. If they're not drawing from early Fiction-era Cure (17 Seconds/Pornography/Faith) then I'm Napoleon Bonaparte. This is not a criticism. To inhabit such a timeless sound (and it's by no means slavish, it should be noted) is actually refreshing, there's something guileless and genuine about it. Needless to say, this is not a band draped in cynicism. And besides, sometimes dreaming backward is the only way forward, Retromania be damned.

Mid-set jewel "Videotapes" is drving dream-pop set to stun. It's a classic in waiting and what it's waiting for is for you to discover it, download it, play it for your friends. It's the meme you owe yourself to be infected by. I can hardly wait to see them again, and if you missed them this time around, do yourself a favor, dream-synth-poptronica lover, check them out next chance you get. I'll see you there.

OK, first off, regarding Bear In Heaven: anybody out there know there was such a rabid - and numerous - BIH fanbase in Portland? No, me neither, but in retrospect it's no surprise. As soon as they burst out with "Kiss Me Crazy" off new album I Love You It's Cool - after an affectionate introduction by Doldrums (each of the bands were 'giving it up' for the others on the bill tonight) - it was understandable why. A rhythm section with innate melody, a singer's sense of commitment a la Kevin Barnes only with more charisma (that would be bassist Adam Wills), a woolen-hatted keyboard/guitar player - Jon Philpot - going about his business like a woodsman lost in ecstacy, Bear In Heaven roam that land somewhere between synthy psych and avant-indie, as if their collar tags identified them as the zeitgeisty offspring of some radical 60s hippie sect, transported to the Brooklyn-tinged American outskirts. It is, in this sense, cannibalism of the highest order, appropriating, incorporating and, yes, synthesizing a multitude of predecessor influences until they become this beast (sorry) of extraordinary strength, mashing garage prog with Spectored AM radio melody with a spindrift of Euro-continental undertones. The end result is Animal Collective if they'd been born a soul band. The end result is house music for intellectuals. The end result is heady joyous uninhibited and agreeably difficult synth pop, though no one at Mississippi Studios seemed to be having any trouble being roused by it. Portland loved it, and loved it way more, apparently (according to the band), than sitting-on-their-hands Seattle did. Makes sense though, as BIH appeal to Portland's sharp-but-slightly-messy anarchic spirit. Also doesn't hurt that the band are crowd-pleasers to the end, of course. These lads know how to put on a show.

Every song in BIH's set came from either recently issued (on Dead Oceans) I Love You It's Cool (most recent so most represented) or 2009's breakthrough Beast Rest Forth Mouth. The latter's "You Do You" brought the strobes out, the former's "Noon Moon" exposed the band's taste for the sultry groove, albeit a fast sultry, like being drunk in a hurry before descending into a kind of sweaty, pulsing electronica. Then there was "The Reflection Of You," also off of ILYIC, which was groove-bloody-tastic, Hall & Oates if they were modern merchants of high-sheen, deep-seated indietronica. Highlight still, though, has to be BRFM's "Lovesick Teenagers" with its hypnotic motorik beat, its relentless building melody and which, if there was any justice in this world, would have been a monster hit (how often have you said that over the years? Seems I do once a month), an opinion obviously seconded by all in attendance. At one point toward the close of the evening the band even bring to mind German outfit The Notwist - no small praise, that - before exploding like fireworks in a drum factory (thank you, Joe Stickney, and don't you love it when a musician seems to have been named by kismet) before resuming their march into a commanding trance coda.

Bear In Heaven are at their peak. They're young, they're a bit crazy and they're crazy talented. Show over, we all shuffled out into the cool Thursday night full of rapturous murmers and glow, floating a bit and most happy to have lived through a moment of danceable, head-noddable, feral heaven.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

three7: Neighborhood guests

What's up world!? 2012 has started off with a bunch of new music and I've been blessed to have so many guests on the show. Here is a quick peek at some of the visits to the station many of the artists have made. There are also ways you can get caught up and share with family and friends past episodes  of the show via the station web site here, or iTunes here.

Be sure to support the artists you here on the station, and spread the word. Also, consider contributing by clicking on the donate link.

Until next time,

Be blessed.