Hi again, sorry I've been absent for a while, but, y'know, summertime and all plus I've been a bit busy getting my KZME radio show set up, Songs From Under The Floorboard, a show dedicated to post-punk, then now and in the future, from around the world, the country and here at home. Anywhere, in other words, that I can find it. Airs Monday nights 8pm-10pm on KZME, 107.1fm, streaming on the web at 1071fm.org. OK, then, shameless plug out of the way, on with the post.
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According to the weather guy's little snippet in the Oregonian this morning, the Portland summer began today. Which is why, perhaps, the thermostat inside Mississippi Studios is set to mild icebox. "Why's it so cold in here?" I hear someone ask as he walks past and I don't know but I suspect that in a couple of hours, somewhere near the end of No Joy's set or early in Lower Dens', we'll all be grateful. Might get hot in here, a prediction given some credence by the nature-as-hothouse imagery on the screen behind the stage as we await Alan Resnick: shoots of flora bursting forth in progligate slow-motion. The mundane miracle of it is mesmerizing, busting open as if in song, tendrils climbing tree trunks and other seemingly alien life forms emerging from soil and water in ways so animated as to make Fantasia seem a rickety educational film from the fourth grade. Oh alright, I'm exaggerating a tad but regardless, should be an interesting night.
Alan Resnick is a very brave individual, if a touch zany, a kind of wunderkind nerd that's dabbled in the the black arts (pocket protector division) of digital avatarism and came out the other side in a cartoon fantasy world. A short bit, done in the voice of a just-bar mitzvahed superhero, mildly amusing, reducible, if need be, to the equation [Pee Wee Herman - children + hipster beard = Alan Resnick]. Basically a Catskills routine created on an iPad but still, there's something disarming about the guy and anyway, what a sweet, refreshing way to begin the festivities.
A proto-post-grunge band (if that makes any sense), No Joy stand out for a number of reasons. There's a sunny, shoegazey disposition to many of their songs despite the rather brutal sonic assault. It's all women on guitars (two electric - founders and main band members Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd - one bass) and a dude drumming with a forest green reptilian mask several years too young for him. In short, the band are quite arresting. I saw them with my daughter early last year open up for Best Coast and Wavves at the Hawthorne Theater (she now own all three 2010 albums by each of those band - Thanks, Dad!) and they haven't progressed much but, frankly, I'm not looking for that. Keep playing those shrouded washes of melodic mayhem, with your faces obscured by curtains of dirty blond hair and I'll be happy. It was just a 9-song set, with penultimate blast "Ghost Blonde" (from the LP of the same name on Mexican Summer) a highlight and I tell you what, next time I have a garage party, I know who I'm calling. No joy? Pish. I had a great time, everyone around me had a great time and I'll be waiting outside my local record emporium the day their second album comes out.
Though not at capacity (close though), The Miss is pretty well thronging for a Thursday night and make no mistake, it's Lower Dens they're here to see, to hear. Jana Hunter first came to us via an intimate, self-recorded solo album (Blank Unstaring Heirs Of Doom in 2005) that told us we had a premium gifted confessional songwriter on our hands. And she's still that, only now joined with guitarist William Adams, bassist Geoffrey Graham, drummer Nate Nelson, and keyboardist Carter Tanton to form a different beast altogether. It's a more than suitable symbiotic relationship that has resulted in two stunner LPs in the last 3 years (Twin Hand Movement on Gnomonsong in 2010 and the recently released Nootropics, on Ribbon Music). So, where on the spectrum do Lower Dens situate themselves? Well, you know that grayish bright area where dreams slip into nightmares and vice versa? Where the images are fleeting but vivid and there's portent and lure in equal measure? Hear that band playing there? That's Lower Dens. That they're about sonic sculpture is immediately apparent as they break out in an electronic preamble meant to either blow your mind or confuse your heartbeat or both. Soon, though, the band are ripping through a set dotted primarily by tracks from Nootropics. "Lamb/Candy," epic, panoramic and komische-like (or maybe call it komische-lite) is stirring and seems wonderfully endless and is more than a little jaw-dropping, Graham and Hunter singing together over updated Numanesque synth tones and a bass to drive you out into the Berlin night, albeit Berlin, Wisconsin, perhaps, as the native flavor of this band, their underlying Americaness, is never buried too deep in the mix, something open plains in the mood of these songs. Throughout the night I get that kind of hybridized hit from Lower Dens' sound and it's transportive and hypnotic, music for a midwest autobahn.
Jana spends as much time on keyboard as on guitar, going eerie, going echoey or simply rhythmic. But it's her singing that brings it, with its alluring mix of icy and heartfelt that makes the ears stare. Later in the set she'll take take it down a notch for "Don't Look Back" and the spell level doesn't sink an inch, it just stretches out into a more emotive intensity. For someone with such a slight frame, Ms Hunter has a commanding voice, pitched somewhere between belter and an alto muezzin, between a gelid gospel and and an unholy incantation. In my notes I wrote 'imagine Jason Pierce as a nun singing the bingo numbers in a trance' and, with an added bit of levitation, maybe, that somehow nails it.
"Tea Lights" raises a cheer from a very tuned-in audience and well it should, boasting as it does the finest melody Yo La Tengo never wrote, and in a sense they often remind me of YLT, that same melodic drive, often settling into a similarly homey pocket but what carries LD beyond that, whether it's floating, driving or some dizzy combination of both, is the ineradicable intercontinental cool. Lower Dens made it unmistakably apparent this evening that they're a major band, it's simply a thrill to have them around.