Robert Ham

Robert Ham is a critic and journalist living in Portland, Oregon’s outer reaches. During his time in the Rose City, he has contributed to The OregonianWillamette WeekPortland Mercury, and Portland Monthly, while also amassing a healthy amount of clips for print and online publications including PitchforkDownBeatBandcamp, and Village Voice. In 2019, he was the recipient of the SPJ Award for Best Sports Feature. In addition, Robert produces and hosts Double Bummer, a radio show focusing on new and newly reissued experimental music from around the world that airs every Tuesday night at 11pm PT on XRAY-FM. To read more of his work, visit his portfolio site or follow him on Twitter at @roberthamwriter.

 

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. Normally, you’d have one of Bandcamp’s Fee Free First Fridays to look forward to–but, following last month’s Juneteenth fundraiser, they’re taking a month off. Fee Free First Fridays start again in August.

José Medeles, Railroad Cadences & Melancholic Anthems: A Drummer’s Tribute To John Fahey

Railroad Cadences isn’t a collection of covers of favorite John Fahey tracks, but rather a handful of improvisations that 1939 Ensemble member/Revival Drum Shop owner José Medeles made with a trio of Portland guitarists—M. Ward, Marisa Anderson, and Chris Funk of the Decemberists—in the spirit of the late American Primitive icon. The music swirls around the same source material of old blues and folk music that inspired Fahey, but elevates it with Medeles’ searching drums and percussion. Each guitarist, too, brings their particular musical personality to the fold with Anderson leaning toward a traditional sound, Ward working from a pop perspective, and Funk taking the music to experimental realms. 

Jan Julius, Meat Shot Idyllic

Non-binary future pop genius Jan Julius is back with their latest full-length that plays with elements of a great hip-hop mixtape with the same joyful daring as it plays with gender roles. Julius’ lyrics, daringly sexual and blushingly detailed, are given a little tweak with copious use of AutoTune and other processing, turning their vocals into jubilant squeaks and orgasmic highs.

Micah Hummel & Alex Meltzer, Texture & Technology

The music created by drummer Micah Hummel and electronic artist Alex Meltzer uses a so-called “super-instrument”: a percussion interface that wires the former’s trap kit to the latter’s laptop. What ensues in their live performance is a wondrous push-pull between the two musicians as the grooves and free jazz explorations of the drums are sent further into the stratosphere through the processing and manipulation of the software under Meltzer’s command.

Rose Gerber & Sweet Relief, Low Hanging Sun

The new EP from this recently formed quintet takes these ears back to the halcyon days of alt-country, calling to mind the best work of legends like Lucinda Williams and Son Volt via their earthy, unhurried sound and the soothing twang of Gerber’s vocals. There’s a delightfully weather-beaten quality to the five songs on this release, warmed by Mathew Peluso’s elegant swirls of pedal steel. 

Fells Acres, The Elephant in the Attic

Originally released in April, the “first ‘proper’ full-length” by this dream-pop ensemble is now available for your streaming pleasure through Bandcamp. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be doing that regularly. There’s an understated power to these hazy jams. The group knows it could push these into shoegaze overdrive but is smart enough to resist that temptation. 

Outer Orbit, Outer Orbit

Led by Trio Subtonic keyboardist Galen Clark and Dirty Revival vocalist Sarah Clarke, this cosmic funk group features a murderer’s row of local talent and a sound that filters the lessons of Jam/Lewis, Rod Temperton, Prince, and P-Funk through a thoroughly modern aesthetic. Their debut full-length features choice guest spots (organist John Medeski, singer Saeeda Wright) and some well-chosen covers (Radiohead’s “Reckoner,” the Meters’ “No More Okey Doke”) to go along with their wonderful space-soul originals. 

sxlxmxn, University Park

The latest drop from this local beatsmith simply isn’t enough. At a mere five songs, University Park only serves to arouse our appetite for low slung beats and thoughtful flips on familiar hip-hop favorites by Jay Electronica and Kanye West. And just as we’re getting deep into the grooves with sxlxmxn, the music vanishes. Call us greedy but we want more! 

Liila, Soundness of Mind

The duo behind this electronic project met in a Buddhist monastery and, as the notes for this release state, bonded “over mutual fascinations with deep listening and intersections of sonic futurism and archaism.” The work that has come out of their initial connection is fluid, flowy, and surprisingly bouncy, with tracks like “osha” flickering like moths against a porch light and opener “appa wú wéi” thrumming with a Steve Reich afterglow.

Mr. Bodeen & His Magic Banjo, Mr. Bodeen & His Magic Banjo

I’m not sure how enchanted the banjo that Mr. Bodeen wields actually is, but he sure makes it sound like both he and it have been touched by something mystic. This full-length is a sweaty, stomping joy full of spirited kiss-offs (“Pity The Fool”), glorious instrumentals (“Snowdrop”), and the kind of boozy anthems that will leave you with a burning headache the next morning (“Drink One Up,” “Juke Joint Slam”).

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Go hard all the time: Old Grape God keeps creating

A visit with the relentless local hip-hop artist

When the world firmly shut down last March, the idea for many of us was to use our time productively. Reading books. Finishing projects. Taking up new hobbies. Exercising regularly. But as the crushing realities of being home all the time and watching helplessly as the virus continued its spread, our sheltering at home became abandoned sourdough starts and comfort food TV binges. 

The multidisciplinary hip-hop artist known as Old Grape God had the pandemic experience we all wanted to have. Since May of 2020, he has released six full-length albums–with a seventh, Da Fence Less, out soon. He recently set up a new home recording studio, complete with a bright purple rug sitting underneath a keyboard rig. New paintings litter the comfortably cluttered living room of his Sunnyside neighborhood home, including a colorful abstract inspired by a dream of nearby Mount Tabor in flames. The first time I stopped by, he didn’t hear the doorbell–he was in the basement, embroidering a t-shirt for me.

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Now Hear This: June edition

Rough cuts, sludgey rock, darkwave, and more

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes surprisingly polished folk demos, “rock music?”, propulsive punk for smashing stuff, and plenty more.

Bandcamp Fridays aren’t going anywhere soon: Bandcamp announced last Friday that it will be continuing waiving fees on the first Friday of each month through the end of 2021, starting August 6th. There will still be a fee-waiving day in June, though not at the beginning of the month. As promised last year, this month’s Bandcamp Friday falls on the 18th, the day before Juneteenth.

Blitzen Trapper, Holy Demos Future Demos

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Try different paths

Cardioid and the return of Lizzy Ellison

In 2017, Lizzy Ellison moved away from Portland, seemingly for good. Though she had spent the previous decade living in Oregon, she felt the pull to relocate following the dual breakup of her band, the glittery indie rock ensemble Radiation City, and her relationship with Cameron Spies, the musician with whom she formed the group in 2010. 

cardioid lizzy ellison
Lizzy Ellison.

“I wasn’t maturing as a person,” Ellison told ArtsWatch, describing that time of personal and creative upheaval. “My identity was so wrapped up in Radiation City and the partnership I had that I got lost. I don’t feel like I had any reality going on—of autonomy and understanding what I want in life. I knew I needed to get away, to, in a cliched sense, figure out who I was.”

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Now Hear This: May edition

Pastel pop, a summer camp comp, and power washing the brain

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes pastel pop, home recordings, beats galore, a summer camp comp, and plenty more–just in time for Bandcamp’s next Fee Free First Friday.

Various Artists, Summer Rock Camp Compilation

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Now Hear This: April edition

Multilingual hip-hop, bludgeoning metal, and live improvised electronic music

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes multilingual hip-hop, bludgeoning metal, live improvised electronic music, and plenty more–just in time for Bandcamp’s next Fee Free First Friday.

King Benzo Lenoir, PRODIGY

King Benzo Lenoir aspires to hip-hop glory, but seems in no hurry to get there. “I’m the next in the line of succession,” he says at the start of blistering trap cut “Winning Vibe,” one of the many highlights from his debut release PRODIGY. While he waits for his turn, this rapper, formerly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has a lot to say about his skills as a ruler, a lover, and a fighter—and he does it in a blend of English, French, and Lingala. 

Horrendous 3D, The Gov. and Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry To Manipulate You And Me…

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Now Hear This: March edition

Jangly indie rock, prickly steel guitar, razor sharp rhymes

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes new music from Lizzy “Cardioid” Ellison and George “Theoretical Planets” Colligan, Mo Troper’s audacious Beatles covers, a live epic from The Decemberists’ vault, and plenty more–just in time for Bandcamp’s next Fee Free First Friday.

The Decemberists, Live Home Library Vol. I

Last year, Portland’s beloved indie-folk dreamers first released a limited vinyl-only edition of this recording of their 2009 live performance of their album The Hazards Of Love, captured at the Royal Oak Theatre in Michigan. They’ve kindly added it to their Bandcamp page so even folks without turntables can enjoy this dense rock opera. 

Johnny Raincloud, Live At Suburbia Studios

When it comes to jangly, wiry indie rock, my penchant is for bands like Johnny Raincloud, bands whose performances ride that very thin line between tightly rehearsed and utterly ramshackle. That is why this recording of them playing live this past January at the titular Portland studio has been in heavy rotation ever since it was released last month. 

Cardioid, Crystal Lattice Lullabies

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