MusicWatch Monthly: Through the weeds

It's a busy August of album-release shows, neighborhood concerts, a renamed synth library, Hip Hop Week & more.

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Oregon’s worst weeds grow delicious blackberries. It’s late summer, when the sun’s ascendance has lost its luster, and we get some of the last opportunities to fill our bodies’ annual quota of Vitamin D while waiting for days that no longer reach the nineties. We’re no longer free to wear sunscreen, now we have to. The now omnipresent smoke from the Bootleg fire outside Klamath Falls is encroaching west into the I-5 corridor. Just your typical August. 

Nevertheless, this may be one of the last months before “things go back to normal.” Which we know it won’t: with continuous spikes in cases and new variants, COVID isn’t going to be eradicated anytime soon. At least we have some good live music to get us through the slow decline and fall of the United States as global superpower, while oceans boil, forests toast and glaciers melt. Incidentally, I’ve been listening to a great podcast by Patrick Wyman called The Fall of Rome, for no particular reason. 

Maybe this is for the best. After nearly a year and a half of musicians adapting to the new paradigm, we’re supposed to just go back to attending concerts like normal now? Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with people we barely know, spraying air particulates all over each other for two hours? There has been a slight uptick in cases for the month of July as vaccination rates have reached their nadir. We are reaching the crest of a third wave (or fourth–who can tell anymore).

There are plenty of performances this month, in both socially-distanced and “normal” concert settings, so get out while the sun’s still blistering and the rain is a ways away.

There is a smattering of new events as venues re-opening: the 22nd for instance brings us album release party at Holocene starring Dolphin Midwives and Crystal Quartez, two ArtsWatch favorites. You could call their music “Experimental Pop” in the same way as Holly Herndon or Bjork–that is, that what they do is so idiosyncratic that they often get lumped together under such a broad banner. Any category that encompasses artists as varied as the aforementioned women–and, say, Dan Deacon, Thom Yorke, Brian Eno, whomever else–is hardly useful, and mostly tells you that “you just have to listen to it.”

The latest from Dolphin Midwives, Body of Water, builds on the success of her previous effort, 2019’s Liminal Garden, creating dense, contemplative music led by her tender voice and harp playing and…you just have to listen to it:

While we like to focus on local artists, it is notable that touring artists are hitting the road again. Wonder Ballroom will have concerts by tUnE-yArDs, The Residents and Pvris. tUnE-yArDs play this friday, creating upbeat indie-dance-pop with elaborate vocal harmonies and loops courtesy of frontwoman Merrill Garbus. The Residents, who play on the 19th, are one of those legendary weirdo bands–music for people who find Mr. Bungle, the late Scott Walker and Captain Beefheart too mainstream. But beyond simply being “weird,” The Residents delight in breaking as many musical rules as they can. Pvris (pronounced “Paris”) closes out the month on the 28th with some synth-heavy alternative rock. 

There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on at Mississippi Studios, including Gaytheist this Saturday. The trio has spent the last decade in the intersection between noise rock, math rock and hardcore where many great bands live, and–as you probably guessed–they’re gay atheists. Later this month on the 20th Sarah Clarke and Machado Mijiga pair up for a show that will surely be funky, jazzy and groovy. Clarke will be familiar to fans of Dirty Revivals, and you may have read about Mijiga’s catalogue here on ArtsWatch.

I also know for certain that many of my friends will be seeing Gogol Bordello on the 29th. Their upbeat punk sound draws heavily from Eastern European folk music, particularly Romani music. It really goes to show that punk isn’t so much a style or fashion as it is a disposition, dedicated to making straight-forward and honest music with whatever means you have. 

Sponsor

We did get some major news items this month. We’ve been awaiting the return of S1, one of the coolest experimental music and contemporary art outfits in the city. And surely enough, they announced their retirement of the name S1 in favor of Synth Library Portland. They will resume their gear lending program this month (where you can rent analog synthesizers and all sorts of electronic music equipment) and will revive their Artists in Residence program for the fall. Portland has a healthy community for experimental electronic music, for lack of a better name, and Synth Library Portland has been one of its most central organizations over the last few years.

We also got a major development from Portland Opera: their hiring of Priti Gandhi as Artistic Director. You can read more about her and the opera in our recent profile

Emily Lau and company via Big Mouth Society presents four shows across two weekends inspired by Italian poet and divine comedian Dante Aligheri. The concerts on August 1 and August 8 span four corners of Portland in “private residence[s]” and Tryon Creek Park. Maybe in the meantime, you can do as I should and finally get around to reading that big, imposing classic by Dante–I’ve personally been recommended Allen Mandelbaum’s blank verse translation.

Musical settings of Dante span across five hundred years, and are too numerous to name here. Given Big Mouth’s typical roster of musicians ranging from vocals and piano to woodwinds and strings, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some Renaissance polyphony (in Latin, of course), some Verdi or Liszt, or maybe some scenes from La Comedia by the recently-deceased Louis Andriessen. They will also be expanding this show out next spring with four commissions from Oregonian composers.

There are the ongoing neighborhood concerts in Sellwood/Westmoreland, hosted by their neighborhood association SMILE. There is a wealth of local talent of mostly blues and jazz over the course of the show, including the versatile guitarist Pete Krebs and The Catnip Brothers on the 28th. The big exception to this jazz-and-blues thing is Klezmer band Carpathian-Pacific Express. A standout of the Tuesday shows would be jazz vocalist Paula Byrne on the 10th.

While you’re down in the furthest reaches of Southeast before reaching Milwaulkie, maybe take a leisurely ride along the Springwater Corridor, grab dinner at a fantastic Thai/Vietnamese restaurant, visit the blooming rhododendrons, or–if you’re like me in college–sneak onto the golf course after dark to smoke [redacted] with your friends. 

The Lot at Zidell Yards figured out how to do socially-distanced summer concerts pretty quickly, and they’ve kept busy over the last few months. Their summer music festival takes place the weekend of August 14-15 with eight fantastic artists on the roster. Most invigorating is perhaps the first act, Fritzwa. Her low-pass-filtered synths and vocal harmonies familiar to fans of contemporary soul and RnB contrast nicely with heavy beats and vocal inflections inspired by reggaeton and dancehall. 

After Fritzwa we get performances from dream pop duo Pure Bathing Culture (who got a feature from Ben Gibbard of Death Cab/Postal Service/Owl City fame), artists from the community-funded record label People Music, and Blitzen Trapper. The latter has been around for a while, their latest being a collection of demos from Holy Smokes Future Jokes. Both these records came out during the still-ongoing pandemic, so this is our first opportunity to hear them in their Americana glory live.  

Day two includes a DJ set by Chicana writer Emilly Prado (AKA DJ Mami Miami), who released a collection of essays last month; Sallie Ford’s The Barbaras, who debuted a new song on Instagram last month; Parisalexa, who performed at Juneteenth Oregon a few months ago; and Orquestra Pacifico Tropical, who bill themselves as “psychedelic Cumbia,” augmenting the typical ensemble with synths and distorted guitars.

Lincoln City’s Crystal Meneses brings her unique project, Last Words Legacy, to a cemetery near you. We must all contend with eternal nothingness, and Meneses hopes to offer some solace for us through music. This May, Lori Tobias spoke with Meneses, who told her:

My hope is that rural will see how urban is creating community in our death spaces and open up their cemeteries to the community in future summers. My big goal is to tour Oregon cemeteries with the Last Words Project for many years. I am grateful to Metro [for sponsoring Last Words Legacy], because they understand how important it is to create community around death, grief, and loss.

(Read the complete interview here).

Mic Crenshaw was the subject of our first Black Music Matters column, which featured Crenshaw’s collaboration with Quincy Davis: an album (and now group) called Rebel Wise. The duo performs at Jack London Revue on the seventh. For a preview, check out Mic Crenshaw’s video for “Born to Fight,” shot at some recognizable landmarks around town and musically channeling some RATM-style rap-funk-rock. He’s got bars, too: “in the chaotic kaleidoscopic mosaic/you need to be well-organized and be more creative.”

Rebel Wise’s performance is a prelude of sorts for Portland’s Hip-Hop Week. The annual celebration is the result of the hard work of deejay O.G.ONE and the late STARCHILE. This year the festival lasts from August 20-29, with everything from ciphers and award shows to producer showcases and “Hip-Hop, Wine & Chill” sessions. Check their full schedule for details.

If one event stands out, it would be the producer showcase at the Whiskey Club on the 23rd, with beats from Tony Ozier, Quincy Davis, trans producer Arcadia Beats, and Stockton’s Rappy Dooski. US Breakin/Skilfest Portland is also worth the price of admission just to see a performance by emcee/actor/Immortal Technique signee Chino XL, in addition to all the battle rapping. One of his latest is a love song called “God’s Interest,” with a beat by the legendary Madlib

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About the author

Charles Rose is a composer, writer and sound engineer born and raised in Portland, Oregon. He graduated from Portland State University with a degree in Sonic Arts and Music Production in 2019. His piano trio Contradanza was the 2018 winner of the Chamber Music Northwest’s Young Composers Competition. He releases music on BandCamp under various aliases. In addition to composing, he is a sound engineer for chamber music group FearNoMusic and is an editor of the Portland State music journal Subito. You can find his writing at Continuousvariations.com.

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