Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon

Now Hear This: April 2022 edition

Faded, worn-in roots-pop; bubbly synths; brutal noise-punk; emotionally charged player piano; deluxe hip-hop.

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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 roots-pop, brutal noise-punk, subotnicky synthesizers, a familial homage to a local farmer, and more–just in time for the next Bandcamp Fee Free First Friday.

Mic Capes, In Spite of… Deluxe

The deluxe re-release of a recent album remains a stop-gap measure for most artists. Something to whet the appetites of fans and keep sales numbers up until fresh material can be recorded. This new edition of Mic Capes’ 2021 album hits a little different, as it wraps in some material that the Portland rapper has recorded over the past few months–including a fantastic collab with a popular Trail Blazer and impassioned new cuts like “High Regard.” Well worth buying many of the same tracks a second time. 

Matt Carlson, Bowling Alone

Synthesist extraordinaire Matt Carlson put some self-imposed restrictions in place as he set about recording the material for his latest solo release. He had to play everything by hand, using no added effects, and could only put eight tracks on each tune. And he couldn’t record to a computer. With those guidelines in place, Carlson arrived at a playful zone with wobbly, bubbly tunes that recall the early experiments of Gershon Kingsley and Morton Subotnick. 

Virginia Cohen, { all you ask }

Singer-songwriter Virginia Cohen’s faded, worn-in roots-pop and the peal and warble of her vocals evoke a time when the folk/alternative scene was home to brilliant artists like Syd Straw and Victoria Williams. It’s the kind of music that feels good on the skin — warm and comfortable and easy to soak in for long stretches. Cohen is given a proper assist from Ashleigh Flynn who co-wrote two of the best songs on this album, and producer Bill Barnett whose instrumental and studio support bathed these tracks in a soft, inviting glow. 

Derek Hunter Wilson, Distant

Two complementary piano pieces from Portland artist Derek Hunter Wilson. The first is a bit of a warm-up, throat-clearing exercise to prepare listeners for the second piece, which, as he explains, “consists of two improvised…takes, each in a slightly different register, and recorded independently from one another.” The simple work makes the passage of time feel palpable, with each chord rising and dissipating like a deep meditative breath. 

Help, 2053

Has it been some months since a piece of music has left your mind and body feeling as battered and bruised as if you’ve spent six rounds in a boxing ring with a heavyweight prize fighter? If that’s something that, like myself, you crave on a regular basis, may I direct your attention to the new album by noise-punk trio Help. After each one of these aggressively played, brutally loud tracks, I kept feeling around my mouth to make sure my teeth hadn’t been cracked or removed outright. 

Liam Hathaway, The Farm

Musician Liam Hathaway’s grandmother once tended to a 40-acre farm in rural Oregon, growing walnuts and fruit, until she was no longer mentally and physically capable of keeping up with the work. She sold the property to a neighboring vineyard, and was allowed to stay in her house on the land until her passing — at which point even ownership of that would be transferred to the winery. After her death and before the house was handed over, Hathaway and two of his friends — drummer Carlos Moreño and pianist Wes Georgiev — spent a day in the farmhouse last March recording improvised music in honor of the space and its previous owner. The finished album is knowingly roughshod via the clunk of the 1920s player piano Georgiev played, and the creaky quality of the performances overall. The music still carries an emotional charge and burns with the embers of Hathaway’s warm memories and the history soaked into every part of the house. 

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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.

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