Weekly (p)reviews: A vein of undeniable emotion

Eyelids release a live album; Sour Deez, Wavy Josef, MadgesdiqCEG, and Hinnessy Da Goon at The Thesis.

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To get any real traction among a populace regularly inundated with information and entertainment, modern musical artists have to be unrelenting. Those that rise to the top of the overload never let you forget their names, either through a ceaseless stream of sound or a cross-platform deluge that is exhaustive as it is expensive. 

Eyelids understand the music part of this equation better than most bands. Since flickering to life around seven years ago, the psych-pop quintet has been a constant presence in record shops around the world. To date, they’ve released three full-lengths, an odds-and-sods compilation, and 10 singles. And this month they’ll add to the discography with the release of Dubble Live, a recording of the band performing over two nights at Mississippi Studios. It’s packed with songs and guest stars, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Hedwig and the Angry Inch co-creator John Cameron Mitchell.

The band’s steady progress is also why the pandemic hit them with acute force. They had to scrap a tour of California booked for last March and, worse still, these five friends and collaborators had to keep apart from one another. Sure, they were able to easily keep in touch, and work on music on their own, but not being able to knock together new music or a fresh cover of a favorite post-punk tune weighed heavily. 

“I didn’t know how much I missed it until we were able to get together again,” says Chris Slusarenko, one of Eyelids’ three singer-guitarists. “I was shakin, like, on the verge of tears. It was so needed, but I didn’t know how badly I needed it.” 

The accumulated impact of the pandemic on Eyelids actually stretches back a few decades. The men in the band are musical lifers who have been playing in various projects together and separately since the ’80s. It’s all spelled out in an adorably chintzy diagram on the front of the 2014 single “Seagulls Into Submission”: ballpoint pen arrows connect Slusarenko, singer/guitarists John Moen and Jonathan Drews, former bassist Jim Talstra, and drummer Paul Pulvirenti to The Decemberists, Dharma Bums, GBV-offshoot Boston Spaceships, the Minus 5, and more.

Eyelids’ shared experiences–and their love for a style of melodic rock born from the college rock and post-punk scenes of the late ’70s/early ’80s–gave them a creative shorthand key to their impressive creative output and friendships. It all flows with ease. “Our practices are hilarious,” says Slusarenko, “because we’ll finish a song and then we’ll talk for 10 minutes about something that we remembered. We just relate.”

That’s what made the recent departure of Talstra so difficult for Eyelids. He bowed out of the band earlier this year, citing personal reasons. Tough as that was to bear, filling the role was unusually effortless: Victor Krummenacher, another vet of the underground music world through his tenure in alt-rock mainstays Camper Van Beethoven and Monks of Doom, and a recent transplant to Portland, is now serving as Eyelids’ bassist.

Eyelids. Photo by John Clark.

“Chris and I are friends, independently of the band,” Krummenacher says, “and have been talking pretty regularly and hanging out. It was apparent that they were going to need a bass player. I was like, ‘Do you want me to play bass for your band?’ I hadn’t thought about it before then, but it was very appealing.”

The effect of this lineup change on Eyelids was instantaneously a net positive. “We would have dreamed to have somebody who could play as melodically and experimentally and just make the music as exciting as Victor does,” Slusarenko says. “He came in and immediately we were like, ‘Wow, this is working.’ We’re totally honored. It made the time that we lost collapse a little bit.”  

Krummenacher hasn’t had much time to catch his breath since. In August, Eyelids recorded their fourth full-length, produced once again by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and they’ve been rehearsing regularly for their rescheduled West Coast tour, which kicks off officially this weekend. And the band is ready for more. 

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“I’m already ready to go and record our follow up to the record that’s not going to come out for a year that we recorded three months ago,” Slusarenko says. “We’ve put out 13 vinyl releases since we’ve started, two or three a year. Because we feel like, if we have two songs, let’s put them out before we’re tired of them.”

Eyelids performs at Mississippi Studios (3939 N Mississippi Ave, Portland OR) on Saturday, October 16 w/ Denim Wedding. Doors at 8 pm. Tickets: $13

The Thesis @ Kelly’s Olympian, October 6, 2021

A friend recently expressed a sincere wish to start exploring Portland’s robust hip-hop scene, but gave himself an out from doing the work, claiming, “I don’t know where to begin.” Rather than rant about Bandcamp tags or doing a simple Google search, I pointed him to The Thesis, the monthly showcase for local hip-hop talent that has been a fixture of the music community for nearly seven years.

The Thesis @ Kelly’s Olympian, October 6, 2021. Photo by Robert Ham.
MadgesdiqCEG and the Everyday Mystics at The Thesis @ Kelly’s Olympian, October 6, 2021. Photo by Robert Ham.

The stalwart crew of curators, including their resident DJ Verbz and We Out Here magazine founder Mac Smiff, have long proven themselves to have sharp eyes for burgeoning talent, a mindfulness toward inclusion, and a desire to mix up styles and approaches to hip-hop. Their regular home at Kelly’s Olympian is where a purring stylist like SQVTCH can share stage time with experimental vocalist Amenta Abioto, and the soft R&B of Michele Wylen is at home with the chest-pounding Treehouse Gang. 

The various threads that The Thesis pulls on to book their show were on full display at the October edition of the show. All four spotlight artists had never performed at this showcase before and they each brought much different energy to the evening.

Sour Deez at The Thesis @ Kelly’s Olympian, October 6, 2021. Photo by Robert Ham.
Sour Deez at The Thesis @ Kelly’s Olympian, October 6, 2021. Photo by Robert Ham.

Sour Deez opted for maximalism, bringing in a colorful light show and an incessant smoke machine to set the mood for a set of sweaty, muscular songs that danced along the sometimes thin line separating bombast and affirmation. Wavy Josef dropped a similar amount of perspiration in the service of grinning wordplay and a collectivist embrace of the folks swarming around Kelly’s low stage.

Balancing the masculine flex of those two solo acts was the sensuality exuded by MadgesdiqCEG and the Everyday Mystics. This ensemble leaned into hip-hop’s roots in reggae toasting and R&B, with the sturdy rapping of Madgesdiq playing nicely off the soft curl of CEG’s vocalizing.

Setting an emotional tone for the night was Hinnessy Da Goon, a rapper from Kansas City, Missouri with NW roots. Her flow, like her presence on stage, had a boxer’s mindset. She was quick with set up/punch one-twos landing several surprise lyrical haymakers. Humming below it all was a vein of undeniable emotion. As Hinnessy explained, her sister TeTe Gulley was found hanged in Rocky Butte Park in 2019. It was ruled a suicide by state medical examiners but an investigation into the death is ongoing.

The pain of that loss rippled through much of Hinnessy’s set and it seemed afterwards like expressing it onstage took a lot out of her. But it was her choice to open up those wounds for a Thesis audience that elevated her set to something close to greatness.

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About the author

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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