I-5 Killers III
Upholding a tradition is difficult in the world of regional independent record labels. For one thing, it’s hard for an independent label to hang around long enough to even have a tradition. And then there is the factor that there are not that many local traditions worth upholding in the first place–though I do miss the Pub Crawl. Anyway, with this recording, not only has a tradition been upheld… why, it’s been transformed into a fashionable convention.
And the reason that this is so can be explained quite simply. The overall quality of bands, material, musicianship and production on I-5 Killers III is superior to its’ predecessors. A cohesiveness of presentation is achieved. The newer bands sound good. The more familiar bands sound even better.
The first four cuts are very strong and set the tone for this outing. Vocalist/guitarist Jerry A. joins former Poison Idea bandmate, drummer Thee Slayer Hippie, and bassist May May Delcastro to form Gift–who inaugurate the recording with the requisitely rousing rocker “What Used Be.” The cut turns on Jerry’s snarling vocals and a memorable chorus which features May May on background vocals; and sets the general tone for what is to follow.
Everclear contribute the grungey nugget “Blondes.” Art Alexakis’ jagged guitar figure is fueled into overdrive by reckless syncopated drums and sludged-out bass. From there he unravels a sordid tale of compulsion and fetish which is pre-empted by the harsh reality of the chorus. KPants’ “Crash” slides sideways, initially, before impacting with a crunching riff and a plaintive vocal. Thirty Ought Six’s live take of “Punch” smolders meekly before briefly igniting– though shadows of the possible brilliance of this band dance around the edges of an otherwise puzzling cut.
With just an acoustic guitar and a winsome vocal, Kaia follows with the thoughtful ballad “Lines,” a frank exploration of the subtle competition that undermines all interpersonal relationships. The Whirlees’ contribution, “Edward Hopper Song,” is a tightly wound piece of rock that is undone somewhat by a lifeless vocal. Similarly, sloppy vocals mar Time Killing Isabel’s “Jake’s Dream”– a cut with instrumental possibilities not entirely fleshed out, but redeemingly rendered all the same. Greg Brady fronting Smashing Pumpkins.
“Never Win,” Greg Sage’s entry may disappoint those looking for some over-the-top Wipers’ gem. But close scrutiny of the tune indicates that Sage purposely avoided any repetition of the abundant hooks laced through it. Still, trademark Spanish guitar flourishes trill in gnarled majesty around a half-step chord modulation. But where Sage could simply repeat the title a few times and create a nifty chorus, he instead chooses to allow his beautifully sad solo guitar to soar and sweep above the cathartic moan of the layered drone of the ensembled guitars below. As if words become too futilely inadequate to express the emotion contained within. A piquantly transcendent piece.
Gravelpit’s “Its A Lie” combines Ramonesy verses and Who-like choruses with good results: a fast-paced jaunt propelled by a solid rhythm section and strong vocals. “The Ugly Stick” by Ice Cream Headache demonstrates the bands’ strength with a rave-up jam in the middle that lifts the track from the mundane.
Starlight Trio mix the skittering riff “Shaking All Over” with the voodoo voogum of “Suzy Q” to formulate “Get Outta My Way.” Adding to the stylistic departure, Oblivion Seekers rip through a Carl Perkins flavored number “Rock Your Baby.”
Anal Solvent donate the weird metal send-up “Evil Style” which recalls the work of Captain Beefheart. And New Bad Things’ “Josh Has A Crush On A Femme From Reed,” produced by Pete Mizer, is by far their most coherent and accessible recording to date. The guitars are in tune, the drums play in time, , all in support of a “Raspberry Beret” sort of song. It’s not Carmen, but is indicative of the Things’ naive charm. And Oswald 5-0’s “Aloha Steve and Dan-o” plays true to the bands’ “Hawaii 5-0” roots. Supersuckers’ “Your Mother Rules” is predictable, but well wrought rock.
The unkindest cut comes from the twisted minds of Caveman Shoestore. The free-form tone poem they call “Metropolis 2664” defies easy categorization. Random noises evolve into other sounds, stretching the definition of music to the periphery. An arresting , difficult and pondersome sketch guaranteed to alienate as many as it will please. Karlheinz Stockhausen fans take note.
I-5 Killers III is an eclectic compendium to be sure, offering a satisfactory cross-section of the bands and scenes along the I-5 Corridor, cataloguing the heavenly and the mundane into a valuable compilation. While the recording has its shortcomings, the persistence of the vision displayed far overshadows its’ possible lack of scope.
Thirty Ought Six
An unique instrumental sound, built around the fabulous interplay between bassist Sean Roberts and guitarist David Blunk serves as the core for this curiously eccentric three-piece space grunge outfit.
Thick, murky guitar, abetted by voluminous bass chords decorate the title track. Roberts’ vocals bear a certain resemblance to those of the late dead Cobain–though not as enshrouded in cryptic dogma. The moody ballad “Wading” is propelled by Ryan Paravecchio’s marvelously subtle, syncopated drums and haunting vocals shared between Roberts and Hazel’s Jody Bleyle. The song hearkens to George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” in some odd way–though it moves in a completely different direction. Check out the lead bass solo and the nifty segue to the acoustic segment that ends the song. Very nice.
“Boy Wonder” gives a good indication of what 30.06 can do. A brocaded bassline weaves intricate patterns with the guitar, forming great waves of sound, which reach spectacular crescendos before receding to but the bass and vocal. A showcase for the bands’ dynamic prowess. Similarly, the instrumental “Cotillion” begins with solitary bass chords before erupting (ala Smashing Pumpkins) into orgiastic outburst. Buoyant bass and guitar thrummings are the motivation for “Halo Jen,” providing the impetus for Paravecchio’s flagrant flailings on the drums. A riveting cut. Related elements drive the moody instrumental “Indianapolis.”
Each member contributes a distinctive and integral aspect to the bands’ total sound; their instruments blending metamorphically, into one homogeneous mass. Few local bands have developed a style and sound to the extent of Thirty Ought Six. “Huck,” with its’ rowdy chorus and droning ball of tone accompaniment, fixes accurately the textures and contrasts that separate this band from their local brethren. From the sparse quiet of the central section to the rousing clarion call of the chorus; they martial their musical forces with the disciplined savvy of war-worn generals preparing for battle.
Witness the sterling execution of “Shut,” where Roberts’ voice moves from a whisper to a shout–evoking rich coloration and vital emotional depth; creating a true sense of drama, which the band ably underscores. Likewise “Tuckahoe” is availed of a smoky ambiance wherein Roberts interjects lightening bolt vocals, which arc jaggedly amidst the musical cloud– thundering at one moment, reduced to an ozone hiss at the next. His beautiful, yearning melody in the chorus crystallizes the song into a truly transcendent piece.
“Kukulcan” illustrates the instrumental aspect of the band, which is somewhat akin in construction to Pink Floyd’s early work. While the instrumentals on Bosozoku are not exactly stirring, one can hear that they might serve as powerful segue in a live sequence. “Dealt” like its’ counterpart “Huck” utilizes energetic anthems for verses: hooks that instantly snag in the minds ear, not to be dislodged.
With Bosozoku, 30.06 have crafted a work of skilled balance, allowing each song its’ own voice, its’ own breath. The bands’ gift for nuance and subtlety is alone significant given the ponderous genre they travail– they have elevated themselves to a higher musical level. Think of a niche somewhere between Flop and Afghan Whigs. 30.06 fill it with panache and aplomb.
Crackpots in Exile
Section 8 OK
At long last, the Crackpots have joined the rest of the 20th century, releasing their very first recording. The six songs contained here will serve as an excellent primer for the uninitiated, covering essential Crackpot turf–which varies from song to song. Folk here, funk there. Rock here, barrelhouse there. It’s a rich stew the Crackpots cook, intoxicatingly sensuous in flavor; but as friendly as if it were served in a wooden bowl.
“Ring Around The Moon” bounces joyously upon the Crackpots’ celebrated brand of 70’s influenced funk. As the guitars and the rhythm section tighten up, lead vocalist and chief songwriter Beth Basile lunges in, wailing woozily. Bobby Soxx’ tasty lead guitar work in the breaks give some indication of what distinguishes this band from their Eastside Folk/Funk counterparts. These guys can really play. Check out Bill Rudolph’s smart, succinct bass solo in the second break. Solid. Drummer Johnny Lambert rocking steady, riding shotgun, never missing a beat.
Conversely, Beth’s forlorn, country-tinged ballad “Movie Star,” is a showcase for the hoarse piquancy of her voice and the wry insight of her perceptions. Supporting vocalist Little Sue Weaver adds sweet harmonies over a most charming rendition of one of their most popular songs. Mike Metzner’s jaunty piano intro sets the perfect mood for Beth’s “Pirate”– a jolly little cabaret piece that details the many facets of Beth’s personality: ” It’s the doctor in me, cuttin’ ya a Cesarean section/With a capital ‘C’/ It’s the cripple in me, makes me sit in me chair and watch/ Three’s Company./ It’s the lawyer in me that makes me argue with people /I don’t even know cordially.”
But with “Chicken Butt” one can get an idea of what the Crackpots are capable of producing. Check out Bobby Soxx’ nifty chicken pickin’ underneath Beth’s rowdy rap, Lambert’s stuttering fills in the turnarounds. Soxx turns in a couple of exemplary solos in a fine version of one of their most favored live numbers. And “Mormons” simmers with sinister intensity. A jangly tirade about the invasion of privacy to which some who know the lord feel privileged to perpetrate upon the unwary unwashed.
As if to nail that point home, the band follows with the twisted snarl of “Lon Mabon,” wherein Metzner summons his operatic tenor in order to imbue the song with a proper amount of self-righteous pomposity. An hilarious interpretation of the life of a very dangerous man.
For me, no Crackpots recording could possibly be considered complete without a rendition of “Creep” . Alas, I fear that song got old for the band long before they ever made it near a studio; for it is not included here. Therefore, one can only hope that Section 8 OK is the harbinger of a new, more productive period for the Crackpots, one which will find the band woodshedding some of their choice older material, before they jettison it entirely from their repertoire.
Special mention should be made of Mike Lastra’s production. His Smegma Studios played a part in the recording of I-5 Killers III, Bosozoku, and Section 8 OK as well in countless releases reviewed in this space in the past few months. His sensitive ear has consistently captured the essence of each of the diverse acts with which he has worked.
Such is the case here with the Crackpots. This is an honest recording which highlights the humor and originality that have placed the band among the darlings of the Eastside. But it exposes a few of the weaknesses too–sloppy background vocals the chief among them. Still, since there is no other Crackpots product available, other than their single cut on Live at the Laurelthirst—Section 8 O.K. fills a gaping void within the local music universe. It is an actual Crackpots recording! For this miracle alone, all involved in its’ creation are to be lauded with lavish praise and protracted gratitude. Who knew?
Take Me To The Future
New Weave Records
Not everyone can appreciate Lew Jones’ work. Consistently, throughout his career he has taken sudden stylistic left turns. He is renowned for having played an acoustic gig at a cafe the morning before playing with the Obituaries at Satyricon later that night. Few other local musicians could pull that off. Lew does it on a regular basis. Take Me To The Future is an anthology, which covers the past fifteen years of Lew’s career, managing to capture nearly twenty glimpses of the many turns that arose along the way.
And collected here are cuts which include the work of an eclectic variety of local musicians, among whom are listed: Steve Bradley and Don Weiss from the Sleazy Pieces days, Dan Cunneen from the Obituaries days and early Neil Gilpin on the fiddle. But primarily, this New Weave Records release places the focus on Jones’ craft as a songwriter, tracing his maturation into a skilled artisan.
Early tracks, dating back to 1979-80, reflect Lew’s own musical roots–the Dylan tinged “I Think I’m Gonna Rain Tonight,” and Kinks flavored “I Can’t Believe You Don’t Love Me” reveal one aspect. The smoky introspection of jazzier numbers like “Rain On The Marshlands” and “Song For Zelda,” aided immeasurably by the scintillating sax-work of Dominic Lombardi, confirm other, more esoteric influences.
Middle period material typifies Lew’s turn toward alternative formats. Check the U-2 effect of “Out In The Fields,” a rousing anthem to freedom; or the sterling talking blues rap he lays over the stridently tough guitars of “Just Another Twentieth Century Dream.” Both of these cuts, released in 1987, ring with rich poetic imagery and enlightened introspection, rarely encountered in these dim bulb times. The latter tune, especially, a spleen-fed tirade of the highest order, Jones tosses off huge philosophical, social and political concepts in a phenomenal series of free-verse forays: raging against the dying of Humanity.
But the latest entries, recorded just this year, are imbued with a highly cultivated consciousness, born of conflict and resolution. The dreamy “Pedigree” is perhaps one of Jones’ most coalesced visions. While echoing all the years of songs that preceded it, a haunting chorus fosters a wistful, bittersweet atmosphere of some grand sad majesty.
Take Me To The Future is a fitting tribute to the quixotic essence of Lew Jones’ songs and a choice catalogue to what has become an extensive body of work. Somewhere here there is a song for each of us; a song for everyone.
Breeders-ish, in an unruly sort of way, this fiery four-piece unit has all the earmarks of a winner. Maria Ortizi, a versatile musician of some accomplishment, leads the charge, stepping out from the drums, back to the guitar for which she developed quite a reputation a few years back in Insane Jane.
Here Maria takes up vocal duties as well, sharing them with bassist Erik Merrill and guitarist Erin Moreland (who spent some time in Bad Mothers). “Forehead Man” gyrates around a jittery Diddley rhythm as Moreland wryly intones the lyrics, “He walks the streets with his pen slung low/All strung out, nowhere to go.” her psychedelic banjo accompaniment adding a distinctive air to a well-executed rave-up.
Merrill’s odd “Twisted Tales of Macramé” melds the styles of Robyn Hitchcock and Tom Tom Club into a quirky melange. And Maria’s “Wall Down” is a sturdy riverboat of a tune, driven by Maria’s powerful contralto, “Gasoline got the engine/Where’s the road/Everybody needs someplace they can fake/ Word from me, brick for you/We got here out of the know/Gravity/ Got the jump on letting go,” I won’t argue with that.
“She Likes Flowers” skips upon the frolicking interplay of guitar and bass, twined around Erin and Maria”s vocals into a tune worthy of the late Throwing Muses. An alternative hit to be sure. “Pigeonhole” manifests analagous properties, turning on a well placed melodic hook. “Circus” is a dead ringer for a Concrete Blonde/Pretenders outtake. “Vision” successfully marries strong vocal harmonies with a PJ Harvey attitude and Police-like arrangement–showcasing Maria’s abundant talents,
There may be a few songs too many here– some judicious pruning would improve the product. Doris Daze demonstrate versatility, capability and a frequent knack for a hook. But the elements which comprise this band are not as yet entirely integrated. Based on the potential they often show on Foom, one would think it’s only a matter of time. If it should come to pass, this band could be very dangerous.
Julie Jones and the Things You Are
Given the short attention span I have come to expect from the world at large, I don’t expect any of you to remember the name Julie Jones. Oh she had a short-lived band called Jane, His Wife, and before that she played in a band called Incognation. No, I don’t expect you to remember. But you better remember her name now.
Even if you were familiar with her previous work, which you’re not–nothing could prepare you for what is to be found on Thick Picnic. Think of Sade singing Tori Amos songs. That would prepare you. Think of Sting singing Kate Bush. That would help too.
“Cross My Heart” has hit written all over it. Julie’s dusky dark vocals are bathed in layers of keyboards and percussion. An unusual, but memorable melody line carries the song through the verses and the uplifting chorus; whereupon Neros Romer Tod Morrisey simply rips into two separate guitar solos, chewing up frets with ravenous fingers. A stellar performance all around.
I mean this as a compliment, but “Supposed To Be Love” sounds like Carpenters 94. Nobody’s doing that. The cut does serve as a showcase for Julie’s deft adeptness at the keyboard. “What You Wanted” returns to form, while managing to make a strong chorus of the lines “Can’t save myself/Even in a plastic bag/Cant save myself/Even in a big refrigerator.”
“Bad Timing” recalls the strengths of “Cross My Heart”– a moody contemplation of the element of chance in relationships. The intro to “Colors” summons comparisons to Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” evolving into syncopated evocation of peace in the midst of derision. Sensibility in the midst of chaos.
The recording is not without its’ shortcomings. The extensive use of stale sequenced synthesizers robs Julie’s cool vocal phrasing of emotion, adding only distance and sterility. These mechanical aspects are further exacerbated by an improvident utilization of inorganic keyboard sounds. Future projects might benefit from the discreet application of acoustic guitars, sampled strings and horns, organ pads, and silence.
The above notwithstanding, Julie Jones displays special aptitude as a vocalist. Hers is the sort of unusual voice around which careers are built. While her work will not appeal to everyone, those with an affinity for the new and different will find much to appreciate in it, all the same.
Kaitlyn Ni Donovan
Kaitlyn Ni Donovan cites a kinship with the work of Erik Satie as having an influence on her music. That seems plausible. Though born in Oregon, she grew up in Juneau, Alaska; spending seventeen years there before migrating to Portland in 1990. Despite being raised in such a remote locale, she spent her adolescence listening to Elvis Costello, XTC and Kate Bush; while inheriting her mother’s love for opera, traditional Irish music and jazz.
And it was during those years in Juneau that Kaitlyn came to know the members of Mood Paint—who were to later move to Portland and evolve into Pond. “I knew all the guys in Mood Paint then, but I knew Chris [Brady] the best,” Kaitlyn says of those days. “Chris and I sang in high school musicals together. I remember the day he got his first bass. It was a real big deal. Mood Paint was always saying they were going to record the next Sgt. Pepper. And now look at the cover to Pond’s album…”
Kaitlyn followed Mood Paint and other friends to Portland, arriving in 1990. It was then that she began to teach herself guitar. “I didn’t teach myself exactly,” she confides. “It was more like I morphed with it. I just put my fingers down on the strings until I came up with something that sounded good to me.”
Not surprisingly, Kaitlyn began to write songs at the same time. “At first I had lots of lyric material—tons of poetry. I’d work them into songs and then record them so I could remember them. But the next day I’d have a terrible time trying to remember the chords to the songs. I tried writing down the fingering by drawing fret diagrams, but that made it very slow when I would try to re-learn the song.
A couple of years ago Kaitlyn joined Monde La Bella and played violin (an instrument she studied briefly in her youth) on last year’s Exquisite Corpse release. With a trace of remorse still resonating in her voice, Kaitlyn elaborates. “I was interested in singing and contributing material. But they said they had a singer and songs.”
Distressed by the murder of her friend Sue Hill, an artist who worked as an exotic dancer to survive—Kaitlyn recorded the six-part song cycle Cannibal Spirit earlier this year, partly as a reaction to Sue’s senseless and violent death. Produced at Killhaven Studios, the material is given a sparse arrangement. Only occasionally do accompanying instruments join her solitary acoustic guitar and angelic vocals. Other instruments are provided like flavorful condiments—electric guitar and drums on one song, violin on another, accordion on yet another; serving only to enhance the presentation of diversely unique songs.
The creation of these songs is a magical process for Kaitlyn Ni Donovan, one with which she is reluctant to tamper—despite the fact that she is often unable to communicate to other musicians such basic theory elements as chords or even key signature.
“I write based on feelings and inspiration,” she explains not the least bit defensively. “I’m pretty happy right now, so I don’t have a lot of words, you know? So now I’m writing the melodies before the lyrics. I don’t want to force that…muse. Writer’s block and all that. If there’s nothing there, I can always go out and get drunk or something,” she laughs sarcastically.
Her dreams are simple and typical. “I’d like to be able to live my life creating music. It would be nice to get signed and not have to worry about money. But, I play music that I like listening to. I don’t think that will ever change.”
Kaitlyn Ni Donovan is gifted. Very few musicians in the world are conferred of the inherent largess of euphony to which she has been granted. Listen to the movements of her chord progressions. Nearly any tune is possible over the chord abstractions she invents. But she displays the unerring penchant to derive memorable—unforgettable melodies out of thin air. This is a gift she shares with Mozart and Charlie Parker, and Elizabeth Frazier. Gold that belongs to but a few.