I hate it when iTunes appears to randomly assign an inappropriate genre to a record. I know I can make it stop showing me that column, but it's oddly fascinating (when it's not annoying). This week, iTunes thinks the dulcet-voiced, improbably infectious Ingrid Michaelson is easy listening. Sure, she's easy on the ears, but that's not exactly the same thing.
Michaelson is a New York singer-songwriter with a vulnerable tone that alternately matches and mismatches beautifully with her lyrics, which are full of romantic musings, hopes and fears, and observations that take a few listens to sink in (such as the song in which she promises her love "I'll buy you Rogaine if you start losing all your hair"). Her piano-laden, electronics-decorated songs range from the spare "Corner of Your Heart" to "Die Alone," the first track on 2006's Girls and Boys, which is like a polished-up Aimee Mann song from the Magnolia soundtrack, all quiet vocals, rhythmic guitars and restraint — to a point. If I have any complaint about Girls and Boys it's that it's so glossy, so soundtrack-ready and polished, it nearly bounced off my ears at first, beautiful background noise with a thread of darkness. It's not until I'd let the record play through — and through, and through — that the depths to Michaelson's songs began to show through.
Both "Corner of Your Heart" and "Keep Breathing," an as-yet unreleased song available on Michaelson's MySpace page, have been featured on Grey's Anatomy, which should tell fans of Grey's a lot about what Michaelson sounds like even if they didn't know it was she they were hearing (the show's music choices are just that precisely selected). Michaelson is touring with fellow singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons; catch them at 9 pm Friday, June 1 at John Henry's. 21+ show. $8 adv., $10 door. — Molly Templeton
A Message to You, Teddy
It seems we've all been fooled. But hey, Sketchy Ted's album cover for Now You Know does recall any Mighty Mighty Bosstones album made in the '90s. Not too mention their annoyingly cute press info, which is gleaming with sugar-coated statements like, "Portland, Oregon pop-rock outfit Sketchy Ted puts the smiles, laughter, and dance back into pop music." Did I mention that Sketchy Ted "aims to make you dance — or at least wiggle a little"?
The good folks at the Music Liberation Project, a Portland music journal, were also wary of the band: "Do not be fooled. Like I was. Like everyone else here at MLP was." Remarkably, the EW had the same response. In the end, we all came out unscathed and pleasantly surprised with what we heard.
It's possible you're thinking, "People still play ska-punk music?" Yes, it's true. Sketchy Ted's sound recalls bands like Mustard Plug, Skankin Pickle and The Hippos — talk about a flashback — with a hint of Cars pop sensibilities. Now, my children, go forth and get your skank on. Plaid pants optional. Sketchy Ted plays with the Ingredients at 9 pm Monday, June 4, at the Indigo District. $3. — Amanda Burhop
Put on a Happy Face
When Jim Fairchild, ex-Grandaddy guitarist, started skateboarding with Menomena drummer Danny Seim during Fairchild's six-month stay in Portland last summer, he wasn't sure how to ask if Seim would drum for All Smiles, Fairchild's new project. Of course, Seim agreed. No surprise, then, that All Smiles is now touring with Menomena, who released their second full-length album, Friend and Foe, in January. Intricate sound layers, heavy, artful drumming and tremulous, Wayne Cohen-like vocals add a surreal quality to Menomena's genre-bending. For lack of better terms, music reviewers often shove Menomena under the oversized indie pop umbrella, perhaps with a "post" disclaimer in front of the "pop" so no one on Pitchfork gets offended.
Over the duration of Friend and Foe, Menomena breaks in listeners by working up to the riskier, more cacophonous stuff. A good tactic, especially for those suspicious of experimental pop, but the complex sound layers that make Friend and Foe so exceptional might also make it a tough act to follow — or open for. But like Menomena's debut album I Am The Fun Blame Monster, the mood of each track on Friend and Foe varies enough to keep listeners engaged. Enthusiastic drumming and heavy saxophone add a deep urgency to "Weird," but the album's tide recedes with "Rotten," a sad tune steered by staccato piano and subdued, simpler rhythm.
Menomena often favors forceful, staccato drumming, but Seims toned it down for All Smiles, since Fairchild strove to write simpler music, without all of Grandaddy's frills and accoutrements.
"Grandaddy was a very wide scope, really Technicolor band," Fairchild says. "I didn't want All Smiles to be that way quite yet. I wanted it to be more about simple songwriting."
All Smiles' album, called Ten Readings of a Warning, achieves this end. It's like standing outside when it's sprinkling rain; it takes a few minutes before you realize your hair is dripping. Ten comes on the same way — slowly and powerfully. And while Menomena's musical swells and dips command all of the listener's attention, Ten's contemplative, hopeful melodies retain the same cozy intimacy of the atmosphere in which it was recorded. Along with Janet Weiss (formerly of Sleater-Kinney) and Joe Plummer (of Modest Mouse), Fairchild recorded most of the album at his house on the same model eight-track Elliott Smith used to record Either/Or.
"It was only friends hanging out and making music together," Fairchild says. And Fairchild fans can expect more all-star collaborating — currently, he's working on another side project with Janet Weiss that he wants to call Small Isles. Watch for that, but in the meantime, see Menomena and All Smiles at 9 pm Wednesday, June 6 at the WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 door. — Sara Brickner