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Eugene Weekly : Music : 11.25.09




Identity Mutable

“Momma’s Boy,” the song that opens Elizabeth and the Catapult’s Taller Children, handclaps its way into a chorus that sounds unexpectedly (and pleasingly) like a lost Aimee Mann track from the Magnolia soundtrack. But this Brooklyn trio has more than one trick up its sleeve. On Taller Children — recorded, in large part, by the multitalented Mike Mogis (who’s lent his producing/engineering/playing skills to many a Saddle Creek release) — they zip through variations on a jazzy sort of pop-rock, veering from Mann’s direction to the fuzzy Portishead-lite lounge buzz of a band like Zero 7 to the horn-decorated title track, which dissolves into an instrumental frenzy. The album is a bit of a sampler platter, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ziman’s voice is versatile, shifting easily from the perky, you’ll-hear-it-in-a-twee-commercial-someday “Race You” to the wry “The Hang Up,” in which Ziman bemoans how she’d rather be doing, thinking, saying anything than what she’s presently occupied with. There’s a slightly alt-country tinted track and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” that leaves Ziman alone with percussion to sing the first verses before bursting into the rich strings that open the track. And there’s a closing ballad on which Ziman sings, regretfully, “I have just begun to work my magic,” as if the album wasn’t ready to end. Elizabeth and the Catapult’s identity is somewhere between all the changes in style and tone, not unformed but slippery, for now, not quite ready to be pinned down but full of potential. Justin Nozuka, Sam Bradley and Elizabeth and the Catapult play at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Dec. 1, at John Henry’s. 21+. $15 adv., $17 door. — Molly Templeton



Break National

Starting as a careful neo-tango outfit fueled by accordion, cello and the wondrous compositions of Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Mood Area 52 has gradually embraced a wider array of influences, including original songs and Balkan and cabaret sounds, with Billy Barnett’s guitar and Michael Roderick’s delightfully raspy vocals assuming greater prominence. Their splendid new disk, 1952 Philanski House, veers a bit from the indie rock and electronica vibe of their last releases toward quirky neo cabaret, although there’s also traces of country (“Holding Hands with Steve”), Tchaikovsky (“Andantine Canzona”), chanson and more, including those ever present tangos. Roderick has become a sharp songwriter with a talent for memorable tunes and impassioned singing. With groups like Vagabond Opera gaining national attention, this might be the moment that one of Oregon’s most fascinating bands finally achieves the national play it’s long deserved. Mood Area 52 releases 1952 Philanski House and performs along with Birdie Jo and Petunia at 9 pm Saturday, Nov. 28, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5. — Brett Campbell



Get Detonated

When Bruce Hartnell imagines his end days, he wants to go with his boots on — on stage. “If I’m gonna have a heart attack it’s gonna be from playing guitar,” says Hartnell, founder of legendary ’80s punk band The Detonators. The group formed in L.A. in 1979, relocated to Eugene in 1987 and have persevered through personnel changes and a six-year hiatus. They played a reunion gig in 2003 to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their first LP, Emergency Broadcast Systems. Today, Hartnell is playing for nothing more than the joy of playing. “I’m having a blast playing the music again,” he says. “It’s like an epiphany.”

The Detonators were invited to play with the UK Subs here in August but weren’t quite ready. Hartnell went to the show, however. “It brought back a lot of memories about playing that kind of music, and seeing Charlie Harper performing at 65 was pretty cool. Then this gig came up and I jumped on it.” Hartnell is joined by drummer Sean Shock and bassist Kirk Black. 

Hartnell also plays spaghetti Western music with Los Mex Pistols Del Norte, but it’s The Detonators that really fires him up. “With The Detonators I’m playing the music that got me excited about playing in the first place,” he says. Based on politics as many early punk bands were, The Detonators are still relevant. “People got into punk for a lot of different reasons,” he says, “but primarily it wasn’t about partying, it was about politics. And today’s politics haven’t really changed.” The Business and The Detonators play at 7 pm Thursday, Dec. 3, at The District. 21+ $10 adv., $12 door. — Vanessa Salvia



Math Pop

Since Minus the Bear’s 2002 debut, Highly Refined Pirates, the band’s been tinkering with its layered pop sound in an attempt to make new records that are as poignant as their first without sounding too much like it. It’s a tall order: At its core, this is pop music, but there’s an element of ambient experimentalism here, with the advanced musicianship you’d expect from a band of people who’ve been in seminal bands like Botch. Add to that endearing, quirky song titles that signify nothing about the content of the actual song — “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” is a good one — and you’ve got one of the most deceptively adorable bands to come out of Seattle since Death Cab for Cutie. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional swells that make Minus the Bear’s music so engaging and fail to notice how technically proficient these dudes actually are: Masterful use of syncopation and uncommon time signatures make for much more intriguing compositions than your average three-chord anthem. Because of it, the term “math rock” often makes an appearance in reference to the band, though “math pop” might be more appropriate these days. Minus the Bear’s newest single, “Into the Mirror,” hearkens back to the band’s early, poppier stuff, though the requisite effortlessly precise guitar noodling hasn’t gone anyplace. Visqueen’s Rachel Flotard makes an appearance here, too, singing in a soprano trill quite unlike the vocal style she employs in her own band. It’s doubtful that the band could venture any further into pop territory, but “Into the Mirror” makes you wonder. It stands to reason, then, that catching this show is the best way to sample more new material. Minus the Bear and Rooney play at 8 pm Monday, Nov. 30, at the WOW Hall. $16 adv., $18 door. — Sara Brickner



Like Snowflakes

It’s no easy thing to hit the mark with a brand-new holiday album, much less a freshly minted Christmas song. Who’s got snowballs big enough to live up to the ingrained sentimentality of all those chestnuts roasting on an open fire? A yuletide song rises to classic status not only through endless repetition but when it balances perfectly between schmaltz and actual songwriting acuity — the mnemonics of melody being key. So it is with tidings of great joy that I bring you this gift: Ten Out of Tenn Christmas, a compilation of talented young singer-songwriters who have formed a Nashville-based collective, the idea being that sum and parts are equally worth a listen.

The compilation — which includes originals as well as standards like “O Holy Night” and “Little Drummer Boy” — opens with the choral blast of Butterfly Boucher’s “Cinnamon & Chocolate,” as pretty a holiday tune as you’ll find anywhere. Boucher, with her spot-on arrangement and sensuous vocals, sets the candycane pretty high, but what follows, from Jeremy Lister’s “Santa’s Lost His Mojo” to Tyler James’ “Sentimental Christmas,” lives up to the challenge. Ten Out of Tenn fits snugly into that December rotation, right between Vince Guaraldi and The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album.

These 10 Tennesseans tour non-stop, parking their bus at venues around the country for showcase gigs that typically feature two songs apiece; they’ll be at John Henry’s at 6:30 pm Thursday, Dec. 3. 21+. $10 adv., $12 door. — Rick Levin