Sampling, Sax and ‘Green Tom Drum’
Boy Eats Drum Machine weird name? Kind of. But it might be the best possible description for the fascinating one-man musical act of Jon Ragel. Songwriter, saxophonist, singer and green-tom-drum-master could all be added to his job description.
The Portland artist released his first, self-titled album in 2001, and his second, Pleasure, wasn’t released until 2005. Since then, however, he’s churned out Two Ghosts in 2007 and Boomboxxx in 2008.
The newest album Hoop + Wire, which comes out March 2, is perhaps more poppy than its predecessors, but also contains ska-like elements. In the upbeat “Syncopated,” fast-past accents from the saxophone keep it light but not overly cheery. He adds to the punchy accents with what press releases call “green tom drum” — we drummers sometimes like to call it a floor tom. By contrast, “ABQ” lets the turntables loose and slows the tempo down for a more industrial, underground feel — and Ragel isn’t singing.
In his blog, Ragel says he created songs in a different order this time, first laying down bass and then adding samples. This avoids the problem of finding an otherwise great sample that doesn’t fit the syncopation when the rest of the song is already recorded. He even boldly claims that “it’s all been done” with guitar. But “turntablism,” as he calls it, is still a relatively new instrument, that is, when it is even considered an instrument at all. Boy Eats Drum Machine, On The Tundra, Finn Riggins and Adventure Gallery play at 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Muse Lounge. 21+. Free. — Darcy Wallace
Get Your Fix at the Pharmacy
While it’s really a shame that up-and-coming trio The Pharmacy left the Pacific Northwest for New Orleans, the change of scenery seems to have influenced the band’s sound for the better. The Pharmacy’s latest record, Weekend, comes out March 9 on Park the Van (home to esteemed artists like Dr. Dog and Spinto Band), and it’s a definite maturation of the band’s basement punk origins. Written and recorded with a four-track in New Orleans, the band’s songs come off like vintage ‘60s garage rock evened out by tinkling pianos and a bluesy sensibility. Even though it’s less produced than its predecessor, Choose Yr Own Adventure, Weekend actually feels more cohesive than anything the Pharmacy’s put out so far. That, coupled with the band’s ambitious touring schedule — the Pharmacy is nothing if not a hardworking band — suggests a bright future for the Pharmacy. After hitting Portland and Eugene, the band will embark on an international tour that includes SXSW, so get your fix now: It’ll be a good, long while before the Pharmacy rolls back through town again, and when they do, there’s a good chance the band will be headlining at WOW Hall instead of the Wandering Goat. The Pharmacy and the Spleens play at 8 pm Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Wandering Goat. — Sara Brickner
Dancing While Brooding
Local synth masters Science Heroes are coming out with their first album titled Transmission Zero Hour. Based in electro-rock, the beats for this new collection of songs prove mostly danceable with the exception of some forays into balladry that are probably better for armchair listening. As is often the case with electronic music, the duo are able to let their instruments do much of the work, creating thickly orchestrated and haunting melodies akin to a sci-fi movie soundtrack.
The most obvious comparisons for this band might be to fellow electro-rockers The Faint or Death From Above 1979. But where The Faint have often stuck with creating strictly anthemic dance tunes since Blank-Wave Arcade, Science Heroes are willing to diverge into Man or Astro-Man? territory by throwing in some surf rock guitar (“Pistols at Ten Paces”) or creating glitchy video game music (“A Violent Postscript to Yesterday’s Shocking Events”).
Andy Weber’s voice is another parting in the road from Science Heroes’ predecessors. It often takes on a Glenn Danzig theatricality and tone that contrasts to the nasal vocals of The Faint’s Todd Fink. And like many of The Misfits/Samhain/Danzig’s lyrical inspirations, the mood for most of their songs is dark and brooding. But, you know, for people who like to dance while they brood.
Science Heroes, Archeology and The Slants play at 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Muse Lounge. 21+. No cover. — Shaun O’Dell
Gimme an “A” … and Maybe Some T, While You’re At It
The Asylum Street Spankers may bill themselves as God’s Favorite Band — the title the band chose for its latest record of gospel and gospel-influenced songs — but some of the band’s racier numbers could make even Beelzebub blush. Coupling crass songwriting with an old-timey folk sound makes for a fun juxtaposition — so fun the band devoted a couple of EPs to songs so pornographic, they’re practically X-rated. Then again, what do you expect from a band whose initials spell “ass”? Thing is, while plenty of revivalist folk artists have spent their careers refuting country music’s stodgy reputation, the ASS have been at it longer than most; specifically, since 1994, when founders Wammo and Christina Marrs got their start busking on the streets of Austin, Texas, and playing for tips in bars. Since then, the band’s cycled through enough members to fill out the current seven-person lineup four times over, but the constant roster changes haven’t done much to impact the band’s trademark sound. Though the Spankers’ sense of humor sometimes overshadows the songs themselves — the band’s lyrics are more funny than sophisticated — few like-minded bands can rival the ASS’ raucous performances. The Asylum Street Spankers and the Conjugal Visitors perform at 8 pm Friday, Feb. 26, at WOW Hall. $18 adv., $20 door, $25 seated. — Sara Brickner
Not a Lion, Not a Lamb
If writers ever focused too heavily on religion while discussing David Bazan’s former projects, it’s nonetheless what’s front and center with his first solo full-length (following 2008’s Fewer Moving Parts EP). Curse Your Branches, which came out last year, is 10 rich, restrained — and occasionally jubilant — tracks laden with questions, autobiographical narratives, doubts and details, most of which reflect Bazan’s relationship with his family, his faith and his drinking.
Pedro the Lion, which Bazan led for a decade, often got called some variation of “that Christian indie band.” Curse Your Branches, however, is getting called Bazan’s breakup record with God. Branches is full of struggles and arguments but not fire and fury; it’s a philosophical wander through the wilderness that begins with Bazan asking, “Wait just a minute / You expect me to believe / that all this misbehaving / grew from one enchanted tree?”
Those lines come in “Hard to Be,” a slow-building song that showcases what The New York Times called Bazan’s “perpetually doleful” voice. Though the title track is a beauty, Branches’ heaviest hitter is its closer. “In Stitches” is a gorgeous, mournful, slightly nervous track; a persistent twitch of percussion, at odds with the languid vocals, runs through most of song, which pulls all the record’s themes into one skeptical narrative that gets close to anger and backs away again. Branches is a compelling self-portrait — one strengthened by its conflicts and uncertainties — by a musician who’s said he doesn’t really like autobiographical songs. David Bazan and Headlights play at 9 pm Thursday, March 4, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $10. — Molly Templeton