Drew Grow’s Bite-Sized Big Sound
Each time I think I’ve gotten a grip on Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives, certainty slips right through my fingers. He’s been compared to a revivalist preacher; his songs have been called “skuzzy blues.” Neither really gets at the intensity of the Portland-based Grow, who’s been making music for 15 years. Lately, he and his bandmates have been releasing “bite-sized” recordings, two songs at a time. Last August, Amigo/Amiga Records released the first of the series, “Bootstraps” / “Friendly Fire.” The stomping, insistent “Bootstraps,” with its unsatisfied chorus, pairs neatly with “Fire,” an introspective ballad that highlights Grow’s weary voice and calls up a faint gospel tinge in the harmonies. “Company,” from December’s release, veers thickly into bluesy territory as Grow insists he doesn’t wanna be your dog; he just wants to be your company. On March’s release, “Do You Feel It,” with its electronic texture underlaying Grow’s wobbling, unselfconscious voice, is paired with the lo-fi, scruffy “Bon Voyage Hymn.” Grow’s songwriting sprawls across genres, digging its fingers in and coming back with a handful of this, a scrap of that.
This month’s single includes the worn, gritty “Shake a Leg” and “Up in Smoke,” a dark, atmospheric wash of a song. These two songs combine as a perfect example of what Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives do best: scale. The sound is big. They sound like a band playing in a cavernous warehouse; they sound like a small band playing in a smaller club, making more noise than four people have any right to. Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives, Kelli Schaefer and Purple Sparrows play at 9:30 pm Saturday, May 29, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $5. — Molly Templeton
Isis is Dead, Long Live Isis
Sad days for the metal community — first, the death of Ronnie James Dio on March 16, followed by Isis’s March 18 announcement of their impending break-up, just days before they were set to embark on a North American tour. Metal bloggers didn’t know which way to snap their heads: to the Black Sabbath singer and his fantastical lyrics involving an everlasting battle of good versus evil, or to the band whose abstract technique and structure changed the way many people approached writing and listening to “heavy” music. Both artists profoundly influenced metal in ways that are still revealing themselves.
In an announcement on their blog, Isis said essentially that they had done everything they wanted to, achieved all they felt they could and were bringing it to a close to preserve what they loved about the band and the music. The last show of this now farewell tour is set for June 23 in Montreal, which remarkably — though unintentionally, according to the band — was the site of the very first Isis show in 1997.
Fans are left with the legacy of a 13-year career — five albums and a slew of bands who have tried to replicate the Isis sound. The band evolved with each release, to the dismay of those only-like-the-early-period fans (their last album, Wavering Radiant, was released in May of 2009). Now, each band member is free to evolve independently, which they will no doubt do, after they keep their promise to complete an in-progress EP and to compile audio and visual material for future releases. So lift your glasses, metal warriors, to Dio and Isis. Rainbows in the dark, both of them. Isis, Tombs and Jakob play at 9 pm Saturday, May 29, at WOW Hall. $13 adv., $15 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Cleveland-bred MC Kid Cudi‘s debut studio album, Man on the Moon, tells the story of a youth on a mission. His rhymes are personal, which means there’s no fear of alienating listeners with politics, but the hints of insecurity make Cudi seem more approachable, as does the simplicity of the lyrics. No complex wordplay here. Where Kid Cudi pushes the envelope is in the instrumentals, recruiting venerated artists like Ratatat and MGMT to produce a couple of his beats (not to mention a cameo from Common, whose narration splits the album into five acts). In a very human, relatable move, Cudi threatened to quit making music when he had trouble coping with the sudden onslaught of celebrity that skyrocketed him from nine-to-fiver to full-time artist. Even while he’s aiming for astronomical success, Kid Cudi is a person who obviously keeps in touch with the reality of we fallible Earthlings. Of course, now he’s on an HBO series called How to Make it in America, signaling that he’s learned to deal with the limelight. And that’s good, because the success of Man on the Moon means there’s gonna be more where that came from. Kid Cudi, Blue Scholars, Cool Nutz and On the Rocks play at 6 pm Saturday, May 29, at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre. $35 adv., $40 door. — Sara Brickner
WHY? Go Pop
Anticon records is known for stretching the bounds of hip hop to its very limits, so much so that the music evolves to become something unrecognizable. WHY? is one such example. The band’s fourth record, Eskimo Snow, bears little resemblance to the hip hop hybridization of the tracks on Elephant Eyelash, WHY?’s sophomore record and the first to really earn the band significant attention from folks other than diehard Anticon devotees. The only constant that’s remained over the course of WHY?’s slow journey toward pop is Yoni Wolf’s nasal, conversational voice. But where Wolf once spit rhymes, he now sings. Where once there were beats, there is melody. The weird, somewhat esoteric stuff that turned on some listeners and alienated others has been more or less completely replaced by pop song structures and the utilization of instruments like pedal steel (you can hear it on “Even the Good Wood Gone”) that couldn’t be less hip hop. But we live in a post-genre world. And therein lies the bulk of WHY?’s appeal — it’s the kind of music that’s never quite fit in anywhere, and in an era when most everything is derived from something else, that’s a good thing. WHY, the Donkeys and Josiah Wolf perform at 8 pm Sunday, May 30, at WOW Hall. $13 adv., $15 door. — Sara Brickner
Swooning Over Ramona Falls
“Ramona Falls is the new music project by Brent Knopf of Menomena.” That’s what you get for a bio on Ramona Falls’ Facebook page. Poke around the band’s site or the Barsuk Records site and you’ll get a little more: The name is borrowed from a hiking trail on Mount Hood. Lots of Portland musicians appear on Intuit, the first Ramona Falls record. Knopf likes chocolate.
This is not a lot to go on. But all you need is the record. Intuit is — engrossingly — all over the place, from the quiet piano and percussion that start “Melectric” to the ominous build of “I Say Fever,” which piles and swells like a stormcloud that boils over as soon as Knopf intones the title. “Russia” builds on the tension in a moment of quiet before the words “Too little, too late,” then swings into a violin melody that leads the song’s last third down a twisty path. The string and whistle-dotted “Clover” asks, “If I’m dreaming you / and you’re dreaming me / then why don’t we choose a different story?” The optimistic/impossible juxtaposition in that line does more than any bio to sum up Intuit, which simmers and sparks with dramatic, unexpected arrangements, constrained only by Knopf’s love for catchy hooks on which he can drape his distinctly boyish (but never childish) voice, his multi-intrumental skills and the talents of many, many friends. “I try to be adventurous in solving problems in arrangements. But I also try to be adventurous in a way that doesn’t distance me from the listener,” Knopf told Seattle Weekly last summer. Intuit is proof of his success. Ramona Falls and Circa Vitae play at 9 pm Friday, May 28, at Sam Bond’s Garage. 21+. $8. — Molly Templeton
Bluegrass With Balls
When the Portland-based Water Tower Bucket Boys’ latest batch of original, bluegrass-infused songs were tight and ready for production, they entrusted their acoustic gems to punk legend Mike Herrera (Tumbledown, MXPX) and his Monkey Trench Studios. What could possibly come from this anomalous union of talents? Bluegrass with balls.
The Bucket Boys — multi-instrumentalists Cory Goldman, Josh Rabie, Kenny Feinstein and Walter Spencer — share a love and appreciation of old-time and bluegrass music. The integrity and hard-driven attitude of their music comes steeped in their passion for this deeply rooted song form.
Their latest full-length album, Sole Kitchen — stocked entirely with their finest original songs yet — carries an unrefined bluegrass edge, honed sharp but without that overly polished finish found in so much of today’s neutered bluegrass. The album starts with a trip down a “Crooked Road” — somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains — that is so immersed in all that is bluegrass, you’d swear these guys were actually weaned on some Appalachian porch. Sole Kitchen’s menu offers up everything from a shuffling feast of broken heartedness in “Sunday Night Roast” to a waltzing, whiskey-soaked “Goatheads.” The final of the 13 tracks takes us on another road this one leads to “Heaven” and what it may have in store with a beer and a song.
Eugene’s Mossy Top shares this double CD release show, celebrating their first EP, Pick-nic. Water Tower Bucket Boys and Mossy Top play at 8 pm Thursday, June 3, at Cozmic Pizza. $5. — Blake Phillips