Today’s musical generation has transcended guitar. There are probably a thousand objectors who could claim this statement is erroneous, but long gone are the days when guitar gods were held at the highest tier of mainstream music.
It’s refreshing to see a strong woman on stage with a mandolin in her hands. That particular role, typically dominated by male-bodied folk in string bands, is pivotal. The mandolin, usually seen played by women only in its classical guise, defines a great deal of string-band topography — those shrill plucks that carry listeners over musical plateaus to mountain-top exclamations.
Pretend for a moment that you’re a member of an iconic music crew. You’ve released your seminal work years ago, and prevailing trends have seen the mainstream of your genre devolve from highly educated emcee orators into codeine-guzzling degenerates (here’s lookin’ at you, Wayne). You don’t want to raise a white flag to the wackness, but you’re not about to give up on your life’s work either. What do you do?
With the contemporary convergence of hip hop and electronica, and the seemingly half-assed “’80s revival” of the last few years, it’s almost fantastical to imagine that groups like The Coup once had the chops to make it in the mainstream.
Like that one ramshackle, half-collapsed barn you pass on the highway year after year, the music created by veteran Minneapolis band The Jayhawks is timeless — in a fragile, verdigised, sepia-toned, windblown, authentically American melancholia sort of way. Their sweetly bittersweet sound, all honeyed harmonies and landlocked blues and melodic rustic reverie, is like a soundtrack caught gorgeously between a hymn to our better selves and an elegy to how we’ve fallen short.
With R.E.M. having disbanded last year, it would appear that Wilco now stands pretty well unchallenged as the greatest American rock band. Since rising from the ashes of seminal post-punk country/folk/rock pioneers Uncle Tupelo in 1994, this Chicago-based band has released a series of albums that continues, with each successive drop, to challenge, confound, frustrate, mystify and amuse its fans.
There are a lot of reasons I shouldn’t like Breathe Owl Breathe. They sound a bit like Jack Johnson meets Feist in a hookah lounge. They have all the hallmarks of easy-goin’ adult contemporary indie-folk. But there are things going on beneath the surface that set Breathe Owl Breathe apart from the “tailor-made-for-Starbucks” scene.
Like an international sweat fest of nostalgic pleasure, Dengue Fever is better suited as a warmer-upper than a cold. With a gruff, garage-rock spangle slathered in funk, this L.A.-based band welds ’60s Cambodian pop to a surfboard and floats it out to sea. Founded in 2001 after a trip to Cambodia, Ethan and Zac Holtzman met a Cambodian-native lounge singer named Chhom Nimol, a star in her home country, who could sing and write songs in Khmer.
Back in the 1970s, one of the major bands leading the welcomed revival of Celtic music was Planxty, a group that recreated the original energy in what could have been musty old tunes and forms and thereby revitalized Irish music.
If you listen to underground hip hop, you know what the three-eyed smiley face emblem stands for. You understand how intense it was when Hieroglyphics, the group this symbol represents, formed in the early ‘90s, what it felt like to put Third Eye Vision into your stereo and realize that not only had an authentic and mature form of underground hip hop arrived, but it was bountiful.
Take a quartet of guitar-savvy gingers steeped in pedagogies of the Northwest, see them south to the sun and listen to what they’ve made since returning for a rain-soaked second-rinse — it’s something akin to sonic honey on crunchy toast.
Doomtree is a wild-style hip-hop collective from the rhyme-tundra of Minneapolis. With five emcees (P.O.S., Sims, Dessa, Mike Micilian, Cecil Otter), two DJs (Lazerbeak, Papertiger) and solo projects running the gamut of hip-hop mixtapes, spoken word poetry, creative fiction, visual art, punk bands and individual releases from each member, when Doomtree takes root, listen.
The band moe. is to Phish what Jefferson Airplane was to the Dead. The New York-based jam band is an East Coast amalgam of roots and jam, more apt to throw into the mix an acoustic string or two than other improv-based rock bands like Umphrey’s McGee or the Disco Biscuits.
Robert Sherwood (mandolin, vocals, guitar), August Dennis (bass), Marisa Korth (vocals, guitar) and Carlo Canlas (violin, vocals) are the musicians who make up Backwater Opera — a group that stitches the sound of bluegrass music into a classical indie-rock tapestry. It’s an aesthetic the band calls “chambergrass.”
Back in 1994, UO freshman Douglas Jenkins bought a cheap cello. The instrument was way too small for him and, what’s more, he didn’t know how to play it. But thanks to the generosity of a superb teacher (Eugene Symphony cellist Sylvie Spengler) and his own DIY determination, Jenkins — who’d played guitar in high-school punk bands — not only learned to play but also taught himself how to arrange pop music for lots of cellos.
There’s a rough and rugged synergy going on in Portland. This synergy is between two musical factions that you’d never think would combine forces. It blends the grungiest corners of the urban jungle with the “just-don’t-give-a-fuck” contigent of the Northwest backwoods. It’s jug band, it’s folk punk, rockabilly, punk blues, cowpunk and psychobilly. Call it whatever suits your fancy, ‘cause by the time the corn whiskey hits your bloodstream it’ll all blend together seamlessly.
Watching a carboy of beer or a jar of kimchi gurgle with life or erupt from a blow-off tube is like peeking into an alternative universe. At the Fun with Fermentation Festival hosted by the Willamette Valley Sustainable Foods Alliance, you can learn all about that and more.
Bend, Oregon — known for ski bums, sprawling subdivisions, beautiful scenery and ... experimental prog-influenced post-rock? No, I wouldn’t have guessed that either, but Bend’s Empty Space Orchestra is beginning to make a big noise both east of the Cascades and up and down the Willamette Valley.
Portland Cello Project (PCP) is an interlocking mass of classical and indie rock music that will make you stop and ponder just what else cellos are capable of when in the hands of incredibly talented and stylistically brave musicians.
Dubstep has become synonymous with blunt-force bass and overproduced breakless anarchy. Vibesquad and Kraddy, however, retain the grimy bubbles and ethereal space in their music that originally defined the style without sacrificing the raw modern power that fans eat up.
When I hear the term “world music,” I reach for my revolver. That category ranks right up there with such fallacious and vaguely ethnocentric utterances as “reverse racism” and “primitive culture,” and the queasy phrase contains all the smug bourgeois self-abnegation of a middle-age white dude in a beret reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead over a non-fat vanilla latte at Café Sniff.
It used to be rare to hear Oregon musicians play Baroque music the way composers intended rather than in the anachronistic styles that dominated performances till the end of the 20th century. Now, it’s happily becoming commonplace — but no less a delight.