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Music news & notes from down in the Willamette valley

When hard-pressed to describe Pigeon John’s sound, I choose “soul-rap” — living somewhere between early Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder (hard to listen to and not smile) and uplifting indie West Coast hip hop. 

We welcome you all, to a world where no paper currency exists, no dreams of the afterlife are sought after and everyone is together, striving to form a unified consciousness. That’s not a snippet of The Communist Manifesto, but the opening line to the comic book Bustin’ Jieber vs. The Gravy Robbers.

Music news & notes from down in the Willamette valley

When Josh Harvey and Bettreena Jaeger met in 2008 in northwest Montana, they drank PBR and watched Pulp Fiction until Harvey grew terribly sick from the flu and fell asleep in Jaeger’s bed for a three-day recovery. 

A cappella singing — that is, voices without instruments — is probably the oldest form of music, but today’s a cappella music scene feels fresh, thanks in part to the latest revival that started on college campuses in the 1990s. Although the tradition never really went away (as demonstrated by classical groups like Anonymous 4 and Chanticleer and neo-doo-woppers like The Persuasions, The Bobs and Take 6), these days find a cappella on TV, in the movies (Pitch Perfect) and on more than 1,000 college campuses. 

When we last checked in with The Crescendo Show, the Corvallis quartet was gearing up to record Jackal’s Kiss — the band’s first studio album. Ricky Carlson (banjo, guitar, drums, backup vocals) says working with professionals, over nine studio sessions at Portland’s Jackpot! Recording Studio, pushed the band to the next level.

Talkative emerges from the same squishy indie-rock primordial ooze as Animal Collective. The Portland-via-Eugene art freaks are test-driving material from their new LP Hot Fruit Barbecue May 23 at Tiny Tavern in the Whit. 

Music news & notes from down in the Willamette valley

I had my first beer at a Baths show in high school circa 2007. I was at my friend’s birthday party, and it was also the night Will Wiesenfeld made his debut as that now-famous moniker.

Juan Wauters makes serious work of playful things. From his 2014 release N.A.P. North American Poetry, “Let Me Hip You To Something” features goofy anachronistic slang, and “Woke Up Feeling Sleepy” includes a kitschy Spanish spoken-word middle bit. Elsewhere, “Breathing (Feat. Carmelle)” lifts the tune of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to be With You,” adding a New York, anti-folk twist. 

When the Thermals began in 2002, lead singer Hutch Harris never imagined that the band would tour more than a dozen countries in the subsequent decade.

Once upon a time, orchestra halls were raucous places, bursting with chatty patrons who were eager to applaud — dare I say it — during a movement. Composers, such as Mozart and Brahms, saw an engaged, reactive audience as a sign of respect. Not until the 20th century did “concert etiquette” develop and audiences became staid, passive observers waiting to clap on cue. 

There is an exquisite pain that attends the process of becoming — like a balancing act, emotions teeter in delicate equilibrium, strung out on the wire of what was, what is and what might be. Emergence into one’s self is beautiful, but forever fraught with collapse and nullity. Such is the raw, tense vibrancy that buzzes through the music of Hers, a new Portland band that raises a trembling fist against the lonely wages of independence.

Stage names aren’t new — particularly in hip hop; James Todd Smith is LL Cool J, and Sean Combs is (once again) Puff Daddy. But lately it seems the well of rapper nom de plumes is creatively dry;  I’m looking at you Yung Turd and Mr. Muthaduckin’ eXquire. This brings us to Childish Gambino — a great name by any measure, mixing innocence and menace, like good hip hop should.

How can you tell if there’s a banjo player at your door? They can’t find the key, the knocking speeds up and they don’t know when to come in (ba-dum ching!).

With so many American schools cutting back their arts programs, nonprofit organizations play an increasingly larger role in showing young people the beauty of making music.

Music news & notes from down in the Willamette valley

Human Ottoman is confident that their debut album Power Baby is going to melt your face off. This chutzpah stems from the fact that, to their knowledge, they’re the only band in the world that uses this particular instrumentation, with Matthew Cartmill on cello, Susan Lucia on drums and Grayson Fiske on vibraphone (like a xylophone with a sustain pedal).

Get ready for a whole lotta Seattle. On Friday, May 2, Sam Bond’s welcomes a showcase of three up-and-coming indie rock bands from that other Emerald City. Who’s on first? Friends and Family. Celebrating the release of their debut record Happy, Good-Looking, and in Love, Friends and Family blend the lush, idiosyncratic arrangements of Arcade Fire with Of Montreal’s glitter-pop; the sound is artful, intellectual and over the top in all the right ways. 

Oregon’s favorite folk sisters recently returned from “band camp.” Thankfully, stories that could veer into American Pie’s “This one time, when I was at band camp…” territory don’t end with sticky flutes but with the Shook Twins recording their fourth album What We Do with producer Ryan Hadlock. Hadlock is the same dude behind The Lumineer’s self-titled, Grammy-nominated record (remember the summer of 2012’s “Ho Hey” frenzy?). The Shook Twins host an album release party Friday, May 2, at McDonald Theatre.

American “classical” music often finds a more welcome reception in choral concerts than in orchestra halls. Maybe it has something to do with the enormous popularity of choral music; nearly 30 million Americans — a tenth of the population — sing at least occasionally in a choir of some kind, whether it’s in school or church, amateur or professional. Maybe that’s why American folk and choral music sometimes seem like kissing cousins.

Bombadil’s quirky 2013 release Metrics of Affection defies expectations from the start — sounding more like British Invasion pop from the ’60s than contemporary indie rock from North Carolina. Album tracks “Angeline” and “Learning to Let Go” recall the Ray and Dave Davies songwriting partnership of The Kinks.

Lynx reminds me of a general — marshaling her beats, strings, digital bleeps and waves like orchestrated forces to create a united front. Or perhaps a captain is more apt. Her latest album, Light Up Your Lantern, sways like a ship in unknown waters on tracks like “Southern Skies,” leaving the listener a little woozy but eager for what lays ahead.