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Music

Imagine the burgeoning ’90s-era Pacific Northwest indie rock scene as a classroom. Then imagine former Cottage Grove resident Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse as the hyperactive, erratic yet undeniably brilliant kid at the back of that classroom — the kid who, despite expectations, goes ahead and produces an indie rock masterpiece. 

Bohemian musician Worth creates a mash-up of sounds akin to a spin-art kid’s toy: a beautiful mess. Within the course of one album, you’re taken on a ride from the bayou to the strip club, from a lover’s arms to church — all with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

Folk activist-musician Holly Near is a seasoned singer-songwriter whose recipe is impossible to pin down. Her honeylike yet raspy vocals cry out against oppression, while her tender demeanor draws in crowds who crave a church geared towards a soul, not a deity. After 45 years of performing her highly politicized songs, Near has found herself — on stages, in her audience, and in her own personal struggles with and against waves of oppression.

As the standard thunk-ditty of old-time slouches toward relative obscurity in this year of our Lord 2017, solace is sought via groove over hymnal, salty ocean over fiery lake, windswept desert over Paradise garden.

In 18th-century poet William Blake’s invented mythology, the character Urizen embodies conventional reason and law, often depicted as a bearded old man carrying nets or architects’ tools. Blake was fascinated by the tension between enlightenment and humanity’s baser instincts — free love, for example — and through Urizen, the poet seems to present societal dictums as a trap or snare preventing humans from reaching their truest plane of existence.

California songwriter Chuck Prophet’s latest release, Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, recalls an era when Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello back-flipped over metal’s devil horns and prog rock’s wizard hats, reviving a kind of pop songwriting traditionalism that at the time felt radical in its simplicity — a look back in order to move forward. 

The quality of a story’s substance isn’t necessarily the meat or the grit — sometimes it’s how a person chooses to tell it. Danny Yarborough of pop rock group Danny Fingers and the Thumbs chooses music as his creative medium and, boy howdy, does he have a story to tell.

“I sang before I talked,” laughs Kate Sawicki, lead singer of the richly eclectic band The Cabin Project. Sawicki and her solemn band mates string together a haunting sound that serves as a sweet catharsis — just in time to dust away those wintery blues.

Bluntly put, halie and the moon is a band comprising five crackerjack musicians whose creativity, chops and sophistication would be breathtaking to encounter in any setting, much less little old Eugene. Tapping a tradition of intricately orchestrated and yet infectiously catchy pop music — think Beach Boys, R.E.M., The Jayhawks — the band composes music that is at once earthy and disarmingly cosmic. 

Eugene Opera may have canceled this month’s production, but you can see a brand-new, made-in-Oregon opera for free next weekend at the University of Oregon’s biennial Music Today Festival. Since 1993, this festival has showcased new music by UO composers and leading contemporary composers, often performed by some of the country’s top classical musicians. 

Singer-guitarist Kait Eldridge is the epitome of a dedicated bandleader. She’s prevailed through various line-up changes and relocations across the country, all while remaining the sole songwriter of the band Big Eyes.

For some musicians, performing is just stepping onto a stage, singing into a mic, playing a guitar, hitting a few drums — or whatever else — and walking off. That’s not the case for singer Siri Vik.

Colorado musician Gregory Alan Isakov is used to fronting rock bands — or singing alone with just his guitar. So he has to reach to describe the experience of performing his music backed by an entire symphony orchestra.

Portland roots-harmony sister trio Joseph take their name from the northeastern Oregon town of Joseph. Band member Allison Closner says she and her sisters spent their summers as children in Joseph visiting their grandfather. “Initially it was the town that inspired us,” Closner explains. “We’d go out there every summer — swimming in the lake and camping and going up in the mountains. It felt like a piece of us.”

This month offers opportunities to explore music’s ancient past and promising future — and how the two interact. Folk music especially relies on older musical forms to seed or even evolve into new compositions. The veteran Swedish power-folk trio Väsen, performing this Thursday, April 20, at The Shedd, deploys traditional instruments in music that blends old and new folk traditions into a rich, danceable modern mix that fans of Celtic and bluegrass music will also enjoy.

Popular and internationally known Eugene post-rock sextet This Patch of Sky will premiere new music April 21 at Hi-Fi Music Hall. TPOS lead-guitarist and bandleader Kit Day tells EW: “We’ll be playing three or four songs from our new album,” featuring horns and guest vocalists.

Pop music has long been about teen angst, social anxiety and sexual confusion. And Brooklyn two-piece Diet Cig — touring behind their hotly anticipated (and, after getting panned by influential music site Pitchfork, pretty divisive) debut album, Swear I’m Good At This — effectively takes you right back to a place of paralyzing puberty and all its related self-consciousness. 

One thing is for certain of Bilal: the neo-soul artist is surely on a journey of self-made greatness. 

Bilal says his story began in Philadelphia, where his funk-loving father constantly took him to various jazz clubs around the city. These outings were where Bilal’s lifelong love of music blossomed.

I ask Kevin Barnes from of Montreal whether early Bowie stuff or bands like T Rex were on his mind when writing and recording Innocence Reaches, the latest full-length from his long-running indie-rock act out of Athens, Georgia.

If there were ever rap raw enough to contend with a dish of five-star tartare, Ab-Soul would easily be the dollop of prime caviar served atop. Between his haunting beats and brutally blunt lyrics, this hip-hop artist is making waves colossal enough to tear through his competition in the scene.

Although America seems like a scary place at the moment, we can draw strength and solace from the music of American composers of our own time.

Julien Ehrlich says that when he started writing as a duo with guitarist Max Kakacek, the musicians “wanted the songs to sound like they were coming from one person.”

It’s all over now except for the hiring. Eugene Symphony’s yearlong music director search has all but ended, once more attracting national attention as the orchestra seeks to replace Danail Rachev when he leaves at the end of this season.

Artists live at the crossroads of the active and the passive, between merely creating and sharing or creating and engaging with the broader community.

Asian-American pop-punk band The Slants perfectly represent the latter by intertwining their classic punk sound with a fight for social justice.