Hosannas at The Linen Building
Portland's Hosannas, formerly Church, have an intoxicating sound. Electric piano toned synths, cathedral verbed guitar and dual drums create a noise so spooky, so mournful, it's easy to get lost in the scope of it. They somehow manage a sound that's both expansive and stripped down at the same time, sucking a listener in on a primal level like modern psychedelia, though pleasantly more nightmarish than freeform jamming and more hooky than early Interpol. That their performance at The Linen Building was bathed in red stage lights was a nice atmospheric bonus. This is a sound primed for multimedia presentation or a light show.
Cutting through the dreamy verbs of the guitar was a percussive style of drumming, more hand- or taiko-based than typically seen on a trap set. It let the rhythms cut through cleanly, almost like melodic lines, rather than a beat.
The only real problem, was that like an intoxicant, production or tone-based music like Hosannas' begins to sound the same. And while that's a high mark, over the course of a whole set or album, it doesn't move much. The best comparison would be to The XX, who have a fantastic and somewhat comparably dreamy sound, but one that doesn't shift much from song to song, making a critical ear wonder what they'll do on a future album. Abandon the sound altogether and become arguably a different band, or keep on truckin' and let the singles stand shins and knees above the rest of the work?
Such a dramatic sound deserves a more dramatic presentation, and a more dynamic macro effort. But don't let that in any way take away from precisely how dramatic and intoxicating that sound is. Hosannas is definitely a band to watch.
Orgone at Reef
Orgone is the kind of band you don't actually think exists other than as a hired-gun backup for a pop studio artist: seven performers, all of them clearly pros, playing claustrophobically tight funk-pop with Latin accents. Think Lauren Hill doing a tribute to Kool and the Gang. It's a sound primed for a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.
But to be fair, they aren't doing much to push the sound. There's no doubt in my mind that they are 1976's most marketable band, especially with the guitar player's stratospheric solo style, but being so familiar with the style rather than challenged to accept something new, it had a feeling similar to that of seeing a cover band.
But if you shut off the old noodle and surrender control to the booty shake, they're the band to see. They'll be back in Idaho playing Ketchum on Tuesday, July 27.
Prizzy Prizzy Please at The Red Room
Joe Strummer of The Clash famously said that a rock and roll band is only as good as its drummer. If that's the case, then Chicago turbo-goobers Prizzy Prizzy Please are f@#$ing amazing.
And that's saying something as the band is a standout independent of the beat. Saxophone is layered on top of fuzzed-out synths playing the kinds of rapid-fire riffs generally relegated to guitar and paired with gleefully silly falsetto lyrics about science fiction and T-shirts. It's a sound that falls somewhere between Devo and Otis Redding. But throw in the deadly speed and accuracy of those drums, and and that mixture gets a shot of intensity that evokes the thrilling fury of hardcore.
Put Har Mar Superstar on speed and have him backed by The Blue Meanies and you might get a sound like Prizzy Prizzy Please. It's familiar enough to identify with, yet different enough to be challenging. And while that sound comes across to some extent on their albums, it's best experienced in a venue like The Red Room, nose-to-nose, where it can hit you hard and deep.
Microbabies at The Red Room
Math rock. That moniker is often followed by something of a heavy sigh. Not because it isn't good. Even the "turn-down-that-racket" crowd—aka "parents"—can generally recognize the complexity and musicianship that goes into it while hollering a cease-and-desist order. But the music can be exhausting to listen to. Both mentally as your mind tries to track the complexity of the changes, and physically as your neck tries to alter its head-banging to the same end. Change after change, time signature after time signature, epic solo after epic solo ... then repeat. But it's so good, you still want to listen, even while wanting it to stop.
Luckily, Microbabies, a Boise three-piece, seem to have found the solution: They take the same deafening volume and dizzying riffs down to tight 45-second bursts. By the time your head is spinning and demanding respite, you get it. Then you can quickly recover your equilibrium before the next savage blast of noise starts. Few of their songs break the one-minute barrier which alone is enough to keep them from getting stale. But even the songs that push toward two minutes move and shift from phrase to phrase rather than toggling back and forth between A and B sections.
Though they are in no way a surf band, the rags-and-reverb guitar tone is highly reminiscent of some of Man or Astro Man's more experimental space tracks, especially with the riff structure and slightly crunchy bass beneath.
But the thing I liked most about Microbabies, is how amused they are with themselves. Almost every song they played ended with the band breaking into fits of laughter, as if the song itself was a colossal prank they just pulled on the crowd. And that spirit is infectious. When a band is having a good time, the audience will as well.
Being loud, primarily instrumental and arguably abrasive, Microbabies is not for everyone. And there is definitely a time and beer-soaked place in which they're most appropriate. But if you find yourself in that place, give 'em a shot. There's only a 40 percent chance you'll be disappointed. And that's as least a good a chance as you'll get with a weather prediction.
Video report on Microbabies should be up by next week.
Empty Space Orchestra at The Linen Building
It took awhile for me to pin down exactly what I felt listening to Empty Space Orchastra. My initial reaction was that I was listening to heavy metal elevator music. Sax hummed over snarled riffs, and drums hit so hard that it was clear they did something to deserve it. It was a truly thick wall of cheese.
But then I suddenly felt as if I was in an '80s techno-thriller film during the scene where my fellow vigilante and I are barreling down a darkened highway towards some sort of ultimate showdown with a gang of cybernetic ninjas on whom we want to reap revenge for killing our families.
From there, I watched a kung-fu master, meditating in the desert.
From there, I glanced down at the cutting room floor of the animated classic Heavy Metal.
Aside from their general soundtrack-ness, the thing that tied all the songs together was a general sense of being blasted by sound. There was no space in between tones. Just a phalanx of noise.
But there was one standout. A slower, spacy showcase for percussion that lay somewhere between a futuristic remix of "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave or an easy-listening cover of Sepultura.
It didn't last though, and I quickly felt as if I were preparing for the climactic final slalom down the ski mountain to save the community center.
And that's when it hit me. Empty Space Orchestra sounds almost exactly like the copyright free music every TV station has available for backing that are all titled something like "Rockin' Hard," or "Funky Groove."
The only real difference was that ESO called Rockin' Hard, "Purple Monkey Feathers." But to me, it was still just "Rockin' Hard."