Pre-Release Advance Tracks
At last, long awaited product from Portland’s best kept musical secret. Over the past year or so, On A Llama have acquired a reputation among cognescenti for being a smart three-piece band, who exhibit startlingly forthright, well-hewn abilitiesÑ not available to the average musician. Typically, the ever vigilant local music press have slept through the whole story. Well, let the walls of secrecy come down. Wake up! Wake up! Here’s a great band that will, one day very soon, do Portland proud in the world sweepstakes of Rock.
Right now is one of those rare opportunities to catch a completely unknown (to just about everyone) band which, within a year, will be doing the national tour/MTV/ three-record deal thing. Their talent is that obvious, that unique, that unalienable.
The focus begins and ends with vocalist/bassist Lea Krueger. Jeez, where’s my thesaurus? It’s time to drag out new adjectives, ultra-superlatives. Young Lea has a voice that most singers spend their entire lives attempting to find. Power. Piquancy. Passion. She coos like a young girl. Some compare that style to Karen Perris of Innocence Mission, but the lineage goes back to the Welsh Witch, Stevie Nix and Maniac Natalie Merchant. To this delivery, Lea adds delightfully quirky chirping yelps and chortling yodels, ‡lˆ Sinead O’Connor or Kristen Hersh.
But when Lea unleashes the monster in her voice, few humans can touch her. Suddenly her words become forceful heart punches, whose impact can be felt one hundred yards away. Christina Amphlett of the Divinyls comes to mind as possibly the only woman who commands Lea’s intensity and vocal prowess.
As if that were not enough, Ms. Krueger is a great bassist. In a live context, it is awe-inspiring to watch Lea erupt behind her bass. Suddenly her body is a sinuous participant in an amazing transference of incendiary energy and raw emotion. Her bass-work is impeccable, tenacious and frighteningly muscular.
Her band mates are no slouches. Guitarist Greg Kirkelie effortlessly connects with Lea’s writhing basslines. His obvious discipline lends each song distinctive coloration and texture. His guitar glistens shimmeringly clean as a mountain stream in some passages, yet can turn fierce and fearsome at the drop of a down beat.
Drummer Kevin Rankin provides perfect support. He does not lack for storm and thunder. But he displays the utmost of sensitivity to the versatile and deceptively intricate music his fellow Llama’s create. It’s a band with no weaknesses. Their strengths merely compete for attention in a musical milieu that allows space for such precise care and detail.
On A Llama will release this fourteen song, seventy minute-long epic at the end of September. Look for a complete review next month. But in the meantime, consider the possibility of hearing the initial track, “Can’t Be You;” which casts into immediate perspective the sheer immensity of Lea’s talent. Around Kirkelie’s robust Cobainian riffage, Lea walks her bass down the lane through the verses, singing sweetly in the coo mode. But eegad! Look out for the acid stain of her guttural spleen in the chorus. It’ll scare you. It’ll burn a hole in yer shirt. Wear protective clothing! She does it again on the schizophrenic “Black of the Night” and late in “Threnody.”
Or contemplate the prospect of the sturm und jangle of “Mortify.” Or the funk and drang of “Dancer.” Need relief from the ostensible heart punches? Let the Llamas pluck yer heartstrings with cuts such as the Cocteau-like “Pumpkin” and “Threnody” (with its clock-chime bass tones and atmospheric slide guitar flourishes), the Maniac-ish “Jesus” and “Spill” or the quiet ballad “I’m Not Going Anywhere.”
You might want to think about the fact that Lea calls to mind Martha Davis of the late, great Motels doing a Concrete Blonde song on “Rosaline.” Kirkelie cuts loose with an exemplary solo over Rankin’s punchy backbeat and stuttering kick accents. Kirkelie shines too, in the solo section of the intensely laid back “The Weed.”
Oh. You’re an A&R guy? You have no attention span? You need a hit? Go straight to the galloping “Meredith,” a churning, yearning piece of fire that is sure to burn itself into your soul, if you have one.
Buy this CD when it comes out. You don’t need to hear it first. Rely upon the fact that you’ll love On A Llama. Buy it. And if you don’t like the recording, you can send it to me. I won’t do anything about it. But I’ll feel real sorry for you and yer “musical” taste.
Feel the Freest
With the release of the this thirteen-track, seventy three minute opus, Hitting Birth continue their migration away from the curious techno/tribal/industrial sound that won for them tribute, accolades and a faithful local followingÑ toward a curious, musically more accessible (maybe) stance. While the weirdness still pervades, for the most part, it is used now as an effect or sonic accouterment. Some of the longtime faithful who loved most the strangeness of Hitting Birth will find solace in a few cuts. But in many ways, for better and worse, the band have sacrificed their eclectic uniqueness in order to sound more like every other band.
Founders, bassist/vocalist Daniel Riddle and drummer David Parks have opted for a more streamlined. straight ahead approach. Each tune has its weird elements. Daniel almost always uses heavy effects on his vocals, choosing to bury them in the wall-of-sound mix. Although there are a few exceptions along the way, David’s drumwork seems far more restrained than at any time in the band’s history. The spirit of experimentation seems primarily confined to the driving “Forwards That Are Backwards,” which hints at Byrne and Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts; and the ethereally tranquil drone piece, “The Birth,” which could easily pass as a track extracted from Peter Gabriel’s Passion.
Of the more “conventional” remainder, four tracks stand out from the others. The ringing, U2ish, two-note guitar figure of “Drive On” adds angularity to Daniel’s propulsive bassline. His more upfront vocal and a memorable chorus lend the number undoubted College Radio airplay-ability. Quite strong. “AMA” distinguishes itself with a slow-building intro and verse that utilize dub elements in a new and exciting way; before sliding gracefully into a beautiful dirge of a chorus. Another truly satisfying take.
“Blueskin” twists on Daniel’s squirrely and intense bass line and David’s energetic, African flavored drum salvo. Slowly evolving, the piece sort of sounds as if EMF fell into a well of LSD and discovered Trent Reznor swimming around on the bottom. Yikes. An altogether arrestingly disturbing excursion. The funk/thrash anthem “Fever Dream” obliquely echoes Cobain’s “Heart Shaped Box,” as if it were in search mode on the CD player and sung by Ozzie Osborne on amphetamine.
Most of the remaining songs circle around familiar half-step riffs that have connoted Gothic doom for so long that, in a musical sense, they are beyond clichŽ. One would hope for a little more melodic/musical inventiveness from this outfitÑ they are generally rhythmically and stylistically more adventurous.
By most standards, this is a hardy piece of work. But this is Hitting Birth we’re talking about here. One expects an adventure. The band seem to be in the midst of a transition (or a quandaryÑ or both). While always challenging and well-played, the adventure seems more calculated and less abandoned here than in previous incarnations. If this is what they want, then they have succeeded masterfully.
Monica Nelson leads a complicated life. Several years ago she left her very successful band, the Obituaries; setting off for New York to find fame and fortune (and motherhood). What she ended up discovering was, when it comes to musicians and bands, there’s no place like guitarist Rob Landoll. Rob, who shared the spotlight with Monica in the Obits, stayed home in Portland to find fame and fortune with M-99. Realizing some of the former and not nearly enough of the latter, Rob remained in town— where Monica frequently visited from time to time over the ensuing years.
Though Monica worked on several projects in New York, with lots of seasoned studio pros, she always felt that her best musical experience was with the Obituaries- with Rob and bassist Regina LaRocca.
Monica recently returned to town for a visit; and while here she and Rob gathered to record this impromptu set of seven new and old songs- performed simply; just Rob, on acoustic guitar accompanying Monica’s straight forward singing. A collectors item to be sure. A rarity. A gem.
What is immediately apparent is the allure of matured assurance Monica has burnished upon her psyche through the course of her travels and travails. Her voice moves from a whisper to a wail with expressive facility. “Perhaps Her Last Thoughts” might be Nancy Spungeon’s suicide note to Sid Vicious, or it might be a plaintive inspection of any love/hate relationshipÑ moving from tender to contemptuous at the flick of a whim.
On “I Changed My Mind,” Monica’s unique spirit of emotional candor and honesty, a trait that nearly killed her while performing with the Obits, now gives way to the weary wisdom that comes from confronting life’s inevitable truths. She may be older and less self-destructive, but Monica Nelson is no less powerful, no less riveting as a singer.
The bittersweet charm of “Day Old Beer,” is timelessly gorgeous. More of a real song than most of Monica’s tuneful poems, it’s a hit song in its own anachronistically appealing way. The candid nature of Monica’s unique psychology is given free rein on the series of bluesy blue letters called “Love Always.” What this type of song lacks in conventional melody, Monica remedies lyrically, by capturing the spirit of every detail, of every nuance, with artfully poetic precision.
“Lurking Shadow,” calls to mind Jewel. Although, in comparison, Monica makes Jewel look like a piece of cheap glass. The rambling, minor-chord sprawl of the verses gives way to the sentimental arroyos of the choruses, creating a warm, dusty atmosphere. The weary reality she confronts on “Make It Through The Day,” works perfectly with the country tinged guitar arrangement Rob lends the tune. Monica’s naked disclosures are still capable of making even the most hardened individual wince in recognition. “But the whole world comes crashing down on everybody/And nobody’s as tough as they seem to be/All of us are crying on the inside/…All of us are weak inside.” Not since John Lennon’s notorious first solo album, have such issues been so honestly divulged and dealt with.
“Song #4” could easily be one of Kate Bush’s drowsy ballads, but for the more characteristic bridge. Here Monica displays a mother’s sense for a lullaby, sweetly intoning an angelic melic.
Monica Nelson has nearly completed an arduous journey, on the path to self-discovery- whose ultimate destinations are personal enlightenment and fulfillment. And that is the mark of a true and enduring artist of the highest order.
Messinger are a rather dramatic five-piece band, fronted by a talented young singer/songwriter named Po. They present a slick, rather unusual brand of goth/pop, which springs from a determinedly thoughtful, philosophic stance.
Po has a strong, supple voice, reminiscent at times of Debbie Harry, Ann Wilson and, oddly enough, a little like Paula Abdul. The three songs presented here, while stylishly crafted, do not altogether represent Messinger at full intensity, such as one might find with the band in a live setting. Bassist, Mel seems especially restrained here, adding none of her customary, strong backup vocals and little of her typically enthusiastic, bouncy fretwork.
“Meteor Man” is a catchy piece of audio noir. Here Po recalls the sexy savvy of Romeo Void’s Debbie Iyall. Guitarist Bruce Powers adds pertinently effective guitar figures over a foundation of Michael Kitt’s tinkly piano and Jeff Williams’ robust drums. A techno-dance arrangement of this tune could work well in a Disco sort of situation. “Man down.”
Kitt’s cheesy synth-string parts kill all the drama of “Too Close.” The arrangement does not build to any climax of emotion. Those string parts would have worked better, entering at a much later point in the song. Similarly, Powers’ jagged guitar filigree distracts from the simple elegance of Po’s voice in the verses. The chorus and bridge hang together much more satisfyingly. There seems to be a distinct lack of a sense of dynamic perspective. Everyone starts playing from the beginning of the song to the end. Mel’s bass part, coupled with Williams’ deft cymbal work could have easily carried Po’s soulful vocals through the first two verses. Sometimes less is more.
While suffering slightly from the same malady, that of dynamic monotony, “Father Time” is ultimately a thoughtful ballad– presented with earnestness and utter sincerity.
This sounds like the first recording of a fairly new band. There is a certain stiffness to the performances, a mechanicalness to the arrangements, that belie the band’s energetic live person¾. Time and effort could offer this them great rewards. Po’s songs indicate a high level of skill and craftsmanship in their construction. And she has a puissant, well-trained voice. What this recording lacks is passion and fire. As within any strong and long-lasting relationship, these things are best built over time. Messinger have the time to become a very good band. Just watch.
New Wave Motorcycle Man
Well crafted, if entirely predictable grunge/sludge. I’ve got bad news for all you Alice in Pearl Garden clones out there. That ship already came in. The new grunge bands are coming from England. Portland doesn’t need any more. The good ones in this city are taking grunge in a new direction. If you’re just aping yer idolsÑ you’re way in the back of the line. Yay-uh. Hee-uh owuhn. Yown!
NWMM are more competent than many. “Soul ova Gypsy,” has its musical moments of brief splendor. Some of the funkier action elevates the proceedings above that of the mundane.
Guitarist Stephen Martinez demonstrates versatility on the fiery ballad “Tanzania.” Vocalist Chandler Shepard displays a willingness to shrug off his Vedder fetterÑ and wing, feather anew, to territory unknown. This is good. This bears the germ of originality. This is an important step away from what has already been and cannot be againÑ for at least another seven years. It is the first law of rock ‘n’ roll. Only Led Zeppelin outlives all musical trends and fashions. Why is that?
“Hardcore Drive” benefits from drummer Brian McAlister’s spasmodically syncopated drumwork and Martinez’ Billy Corgan approach to the guitar. Shepard again takes a stab at a voice of his own, with positive results. Martinez especially shows a lot of heart in his solo.
The unplugged approach to “Pieces” is a nice change of pace, but finds Shepard drifting back toward that mannered and contrived Seattle vocal style that is so damn prevalent and annoying. Chandler has the good sense to swing in Robert Plant’s vocal direction for the second half of the song. That works well with Martinez’ Page-y approach to the acoustic guitar. What was that about Zep?
New Wave Motorcycle Man give rise to the notion that given enough time and enough rope, they may lasso a sound of their own and ride off into the sunset on a shining bike of gold. It could happen. They’ve got a chance.
Don’t ask me. I don’t know. But I do know that Beldam’s Lure is the important part of the remains of Porcelain God. That part is the heart and that belongs to guitarist (and now vocalist) Drew Norman.
Check out his scorching guitar in the intro to “These Words.” Drew is a guitarist with a missionÑ search and destroy with a flame throwing device. A terminator. Drummer Mark Shelenberger’s treacherous 6/8 time signature sets the mechanism into motion. Drew sings with a voice not unlike that of Adrian Belew. But the sound and fury of his guitar is unmistakably a fresh voice of its own. A thing of frenzied majesty.
“No Security” switches to syncopated 4/4 time, but otherwise is essentially the same song. Bassist Will Youngman stands out more prominently on this cut, providing elastic support to the bottom, while Drew rips a new fundament into the middle section with a twirling corkscrew solo.
Porcelain God was a band with real promise. Despite their awkward name, Beldam’s Lure come much nearer to fulfilling that promise.
The Furley’s are a reformed version of Funk Knot, a funk band of some serious chops, who nose-dived before they could fly into the clear blue skies of media notoriety. Can the Furley’s overcome their own anonymity? Well if the sophistication of their press package is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
But if the funk savoir faire manifested on track one, “Funk Will Set you Free,” is any indication, then this is strictly retro stuff. A rewrite of Sly Stone’s “I Wanna Take You Higher” anyone? It’s nothing new, but it’s kind of fun all the same.
“Nervous” goes with a Hendrix-y type funk/soul arrangement. Vocalist B.C. Cope has a highly homogenous voice. Nondescript. Not bad, just faceless. The tune itself sort of falls into that same category. Good players, but the material isn’t quite up to the level of the musicianship. “Everybody” comes from the K.C. and the Sunshine band perspective. M.T.’s sterling sax work is a highlight.
The Furley’s have yet to find a true direction for this funk thang. It is my estimation that a city this size can only accommodate three or four funk bands, at most. Three spots are spoken for already. If The Furley’s hope to aspire to that coveted (and possibly non-existent) fourth spot, they will have to work very hard at carving for themselves a new path through the tangled forest of funk. Not an impossible task, but very challenging.