[UNCHAINED INDIE] It’s safe to say Aan set the bar pretty high for itself with long-awaited 2014 release Amor Ad Nauseum. The record proved well worth the wait, an indie-rock model citizen flexing all the great tenets of the genre produced with such painstaking craft that it felt like a single, amorphous musical saga. With Dada Distractions, we see a more urgent and textured Aan, perhaps the result of frontman Bud Wilson’s new bandmates or the personal losses suffered during a rough 2015. Most likely, it’s the mark of a confident act unwilling to wallow in its own sonic pasture, great as it may be.
The new record was produced by former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Riley Geare, and expectedly, there is an unchained quality about it. With the percussive strut of opener “Lookout!,” Aan presents its new self right away. When the band goes hard, as on the “Hollywood Buyout,” it’s arguably Wilson’s most aggressive work to date. When it’s time to cool off, per the guitar-driven dream sequence of “Forever Underfoot,” it’s among the group’s coolest, freest-flowing material yet. Such volatility persists throughout the record. It’s an explosive nine-song collection brought up organic, courtesy of a decidedly analog studio approach.
Even the relatively contemplative “Into the Fire,” with its mountainous hard-rock riffs and reflective valley-floor breakdowns, hits a little harder. Influences such as Jeff Beck’s cerebral 1970s guitar phrasing and alt-rock contemporaries Alberta Cross can be heard, but Wilson and his band continue to lead more than follow. To dethrone its outstanding debut is a colossal and potentially impossible task, but Aan’s latest LP is a triumph in terms of intensity, looseness and the underlying objective of continuous musical evolution.
SEEIT: Aan plays Rontoms, 600 E Burnside St., with Minden and Kelli Schaefer, on Sunday, Nov. 20. 8 pm. Free. 21+.
[SO LOW] For his solo debut, born-and-bred Portlander Pat Kearns offers up what seems to be an album-length lamentation of a forgone hometown. But on closer inspection, it’s actually a low-key love letter to the unspectacular elements of a middle-aged man’s life. Although Kearns is most associated with his power-pop act Blue Skies for Black Hearts, So Long City takes a subtler sonic approach that pays homage to familiar comfort. The undistorted steel-string acoustic guitars and wheeze of harmonica melodies on the title track don’t sound as funereal as the lyrics might imply, but it’s this light-hearted approach at misfortune that makes So Long City so inviting. “Hit the Highway” coaxes an improvised road trip in an effort to create a worthwhile memory, coolly set to midtempo strums that never aim for anything bigger than the steady, casual range they started in. “Sweet Lorraine” takes a bluesier approach at sporting a previously outspoken black heart on a well-displayed sleeve and utilizes the same Southern barroom soundboard to reveal what’s perhaps the most album’s sincere turn. It’s presumably why Kearns chose to release this unpretentious batch of songs under his own name. He’s not posing or aiming for anything unrealistic on So Long City, but rather showcasing both sides of what’s earned after your zenith is in the rearview—dexterous skill and constant trepidation.
SEEIT: Pat Kearns plays Turn Turn Turn, 8 NE Killingsworth St., with Rambush and Maia Dooney, on Thursday, Nov. 10. 9 pm. Call venue for ticket prices. 21+.
[LIGHT-AND-DARK DREAM POP] WL’s new record, Light Years, is a bit of a grower. Not only does it improve with repeated listens, but it actually evolves from start to finish and blossoms with ever-increasing complexity. Coupling shimmery guitars and thick, synthetic keys with a dreamy feminine moan earned WL a Best New Band nod in 2014, when it was tagged as a shoegaze act. But the group has since shed some of that genre’s tropes of volume and distortion to focus on technique and composition. “Pink Cloud” sets the slow-build tone with multiple looping melodies and tap-shoe percussion that slowly expand and overlap to create a textured, kaleidoscopic haze. Contrary to its title, “Feeling Down” shakes the somber tone with a busy, math rock-gone-disco drum pattern, framing the dense synth notes in a breezier light. By penultimate track “Mercury,” WL has incorporated an almost smooth-jazz horn section into its foggy landscape. The brighter mode suits WL substantially better than its ponderous, melancholic default, but that’s not to say the band’s indoor, gloomy side doesn’t have merit. The charm is how it moves with a slow fluidity between the two polarities.
SEEIT: WL plays the Spare Room, 4830 NE 42nd Ave., with Brysoncone666, Dubais and Vexations, on Friday, Nov. 11. 9 pm. $5. 21+.
[DREAMY PIANO POP] It’s easy to hear Sara Jackson-Holman’sclassical training on her new album, and that may be the problem. A concert pianist-turned-pop songwriter, Jackson-Holman’s references to piano masterworks begin with the first track, “Monsoon,” which opens with sweeping, swift piano runs à la Claude Debussy, and the string-heavy orchestral arrangements throughout give the album a cinematic quality. Thematically, though, Didn’t Go to the Party is confused. Meant as a quiet, questioning exploration of self, it’s filled with stock lyrics like “I feel the heat of you so close to my skin” and “the emptiness cuts through me like a knife,” clichés made even more impersonal in their marriage to such lavish (though technically exquisite) orchestral arrangements. The album is stylistically off-balance as well—at one moment, Jackson-Holman channels the sexy melancholia of Lana Del Rey (“You’ll Come Around”), the next the operatic drama of Adele (“Killing Me Boy”), then ends with a left-field Latin jazz groove (“Spring Bossa”). But she shines on “Too Late,” the only track that scans as a straight-ahead, piano-pop ballad. Almost everywhere else, though, Jackson-Holman bogs down the album with complex ornamentation, and the result is an effort too overwrought for the bare emotions to resonate.
SEEIT: Sara Jackson-Holman releases Didn’t Go to the Party at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Rare Diagram and Lynnae Griffin, on Wednesday, Oct. 19. 9 pm. $5. 21+.
[NPR FOLK POP] Blind Pilot has never been a band known for brashness, but never has it sounded so subtle and subdued as it does on third album And Then Like Lions. The six-piece took five years between records, a time in which singer Israel Nebeker hit some life-changing hurdles. He lost his father to cancer, ended a 13-year romance and fell out with close friends. Those tragedies make for a somber effort here, one lined with both longing and cautious optimism. Where the regretful “Umpqua Rising” is a rumination on jealousy, served via a slow-building haze of acoustic guitar and keys, “Like Lions” bookends the record with a flurry of horns and a moment of blissful triumph. “And there we are like lions,” Nebeker sings over a warm bed of trumpet. “We are strong enough to give.” In between, he balances more obtuse thoughts with straight-ahead narratives and swirls of lush chamber-pop orchestration, sometimes in melodramatic fashion. Like the delicate, wistful harmonies and strings that characterize “Moon at Dawn” and “Joik #3,” much of it sounds as natural and befitting of the numerous references to the Pacific Northwest peppering the lyrics. But for all the personal tumult that informs Lions, Blind Pilot’s fundamental nature hasn’t shifted, for better or worse. The nuances make for a typically pleasant listen, but if you’re not already a fan, little here is going to turn your head.
SEEIT: Blind Pilot plays Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., with Margaret Glaspy, on Thursday, Oct. 20. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.
[RHYTHM & RUSE] On the space-time continuum between Zapp & Roger and Fatboy Slim, between Hall & Oates and Junior Boys, squats the duo known as Phone Call, staking out everything that could be described as rhythmic or bluesy in the past 3½ decades of pop music. On their debut, Hang-Ups, Bailey Winters and John Zeigler—formerly of beloved Portland disco revivalists Strength—dial in their take on PBR&B, swaggering through sanded-down, crooned-up mid-2000s electro-soul as seductively as talkboxed-’til-death goth-funk, sounding in equal measure like Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, George Michael and the leather-daddy skeezes behind Justice. Produced by Jeremy Sherrer, the record is a deep, tactile listen, but there’s something distancing about it. Namely, it’s hard to tell whether these guys are being ironic and playing a part, or whether they believe that paying homage to Prince’s genre-breaking soul-funk is just a matter of being frank about “the way that she fucks” rather than decimating gender politics and breaking Top 40 pop in a truly subversive way. Regardless, played for jokes or not, little here is funny—which works when you’re dancing, but otherwise, it’s a missed call.
SEE IT: Phone Call plays Local Cut at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Fringe Class, Rasheed Jamal and DJ Lamar Leroy, on Thursday, Oct. 13. 8:30 pm. Free. 21+.
[DOOM FOLK] A week after losing her father, Monica Metzler received several text messages from his cellphone. The cryptic, single-word message, conveyed repeatedly, was “Zoolights.” Metzler interpreted this as guidance from the spirit world, and traveled to places like South Korea and Oaxaca, Mexico, on a “death ritual,” wherein she gathered stories from strangers about their own experiences with losing a loved one. Zoolights is a moody, ethereal culmination of these transcendent experiences, and Metzler—aka Forest Veil, formerly Moniker—does her best to take the listener along. The tracks are a juxtaposition of found-sound recordings and soft, meditative songs that serve as a catharsis from the crushing void that comes after a parent dies. “Footnotes” sets a somber tone for a record whose themes never muddy the beauty of Metzler’s smoky voice and dexterous finger-picking. “Bitter Root,” another highlight, could pass for Chan Marshall giving a loose, inventive reinterpretation to Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Luke Hall produces and keeps a vibrant backbeat that uplifts but never shifts focus from the album’s author. Johanna Warren—whose Spirit House Records is releasing Zoolights—adds flourishes of flute and vocals to the album’s centerpiece, “Sunrise/Sunset,” where a strained lullaby of soothing voices builds to a compact climax of distorted guitar phrases. It’s the moment where Metzler moves on from despair and accepts the inevitability of passing time, and all the loss and change it enforces.
[EMPIRICAL FOLK POP] Nick Jaina has spent the past 15 years perfecting his particular brand of plain-spoken indie folk, and with his ninth album, the essential and well-worn Brutal Lives, he’s finally whittled his sound down to breath and bone. It’s also the broadest album he’s ever released, seemingly woven from the many sides of his songwriting persona. Between the hushed reverie of opener “Not a Machine,” beset by blips and found-sound detritus, and the lush, Peter Gabriel-ish plume of “I Have That Same Tattoo” is album centerpiece “Belle Isle,” itself split between aching acoustic creep and anarchic electric squall. The sound of fireworks arches over the whole song like some sort of sad celebration, singeing its disparate parts together. Belle Isle, an urban park in Detroit just across the river from Canada, was taken over by the state of Michigan a few years ago, and since then has seen a slight resurgence. It’s no surprise that Jaina gravitates to such a place—Brutal Lives is an album about resurrection, not only because it’s pieced together from years-old projects, but because all 14 of its songs feel like they’re breathing new life into a decade and a half worth of the singer’s songbook.
SEEIT: Nick Jaina plays the Liquor Store, 3341 SE Belmont St., with Catherine Feeny and Chris Johnedis, on Thursday, Oct. 6. 9 pm. Contact venue for ticket information.. 21+.
[KRAUTROCK NW] Møtrik’s self-titled 2014 album was a bipolar affair. The Portland quartet pitted its Northwest indie-rock sensibilities against some reverent stabs at vintage krautrock with excellent, if disparate, results. Møtrik’s latest release, 33, is a far more cohesive record. Its variations on a theme bloom like morning dew on “Nehman 1,” a nearly 18-minute jam that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Ashra album. Dave Fulton layers analog synth beneath Cord Amato’s exploratory guitar melodies, while the rhythm section churns along like well-oiled ropes and pulleys. The song dips to near silence at times, building back into a glorious sunrise of melodic mellow-mood music. Side two’s “Nehman 2” is a propulsive samba that nods to Neu and teases toward Tortoise. If you’re doing it right, you’re peaking by the time this languid jam escalates into rainbow hues about 11 minutes in. Jealous Butcher Records is treating this release as something rare and special, releasing 33 in an incredibly limited vinyl edition of literally 33 records, each priced at—well you can guess. Yes, good job. It seems unlikely there will be any copies left after the Oct. 5 show, so all the more reason to visit the merch table.
[STRAIGHT OUTTA ST. JOHNS] There are two very important musical statements Mic Capes conveys on his long-awaited album, Concrete Dreams. In one skit, the North Portland MC asks a group of kids what they want when they grow up. They talk excitedly about everything from being like Damian Lillard to owning a Bugatti. The following track, “Magic 8 Ball,” finds Capes painting a vivid picture of the struggles he faced growing up in St. Johns, but never letting realities like “Daddy sold dope to pay the rent” tear down his spirit. Elsewhere, Capes wears his 2Pac and Ice Cube influences on his sleeve, addressing the black experience of being a target of police brutality on “One 4 O’Shea,” a militant protest song that doesn’t sugarcoat his message. As a body of work, Concrete Dreams will potentially shift Portland’s overwhelmingly white identity, pushing forward the idea that artists like Capes—who performed at the first Portland Black Music Festival this month—are changing the status quo. Over 18 tracks, including a bonus cut dedicated to the street he grew up on (“Fessenden Flow”), Capes is vulnerable, revealing and bold, letting brash and colorful production bring a heartiness to listeners. He possesses a slick voice, commanding enough when he adopts a Kendrick Lamar vocal affect (“A.M. Thoughts”) or effortlessly destroys a bouncy flow (“Jumper Cables”). While Capes got our attention with the lyrical barrage of “Razor Tongue,” Concrete Dreams offers a sizable sampling of his gift for creating meaningful conversations that travel outside the city. ERIC DIEP.