Tag Archives: Portland

Rediscover Ernest Hood’s Ambient Music on “Neighborhoods”

Ernest Hood

Neighborhoods
, the lone private press LP from Portland, Oregon musician Ernest Hood is a curious piece of work. For one thing the album, which was released in 1975, is an almost ambient blend of synths, zither, and field recordings, but Hood himself grew up a jazz fan who played guitar. During the early ‘60s, he worked as an arranger for the Portland Pops, which eventually became the Oregon Symphony. As Hood stated in the album’s original liner notes, Neighborhoods was designed to “bring back something warm and joyful to your hearts,” and was created as a tribute to those who “played such an important role in the formation of comfortable memories.” That tenderness and sense of nostalgia gives Neighborhoods a warm, inviting atmosphere.

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Nurses Wield a Darker Sort of Magic on “Naughtland”

Nurses

Photo by Chantal Anderson.

In 2008, Nurses were one of the biggest bands in Portland, Oregon. Their debut record, Apple’s Acre, was a fantastically fresh and madcap take on pop music. With lyrics that read like minimalist poems and vocal runs that sounded wholly alien, it deployed bizarre samples and unconventional percussion to build a self-contained universe of magical, technicolor pop. It was the kind of record that seemed to have a bottomless supply of ideas. And the creative minds behind the project, Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, seemed almost like characters in their own strange songs. They appeared in Portland seemingly out of nowhere: Bowers with an unkempt wizard’s beard and Chapman with the wide, glassy eyes of a dude on some eternal psychedelic trip. They walked everywhere, always together. They were known to wear capes—offstage.

In the nine years since that album’s release, Nurses have toured the world, signed with indie rock label Dead Oceans, released a well-received sophomore record (2011’s Dracula), and eventually shed one member (drummer James Mitchell). They’ve also done a lot of growing up: their new album Naughtland is their first in six years, and it finds them wielding a darker sort of magic. The record is full of water-warped synths and twinkling harmonic dissonance, with some songs calling to mind The The’s “This is the Day” or Prince’s “Darling Nikki.” But one can’t really fully pinpoint Nurses’ sound, because Chapman and Bowers have been influencing one another for so long that they are the only two speakers of their shared musical language. I spoke with them about that tight relationship via a conference call, with Chapman and Bowers in their respective homes in Portland and Los Angeles.

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Better Know A College Radio Station: Portland’s KPSU

kpsu-600

For many obsessive fans who grew up in the pre-Internet era, a passion for music was sparked in the dingy basements and dark booths of college radio stations. Despite sound boards that are decades out of date and rapidly-changing tastes, that tradition has endured. The best college stations remain dedicated to delivering music that falls outside the purview of Billboard-charting mainstream radio.

If anything, the shifting climate has caused student station managers and music directors to work harder at keeping their stations relevant. And with good reason: at the radio station, they found comrades with whom they could trade mixtapes and stay up late into the night raving about life-changing B-sides.

Bandcamp speaks from personal experience: even if our first shows were at 4am on Tuesday nights, they were the best two hours of our entire week. In this feature called Better Know a College Radio Station, we spotlight the programmers, music directors and general managers who make sure the “On-Air” light never burns out. Last month, we chatted with DJs and managers at Seton Hall’s 89.5 WSOU and this month we spoke with Maia Wiseman (Station Manager), Joe Hernandez (Programming Director), and Jordan Rasmussen, Promotions Director of Portland State University’s KUPS.

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“Dada Distractions” is Aan’s Comeback From a Very Difficult Year

Aan

Everyone loves music borne of tragedy: mortal, romantic or otherwise. Alas, in these circumstances, the listener’s gain is inevitably a product of the artist’s loss—which Bud Wilson, linchpin and singer-guitarist of Aan, knows better than most. The band’s just-released second album, Dada Distractions, is largely the result of 2015, a year Wilson’s record label succinctly describes as having been “a motherfucker” for the man: two of his close friends died, as did his relationship of six years and the previous incarnation of Aan. Meanwhile, he looked on helplessly as his adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon, became “steadily less familiar and more expensive” in the face of gentrification.

Fortunately, rather than a document of defeat, Dada Distractions is the sworn testimony of an artist coming out fighting. A combination of simplicity and sonic surprises in the manner that has made Spoon and Built to Spill endlessly intriguing, producer Riley Geare (former drummer in fellow Portland group Unknown Mortal Orchestra) captured the sound of Wilson and his newly recruited cohorts—Travis Leipzig, Gabriel Nardin and Dana Valatka—seemingly playing for their lives in a small room. From the power chords and bongo beats of opening track “Lookout!,” the album makes plain that rock is Wilson’s redemption.

Bandcamp recently spoke to Wilson—who, despite his recent past, seemed good-humored, thoughtful, and ready to delve into the next chapter of his personal and musical life.

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Album of the Day: Jaw Gems, “Heatweaver”

Producer James “J Dilla” Yancey helped revolutionize the way rap instrumentals are composed. You remember his drums—the way they snapped, and the way they seemed ill-timed, yet perfectly on rhythm. Though his music scanned as hip-hop, Dilla dabbled in soul, jazz and electronica before his tragic death in 2006 at the age of 32. Kanye West and Pharrell have taken sonic cues from Dilla, and producers Black Milk, Oddisee and Flying Lotus acknowledge his influence.

Now add Jaw Gems, an electronic quartet from Portland, Maine. Of the group’s origins, keyboardist Hassan Muhammad says “Dilla is the common thread for how we all met and began playing together.” The group started recording collectively in 2009, and on its new album Heatweaver, you can hear ties to the Dilla’s creative approach—though the end result lands closer to Flying Lotus circa 2008. Heatweaver thrives on that same sort of loose electro-rap fusion, but the quartet’s blend feels light and improvised, skewed more towards jazz. The LP doesn’t lock into a singular groove, pivoting instead between pronounced and ambient soundscapes for a breezy, nuanced listen. On “Side King,” for example, wafting keys conjure pastoral images—you can almost see the sun-drenched beaches, the water washing up the shore. “Lead Sister” evokes similar scenery, yet the vibe is more festive due to a cavernous drum stomp.

Mixing live and electronic elements, Heatweaver feels relaxed, like four friends banging out a few cuts in a home studio just for fun. Albums are tough to pull off without a strong vocal narrative, but Jaw Gems have created a work that’s remarkably visual and nomadic, full of radiant energy that stays with you for its duration. This is the album you play when you want to go somewhere, when the destination doesn’t matter, and the road is unclear. If Dilla laid the blueprint for what hip-hop soul can sound like, Jaw Gems lets it breathe a bit more.

—Marcus J. Moore