Category Archives: Notable Review

Strange Hotels Defies Expectations in the Best Ways

The beginning of a fresh new year seems like the perfect time for a brand new band to release their debut album. But Strange Hotels new six track EP, Mixtapes, defies what you’d expect from a new band- it has the polish and shine that usually comes from more experienced bands. That’s because the duo, consisting of multi-instrumentalists Ben Braden and Nick Sadler, has been playing together for years as part of one of Portland’s iconic touring bands, The Lower 48. Their new project, Strange Hotels, is a departure from the harmony-driven rock of the Lower 48. Strange Hotels style is hard to pin down, spanning from disco to world beats, with a consistent danceability that inspires booty shaking, dancing, and smiles. Their diverse influences include Prince, The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, St Vincent, and Sylvan Esso, but I also hear a touch of Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates.

Ben and Nick have both put out solo albums over the past several years, and helped each other with those albums. In an informal interview, Ben Braden explained that Strange Hotels has turned into the most collaborative thing they have ever done. Beginning with about 20 ideas, they boiled it down to the six best tunes, which also happened to be the most collaborative ones. In the first track, Ring Ring, Ben wrote the verse, Nick wrote the chorus. In Bad Intentions, Ben wrote the lyrics and Nick wrote the melody. He says that “it’s been so collaborative that it gets foggy.”

Listening to these recordings makes me wonder how they are going to pull this off with two people in a live setting. Ben explained that they are going to experiment, playing a lot of regional shows in the next few months. Nick will play drums and synth pads and sing, and Ben will play the guitar and sing, using a pedal to play bass notes with his feet. Whatever they do, it’s sure to be worthwhile because after years of touring they have a good idea of how to entertain an audience.

The next thing that defies expectations for this new duo’s debut is that the album was entirely recorded on an iPad Air. Braden shared his thoughts on this subject saying that “musicians are poorer than ever but can do more with basic equipment and that this is a really interesting time for inspired artists.” He added that “the songs are informed by the technological and sociopolitical craziness of the world”, and that they “didn’t set out to write about cell phones, but the theme seems to appear on every song. The songs are about how fast the world is changing.”

Check out their debut album on Bandcamp and stay tuned for upcoming events.

“It’s For You” Continues the Toads’ Tradition of Genius

The Toads are a formidable musical force, producing new songs with an unmatched sense of urgency. They have been killing it in Portland since early 2016, putting out five EPs and albums, totaling 32 new songs, in two years. “It’s for You” is their third release in 2017, which earns them the title of Portland’s most prolific and hardest working band. This is their first release with new drummer, Dylan Valentine, but the overall vibe is remarkably consistent. Four of the five songs on this newest EP were written by bass-playing literary blogger and philosopher songwriter Matt Dinaro, who wanted to be a priest in his younger days, but is now an atheist instead. On their previous 2017 release, Time, the majority of songs were written by sizzling wizard guitar player Matt Kane. While they write separately, both Matts write great lyrics that reveal modern-day existential angst and self-awareness. Their energetic tunes, which are typically about two and a half minutes long, are also perfect for the ADHD generation- quick and to the point, with no obligatory filler.

Photo credit: Heather Hanson

The first track, Landline, kicks off the album with the retro tones of a dialup modem and lyrics that wind their way through guitar jams and cymbal bashing while asking important existential questions: “What if I lose my cell phone, what if I live my life wrong, what if I need a landline”. The second track, Never a Good Time, describes the inconvenience of falling in love. “It’s never a good time to fall in love. Love takes your plans and it smashes them up. Nothing is safe from the break-in of love… I’m always in love.”

The final trio of songs were all written by Matt Dinaro in a single afternoon about a year ago and achieve a cathartic pinnacle in songwriting. The songs convey a sonic journey, mixing irony with reality, and are a description of our modern day social dystopia. The trifecta finale starts with “You Don’t Deserve Me”, which has a world-y swinging vibe and is about being tired of putting your best forward and getting nothing in return. “You don’t seem to care what’s inside of my mind… you don’t see seem to care, guess you don’t have the time.”I’m Sorry” follows with similarly relatable lyrics: “I’m sick of being clever I’m sick of being smart I’m sorry… I’m sick of being disciplined I’m sick of working hard, I’m sorry… I’m sick of puttin effort in, it doesn’t make a difference… what prize am I supposed to win?”

Photo credit: Steve Montague

It’s for You” culminates with its namesake track. In an informal commentary, Dinaro explained that the lyrics “Look at the stars, they’re for you, the planets, the constellations, and the moon, you can have anything that you want… Why can’t I love every minute that I have?” are about “how capitalism tries to tell you the world is your oyster and shames you for not seizing the day and making the most of every minute. It’s about that shame you feel for not living up to those ridiculous expectations.” This ironically uplifting song finishes off an album that is refreshing, relevant, and interesting.

Photo credit: Alex Why

The Toads are giving everything they have to give and are not afraid to share how they feel. The way they talk about themselves on and off the record shows that they observe their experiences in the broader context of what is happening around them, which makes them all the more lovable. Listen to them on Bandcamp, their website, and anywhere you listen to music. Their next scheduled gig is at O’Malley’s on Wed Feb 7, 2018. Join the cult, love the Toads, and stay tuned for more upcoming gigs on fb.

It’s Impossible Not to Fall in Love with RILLA

RILLA is a four piece psychedelic rock band that will wow you with their musicianship, humility, and comradery. All the bandmates happen to be women, but they resist being labeled by their gender. They are one of the best bands in town, and are a fantastic example of why Portland is a great place to enjoy local music. Their first incarnation was in 2011 as a five piece called the Vandies. After the departure of their lead singer, the four remaining band members regrouped, wrote all new material, and reinvented themselves as RILLA in 2014.

RILLA released their first EP, I Am Not a Robot, in 2016. The five tracks shine from start to finish. They released a second standout EP, Cutthroat Bingo, in August of this year. The third track, Sorry to Bug You Late, is a great example of their killer guitar riffs, dreamy vocals, honest lyrics, dynamic jams, and danceable beats. These women have a quirky sense of humor as well, with song names such as Summertery and Mindfork.

They are in music for all the right reasons- for a creative outlet, friendships, and shared adventures. They cherish their friendships and it shows. A recent exclusive interview with the band reveals how they think about themselves. Check out their music and videos on their website and see them live this Friday, Dec 1, at Kelly’s Olympian.

Interview:

Portland Notes: Do you market yourselves as an all women band, or as a band that happens to be all women, or do you think that gender should simply not be part of the band description at all?

RILLA: Unfortunately, our culture is hyper aware of gender. We happen to be women, we support women in music, and our focus is on the music we make.

Portland Notes: Do you have a band leader, or is it a band democracy?

RILLA: We all follow the Ways of RILLA. 

Portland Notes: I’ve noticed that you have band huddles before you start your set, and maybe after you finish too. Whose idea was that, what are you doing, and why?

RILLA: You noticed that eh? We like to play. We have fun.

Portland Notes: I know that you also have other priorities in life, like organic sustainable farming, that take away from band time. Any comment on that?

RILLA: We all live full lives! The band is the glue that holds us all together and keeps us sane(ish).

Portland Notes: You went on tour and posted a video of the experience. When was the tour, where did you all go, and what were the best and worst parts about it?

RILLA: We did a West Coast Tour around Halloween of last year (2016). We loved it, it was really fun to spend so much time together, singing in the van. We all loved the hotel breakfasts!

Laryssa Birdseye’s Debut Album is Better than Perfect

The production, songwriting, and singing on Laryssa Birdseye’s debut album, “So What?” rival any major label release. It’s incredible that this kind of talent exists right here in Portland.

Birdseye’s musical style hints of two of her influences, Adele and Amy Winehouse. Her songs tell honest stories about co-dependence, self-doubt, breaking free from addictions, and her journey to self-acceptance. Like her influences, Laryssa lives her life with passion, and it shows in her unguarded songwriting and singing. On this album she gives it her all. “Loser“ and “Done For” are standout R&B tunes. “Haunt” is a highlight for its spare authenticity and tenderness. “All of You” is a great example of Laryssa’s vocal suppleness and lofty highs.

Laryssa has been singing ever since she can remember, and has been writing songs since she was 13. Her early singing background included musicals and choir, but where she really began to blossom and feel free was in college in gospel choir. She found the ability to let emotions fly, rather than control everything perfectly. She learned to to let loose and go after the song.

She met producer, Jeanot Lewis-Rolland, two years ago by chance when a friend’s band needed a fill-in back-up singer. His production includes playing acoustic and electric guitar, bass, piano, strings, synthesizers, marimba, mandolin, and drum programming- which is a testament to Jeanot’s ability to know exactly how to make each song shine. Laryssa says that “he had such a clear vision with the songs, and it took us 2 years to stop being perfectionists and just release it.”

Several of her songs have explicit lyrics. Laryssa explains that she started writing these songs before ever considering that they would be shared with the public. She says “I say what I mean in exactly the way I mean to say it.”

The music video for the opening track “Loser” depicts a complex alter ego with several dimensions. The last track, “So What”, wraps the album up with a final acceptance of self. This album has depth from beginning to end. Learn more about Laryssa in a candid personal interview with Vortex magazine. Listen to her entire album on Bandcamp, Spotify, etc. Check out Layrssa’s website and follow her on Facebook. Her next gig is at the White Eagle on Oct 23.

All I Feel is Yes’ New Double Album Dares to Sound Different

While most bands are putting out EPs and singles, All I Feel is Yes, takes a different direction with their new double full length album, Golden Noldies. This album, which incorporates improvisational and experimental aspects, requires commitment from the listener. Musicians can really appreciate the particularly solid rhythm section, topped with sizzling guitar leads, and jamming Hammond-tone keyboards.

The different band members, who call themselves a collective, are local music veterans and play in various projects. Keyboard player, saxophone player, and singer, Alison Dennis is known for her band sketches, which are featured on the Portland Notes website. Alison, along with bass player, Jacob Anderson, and drummer, Mike Chastain, also plays in another local band, Dr. Something.

The anchor of this band is multi-instrumentalist and singer, Jason Ferris, who plays some tasty guitar riffs. His bass playing is also notable, as exemplified in the short and catchy tune, Anti-Bionic, on the first of the two volumes. The song, “A Warm Bath at the End of Time”, wraps up this double album perfectly, with Jason riffing on the keyboard and Alison playing soothing sonic tones on the saxophone.

Alison describes the band’s recording methodology: “We’ve made recordings of most of our rehearsals. We usually jam for at least part of every rehearsal, occasionally we’ll spend an entire night just improvising.” While this recording method works pretty well for instrumental music, the vocals end up sounding a bit rough as compared to the type of productions that most people are used to.

As far as influences, I hear a similarity to Gong, a prog jazz rock band from the 1970’s, but my hunch is a bit off the mark. Alison cites “Crazy Horse, Flaming Lips, Amon Düül, early Pink Floyd & P-Funk” as influences. Jacob offers additional insight by explaining that bandmates share a “track of the week”. While not all of these are considered influences, it’s what they’ve been listening to over the space of a couple years: “Träd, Gräs och Stenar, Sylvester, Cherelle, David Bowie, Arthur Russell, This Heat, Limahl, Dragontime, Richard Youngs, Richard Harris, the Beach Boys, Yoko Ono, Komeda, Alice Coltrane, Paul Horn, Penny McLean, Wilson Pickett, Dawn of Midi, Queen, Gershwin, Wire, Single, King Crimson, Devo, Midlake, Floex, and the Five Racketeers.”

The two Golden Noldies volumes are grouped chronologically, with Volume 1 recorded in 2015 and Volume 2 recorded in 2016. The tunes are a great backdrop for scrapbooking and other crafty listening endeavors. Check ‘em out on Bandcamp.