Well, some kind of magic happened at the split EP release party last weekend at the Firkin Tavern. Ginger-haired bass player extraordinaire, Matt Dinaro, joined what appears to be his third Portland band, Redcoat Turncoat (fronted by another red-haired talent, Nate Birkholz) for a split EP release party and birthday celebration. Also on board were Dinaro’s second band, Streetcar Conductors, and his first band, the Toads, who split the EP with Redcoat Turncoat. This might sound confusing, but when you hear all three of these bands, it makes sense. Tasty power pop tunes and genius songwriting are the common thread.
The Toads, who have established themselves as one of Portland’s musical treasures, joined with Redcoat Turncoat to release the split EP, Let’s Call the Cops, with each band contributing 4 tracks to the CD format. The first four tracks belong to the Toads, with songs and production as good, or maybe even better, than anything than they’ve previously released. All four tunes are gems. Finer Folk is a catchy number with a touch of country twang in its guitar riffs and lyrics, “you know there’s finer folk than the ones we’ve got now, go out and use your vote,” that resonate for the time and place.
The new news here is the brilliance of Redcoat Turncoat. In a world where music is polished until it loses its feeling, Redcoat Turncoat has a different kind of shine. The naked simplicity of Birkholz’ vocals reminds me of the Juno movie soundtrack (think Moldy Peaches and Kimya Dawson), but… combined with mesmerizing 80ths synth and keyboard melodies dotted with piano and guitar riffs. The genius of these songs is that they sound immediately familiar, as if you’ve heard them before, but you can’t put your finger on it. A hint of Velvet Underground comes through in the layering to create seriously addictive earworms. In particular, the tune, Michigan Eyes, has an unforgettably strong pulsing beat and melody that goes on for 7 minutes but doesn’t get old. The tune’s lyrics include a reference to the last release from Redcoat Turncoat, which was a 2010 EP called “How do you feel about long goodbyes?” The four tracks from Redcoat Turncoat end with a retro throwback, Hey You, that reminds me of simpler pre-internet days. The band is planning for a future vinyl release that will include the song, Alright, which was part of the PDX POP NOW compilation last year, and has this adorable music video featuring Birkholz and his toddler son.
The split EP release party at the Firkin was epic. Power pop maestros, Streetcar Conductors, played a stripped down opening set with drummer Jonathan Moore playing acoustic guitar instead, followed by Redcoat Turncoat, and a closing 15 minute power set by the Toads. It had to be one of Portland’s best gigs of the year, and the Firkin crowd was extra special. The new CD is on heavy rotation and every tune is great. Bravo!