When listening to The Lower 48 it’s impossible not to be stunned by their beautiful harmonies. It’s no surprise to learn that this 60’s influenced pop band started out as bona fide folk singers. Their first album, Everywhere to Go, from 2009 reflects a simple acoustic band with impeccable three part harmonies. Since then, the Lower 48 have turned their harmonies away from folk and towards psychedelic pop. The result is simply brilliant.
The Lower 48 list the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band as a specific influence, as well as the Kinks, but in my mind I think the closest comparison might be the early 90’s also-from-Minneapolis band, Trip Shakespeare’s album, Lulu. All three multi-instrumentalists and vocalists, Sarah, Ben, and Nick, have lived in Portland for eight years, but they still play most of their gigs while on tour. Their stage show is a must see.
Check out this live clip of The Lower 48 performing their song, Rabbit Hole, recorded at Alberta Street Pub on August 12, 2017. You can pick up their most recent album, Hot Fool, through on-line streaming, CD, and vinyl, and catch their upcoming gig at Rontom’s on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept 3, 2017.
Leona announced her full length solo album, 2:11, on Feb 11, 2017 with this post “please talk to me about these songs, they were all made in the last 2 months and 11 days and in response to the situation of the world”.
The 11 songs on this album are spare of instrumentation, with only a minimal bass or piano as a backdrop for her delicate airy voice. Ghost-like falsetto backing vocals are distorted and distant, evoking nostalgia for an era gone by, like an old transistor radio. The lyrics might be the inner voices echoing in her head, exposed and provocative.
In the first track, Blood, Leona sings “I am a story wrapped up in skin. I’m ready… to begin.” My favorite song might be kingbabybrave (listen below), whose words “I want to be brave like a white boy” trigger questions about social forces and insecurities. The album leads the listener along an engaging path towards the uplifting harmonies in destiny beckons where the lyrics “if you take me I won’t pretend I don’t want to go” are characteristically bare and honest. The closing song, night thoughts, neatly wraps up this masterpiece with the words “you say tomorrow like it’s a guarantee”.
There are some open questions-for example, recording and production credits are missing, and the third track ends with a 90 second silence that isn’t obviously deliberate. Even so, 2:11, unusual in its raw beauty, is what art is to me.
The one-word band name “Airport” immediately begs the question, “what are they going to sound like?” The name Airport alludes to Jet, and to other one-word band names like Television- but I am so off the mark. What Airport sounds like is floating in the sky, stretched out in comfort above the clouds.
This band plays songs with a relaxed tempo, an occasional pedal steel guitar, and dreamy vocals that you could fall asleep to. In fact, track six is entitled “Sleeping”. Their vibe might be called country music shoe gaze (they cite MBV as an influence). It is understated hypnotic sweetness. Their strength is a consistency where one song sounds like another, creating a unified feel that you quickly get used to and fall in love with.
In all, The Toads have had four releases, totaling 27 songs, in 19 months since January 2016. This, along with a busy gig schedule, makes the Toads the most prolific and hardworking band in Portland right now. The thing about the Toads is that they are not only talented and hardworking, but I can honestly say that they are the friendliest guys in Portland’s somewhat clique-ish music community. Bass player, Matt Dinaro, goes above and beyond the call of duty by supporting the scene with his music blog and editing an online poetry journal that he co-founded, Pom Pom.
Their fourth album, Time, is the second that was recorded by James Collette and Kevin Hoffman, and is the best production yet. I prefer to hear the Toads live, but this album does a nice job of capturing the energy and enthusiasm of their live show while still retaining the crispness and clarity that makes listening to studio recordings a pleasure. The album kicks off with killer riffs that show off Matt Kane’s tasty guitar wizardry and closes with an anthem of positive vibes, Keep On Keepin’ On. This country-pop-rock album pretty much captures the essence of Portland Summer 2017 and begs the question that so many people are asking “why aren’t these guys huge yet?” Thanks guys! Keep on keepin’ on! You are making people happy!