Posts Tagged ‘Portland’

neon fictionLately, it almost seems like a trend for members of punk bands to start acoustic side-projects during lulls of touring and writing with their original bands.  You might blame it on “the increasingly grim state of the music industry,” and you might be right too, but that’s not to say that every Tom, Dick, and Harry can push out a well written acoustic album in their droll downtime from making crowds of fans all sweaty and light-headed at stanky punk shows.  Fortunately, Sundowner’s main man (and The Lawrence Arm’s guitarist/vocalist) Chris McCaughan seemed to have taken his good ol’ time to write Neon Fiction in between Lawrence Arms albumsprobably even to many impatient fans’ lamentbut let’s be honest, it was well worth the wait.

Neon Fiction is a bit of a step in a new direction from previous Sundowner records, most noticeably from an instrumental perspective.  To call this album an “acoustic album” might be a bit of a stretch.  Plenty of tracks feature fellow Larry Arms bandmate Neil Hennessy on drums and bass guitar, and many of the tracks even utilize the pretty standard punk trio instrumental structure which would be considered anything but acoustic: electric lead guitar over a rhythm guitar, rolling electric bass, and driving punk rhythms on drum set.  Really, just about the only ingredient Neon Fiction‘s nostalgic opener “Cemetery West” (along with a few other similarly structured tracks like “Concrete Shoes” and “Paper Rose City”) is missing to be considered a full-fledged, less intense, Lawrence Arms song is the third and final delightfully crusty Larry Arm, Brendan Kelly.

What're you doing Chris?  No shoes on the bed!

“Chis! No shoes on the bed.” No Mom, it’s punk.

Setting the lyrical tone for the rest of Neon Fiction, “Beautiful Ruins” speaks of the brisk and bustling city of Chicago like she’s a beautifully tragic lady who McCaughan leftwhich isn’t that surprising considering McCaughan had recently left his hometown of Chicago for his girlfriend’s homeland of Portland, Oregon (which I’m sure Fred and Carrie would agree is quite a different place).  Further on in the track list, “We Drift Eternal” can get quite heavy sonically, and, at times, the song even reminds me of another Larry Arms side-project known as Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, especially during the palm-muted verses.  One of the few acoustic songs on Neon Fiction, “Grey on Grey”, is a growing depiction of simple love, and one of my favorites from the album.  Towards the end of the track, drums start to crash and McCaughan settles into the outro pleading “hope you’ll love me the same way, when the colors are grey on grey.”  “Life in the Embers” is sure to make you bob your head and set your life straight while “Origins” (Neon Fiction‘s last truly acoustic track) consists of a pretty non-traditional song structure, especially for how traditionally Sundowner the lyrics are; honest, introspective depictions of hometown living.  “Paper Rose City” is yet another great example of how Sundowner has mastered the blending of acoustic and electric instrumentation to make for bright, full, and light songs.  Another particular favorite of mine from this album, “Poet of Trash” is a devilishly booming son of heart-felt self-deprecation with a tinge of hope.  “Wildfires” is a bouncy uplifting track which, rather than sung next to an uncontrollable “wildfire”, is probably best played next to some comfy, recognizable campfire which burns not in some wild forest, but behind the flannel covered chests of the campers (sorry for the cheese overload all over your eyes, but I couldn’t help my sorry self)a perfect closer for such an eclectic and minimalistic approach to a full-band version of Sundowner.

~ D.B.

0000684230_500Onelinedrawing is something I did in 5th grade when I was bored in history class. It’s also the solo project of Jonah Matranga, singer of Far. And I’ll tell you what, it’s a far cry from Matranga’s original band. Heh, heh.

Onelinedrawing’s 2004 album, The Volunteers, is simply excellent. I’ve actually had it in my iTunes library for some time now, and for some reason it didn’t tickle my fancy when I first listened to it. I must have been sick or momentarily mentally challenged that day, because just about every track on this record has something worthwhile to offer.

Well, intro track “New York” is pretty forgettable, but then again it’s a 47-second intro track, so we’ll let that go. The real first song is “Over It,” which starts out on acoustic guitar but builds to include all the instruments of a full rock band. “A Ghost” utilizes a cool modified drum sound. The next track, “Superhero,” is one of Onelinedrawing’s most popular songs, and one of the most depressing. Depressing in a good way, though. My only complaint about the song is the refrain of “love will find a way,” which comes across as more than a little cheesy.

Then we come to “Stay,” which sounds like an Explosions in the Sky track, if EITS made shorter songs with vocals. One of my favorites, easily. “We Had a Deal” is a wonderfully bombastic rock song, and isn’t quite like anything else on this record, but it doesn’t feel out of place. “Oh, Boys” is interesting, mostly because of Matranga’s repeated line, “boys keep f***ing up my car.”  Next is “Livin’ Small,” one of the more low-key songs on The Volunteers, and another gem.

Third from the end is the saddest song on this record, even more so than “Superhero.” “Believer” sounds depressing both in its instrumentation and in Matranga’s haunted lyrics, which seem to show the singer coming to the realization that an ex-love is “truly through with [him].” Charming. But awesome if you like the occasional sad song.

“Portland” is the low point of this record, if you ask me, because the track is mostly five minutes of silence. Interludes are all well and good, but “Portland” is rather unnecessary. Maybe it’s supposed to serve as some sort of pun, suggesting that Portland as a city has nothing to offer. I’ve never been to Portland, but I sincerely doubt it has nothing to offer. So really I don’t know what’s going on with this track. Not to worry, though—The Volunteers rounds itself out with another lo-fi acoustic jewel, “As Much To Myself As To You.”

Acoustic and electric, soft and hard, quiet and loud, reserved and bombastic, happy and sad—Onelinedrawing’s The Volunteers is eclectic in the best way possible, and far from disappointing. Whoops, I did it again.

~ J.M.