Are you tired of being force fed “summer jams” designed to constantly remind us that we should be sitting surfside with a frosty Corona neath our knuckles? Fortunately for the apathetic beach-goer in all of us, OH!hello has arrived with its sophomore EP RIP TIDES. OH!hello is the bedroom pop project of Portland, OR solo artist Michael Todd Berland.
On RIP TIDES, Berland has crafted a collection of tracks that, on the surface, appear destined for a bonfire near you. Concise, ukulele-driven tunes with immediately accessible melodies. Beneath the EP’s sun-drenched skin resides an angst that is more bummer than summer – and I mean that in the most endearing way possible.
Lead-off track “LAVA POOLS” is as shining an example as any. Here, Berland’s nonchalant delivery is paired with lyrics that evoke vivid images of haunted waves, black sand and white light. Listen to the single below and name your price for a download of RIP TIDES via Bandcamp.
Written by Rob Peoni
“Twenty-four years old and writes like he’s about two-hundred and twenty. I don’t know where he comes from, but I’ve got a good idea where he’s going. We went away believers, reminded how goddamned good it feels to be turned on by a real Creative Imagination.”
That quote was taken from the liner notes of John Prine’s 1971 self-titled, debut LP. Yet Kristofferson’s words prove equally applicable to the debut release from Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Barna Howard. At just 27, his is a voice that offers insights into our selves and our interactions with others. Each phrase crafted and whittled until each breath proves meaningful and essential.
They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. If this is true, I want the eyes of Barna Howard. I hope, one day, to view the world with half the clarity that Howard writes his songs. He paints a series of vignettes, shedding light on those moments never cast as the subject of the camera’s eye. Too trivial for documentation, these are the snapshots that comprise life. A grandmother’s laugh. The knotty, grass and gravel covered knees of children playing in the yard.
The album opens with “Horizons Fade”, a reflective piece that finds Howard grappling with a fondness for his Missouri home and the satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that his decision to leave has helped to define him. Howard’s understanding of his roots appears to have crystallized since viewing them from afar. He’s content with his decision to depart, despite the genuine ache that comes with an absence of friends and family. These sentiments are echoed later in the release on “It Hurts to Know.”
On “Promise, I won’t Laugh and “I Don’t Fall Much Anymore” Howard crafts narratives of lost love with the same powerful remorse that gave life to Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Unlike those Dylan tunes, Howard’s are written with a greater distance between the present and the pain. He spoke of the effect that this space had on his ability to write lead single “Promise I Won’t Laugh” in his interview with Creative Loafing:
“…it’s kind of the song that I always wanted to write. Just to kind of bring across the point of celebrating it instead of being sad it happened. We were sad for a reason, and that reason was because that thing that was there wasn’t there anymore, and when it was there it was great. And just because it’s gone doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it still lives on and it’s still celebrated for me.”
Detractors will inevitably point to the album’s music as redundant. But those willing to listen will recognize that the continuity of the guitar play allows a greater focus on the main event – the writing. Besides, the finger picking is immaculate. It offers a rhythm and tone reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt. The strength of the release makes it easy to forget that this is a debut, and Howard has an entire career to explore new sounds.
Like Kristofferson watching Prine play for the first time in that dimly lit Chicago bar, records like Howard’s and Hip Hatchet’s Joy and Better Days have reinvigorated my belief that some of music’s most powerful contributors require no more than an acoustic guitar and a fresh perspective. They serve as a reminder that at the end of the day, you better have something to say, and you better say it with conviction. They are songwriters that bring us closer to truth. What more could you ask from art? Grab your copy of the Barna Howard LP from Mama Bird Recording Co.
Connect with Barna Howard via Facebook
Written by Rob Peoni
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Portland trio, Blouse released their dark electro-pop ridden, self-titled debut late in 2011. While this release did not spread much further than the borders of the Pacific Northwest, I would expect them to acquire many new converts as they prepare themselves for a larger stage this year. The first audition will take place as Blouse heads down to Austin for SXSW. This will provide them with the proper platform to introduce many new listeners to their glowing gloom. I would not be shocked to see Blouse use SXSW to catapult themselves into many of your playlists much like Yuck was able to accomplish last year. I notice an undeniable attractive quality as I listen to each track on their release. Blouse will see success this year because of their intangible talent and commitment to their authenticity. I am confident in any band’s success when I notice these two important qualities from the beginning.
It should be noted that Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist, Jacob Portrait moonlights in this project. As he travels from one start-up to the next, his “never sleep” attitude is appreciated by buzz band connoisseurs like myself. The combination of Portrait’s technical excellence combined with the dark tones of Charlie Hilton’s voice makes a formidable pairing. Track, “Videotapes” does the best job of displaying Blouse’s potential. Rich synths, deep bass, and a voice that sounds like it is coming from a shadow make “Videotapes” special and give Blouse a great deliverable for conversion. While it is not as friendly of an introduction as UMO’s “Ffunny Frends” it invites in listeners in a different way. Its melody absorbs my memory and makes me want more. A good first impression proves its value.
Blouse most likely will remain silent for a bit as they tour Europe, but expect the buzz to pick up as they land back in Portland for a show at the end of February. Consider this show along with their Eurotrip to be used as preparation for their biggest test, the monster that is SXSW. This will not be the only time you hear about Blouse this year, but if it is your first, make sure you do not let this one fall through the cracks. If you do, then I am sure Blouse will find a way to jog your memory as they begin their 2012 campaign.
Written by Brett McGrath